When you consider just how prevalent social media is in our world today, it’s hard to believe there was ever a time when outlets like Facebook and Instagram didn’t exist. Especially for millennials, these social channels aren’t just digital hangout spots; they’re our news sources and a means of communication. But unfortunately, apps like Instagram and Twitter aren’t all funny memes and viral cat videos. There’s a dark side to social media that can and has affected how women depict themselves on and offline, which is exactly why the conversation surrounding how to do a social media detox needs to be had. Because while aspects of social media can be beneficial to our lives, there’s something to be said when what was supposed to be a means of entertainment starts to negatively affect how you really feel about yourself.
I’m willing to bet when you first signed onto AOL all those years ago, you never would have thought that someday, we’d be discussing the dos and don’ts of social media to make sure the photographs and statuses we're exposing ourselves to aren’t self-deprecating — but here we are.
Three-time Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman has recently spoken out about her own experience with social media, and how scrolling through images of seemingly flawless people and lifestyles can cause an unhealthy habit of comparing oneself to another person’s heavily filtered highlight reel.
Social media has us convinced that we should look a certain way, but the truth is, there is no singular definition of beauty.
Raisman partnered with Create & Cultivate, a women’s career platform, and spoke at an Aerie store's opening in Miami about what it means to feel empowered in your unique body. The body-positive gymnast, who is also recognized as an outspoken advocate for victims of sexual violence, admitted that she, too, has compared herself to models and TV stars who appear to have the “perfect” body. As a way of coping, she decided to take a social media detox in order to reevaluate her definition of beauty.
This is something I’ve been trying to talk about a lot the last month. That everyone has a story. Everyone’s battling something. Everyone is a survivor of something and no matter what it is so we have to be supportive of each other and be there for each other. No more social media where everybody’s life looks perfect. We have to start talking about things.
There's something to be said about "right" and "wrong" ways of using social media.
Open up your phone and take a few minutes to scroll through the accounts you're following on Instagram. Ask yourself to really think about why you decided to keep tabs on these specific accounts in the first place.
I know myself, and I'm absolutely guilty of stalking feeds of women who I envy, as if staring at their progress photos and adjusting my workout routines and meal plans to match theirs would somehow garner the same results. This mindset is toxic, and the truth is, you can never look or be exactly like someone else, because you were born to be you.
We can all benefit from taking Raisman’s advice, and rather than follow people whose bodies or lives we aspire to have, we should fill our social feeds with positive affirmations and photographs of people whose words and images inspire and encourage us to be the best version of ourselves.
Having said that, the first step in embarking on a social media detox is to clean up your feed.
Among the many tragic flaws I possess, my addiction to Instagram is one of them. The upside is that I’m well aware of this, so I’d say about once a month, I go through the list of accounts I’ve followed and think about a) why I follow this person, and b) how has their account impacted how I feel about myself.
This goes for strangers, influencers, and even family members. The key to a happy life is to surround yourself with people and things that spread positivity and build you up — outlets that post recipes you’ve tried and enjoyed, people whose photo captions enthuse you, and whose images bring you joy. That is the content worth keeping in your feed, and anything else probably has to go.
The second step is to change how you view social media in general.
Here’s the thing: People don’t generally post photos that depict themselves in a negative light. Social media is a highlight reel, a photo collage of all the wonderful happenings in other people's lives. Think of it this way: Would you share a photo in front of an office building with a caption explaining you were laid off from a job? No, probably not, but you would definitely snap a pic from an office with a view in lieu of a fancy promotion.
Instagram is literally, and figuratively, a filtered version of someone else’s reality, which Brian Primack, lead author of the University of Pittsburgh's 2016 study on social media and depression, said is important to keep in mind while you scroll away for hours at a time.
Primack told Huffington Post,
When we see [Instagrams of] a model or an [advertisement], we know that person "isn’t real," or that they’ve been Photoshopped.
But when you see your college friends having this wonderful life, you know them as real people, so you don’t think of the fact that they’re carefully curating what they put out there. It’s easy to think, "Hey, everybody else is having a great life and is more successful than I am. I have challenges."
Bottom line: Take every post your eyes glaze over with a grain of salt. Sure, the golden labradoodle your BFF's boyfriend just gave her is cute AF, but do you, personally, really have the time to potty-train a puppy on top of finals and clocking in internship hours? No. So enjoy her Kodak moment for what it is, and scroll on.
Lastly, complete your social media cleanse by logging off more often.
Life wasn't meant to be lived through a mobile screen, friends. The more time you spend on Instagram and Snapchat, the less time you're spending making actual human contact or doing something productive like reading a book, picking up a new language, getting a head-start on that group project — you get the picture.
Separating yourself from social media for a day, or even a few hours, can be super beneficial to your mental health, to your relationship with others, and most importantly, the relationship you have with yourself.
This isn't me advising you to log off and delete every social app on your phone; I fully understand that completely disconnecting yourself in that way is almost impossible these days. However, taking a break from scrolling through snapshots of another person's life frees up more time for you to live yours to the fullest.