A World Without Racism is Kind
Body Positivity and Self-Compassion on Social Media
Social media use is a frequent topic of conversation in a world attempting to reconcile its concerns for screen time against its fascination with new media technologies. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the intensity of this concern as digital mediums have become the primary mode of human connection throughout the majority of 2020.
According to Data Reportal, as of April 2021, the world population was 7.85 billion, and during this same time period, there were half of a billion new social media subscribers, bringing the world total to 4.33 billion social media users. Consequently, over half of the world’s population currently has social media accounts.
A key concern and critique of social media is the impact that the content can have on users’ perceptions of their self-worth. This is especially true for social media applications that promote visual content, such as Instagram (Feltman & Szymanski, 2018). Feltman & Szymanski apply the objectification theory to describe how edited and idealized images of bodies, specifically female bodies, contribute to negative body image, anxiety about physical appearance, and an overall deterioration of mental health. Instagram and similar platforms are particularly prone to promoting body comparisons and unrealistic societal standards of beauty. In such a harsh landscape, it is important for social media users to take intentional actions to promote kindness and compassion towards their bodies and selves.
She Knows outlines several steps that social media users can take to care for themselves in an increasingly complex digital world. First, the most intuitive recommendation is to fact-check the images that are being offered. It is valuable to remind oneself that social media content is often carefully curated and manipulated; it is rarely raw and unedited or an accurate representation of real life. Second, search for and follow body-positive social media accounts. By exposing oneself to body diversity and individuals actively accepting and appreciating their bodies, a new level of perspective and understanding of reality can be fostered. The third recommendation echoes this; and it is to follow social media accounts of individuals of various body sizes and to normalize real, unedited bodies. Fourth, follow accounts that discuss topics that are less familiar or that challenge preconceived notions in society. This practice promotes a growing understanding of the diversity in the world and the limitations of societal standards, expectations, and pressures. Fifth, stop following and/or don’t follow accounts that instigate negative thinking or comparisons. It is within one’s personal autonomy to decide what messages they engage with on a regular basis. Finally, recognize that social media use is a choice. If the stress and comparisons of social media are draining and frustrating for you, simply take a break or stop using the platform(s) altogether.
Digital literacy and responsibility education reinforces the treatment of others with respect and compassion on online platforms, but very little discussion goes into self-care in these same settings. It is up to the user to support their own mental health by challenging the messages that they are fed. It is easy to become blinded by the status quo of idealized and unrealistic body standards. Luckily, self-compassion can interrupt this dialogue and become a regular part of an individual’s self-care routine.