Fat Loss

Social media: Friend or Foe to Our Self-Image?

Zing!
I feel a small pang of jealousy pierce through my gut as I watch my friend Neghar execute who-even-knows-how-many* perfect chin-ups on a video that she posted on Facebook.
*Okay fine. I do know how many. 15. Who does 15 chin-ups?!  
As happy and excited I am for Neghar, I’m now equally annoyed at myself and can’t help but wonder why the eff my chin-ups suck. I work on those suckers all the time, and I nearly blow a gasket to eke out 5! Ugh!

Social media. 

It’s a way to stay up on what our friends (and complete strangers) are doing, entertain ourselves, find new clients, pass the time, brag and boast, share pictures and videos, whine about gas prices, complain about traffic, celebrate accomplishments, and to compare ourselves to others

Uh-oh.

A brief skim through my newsfeed this morning showed much of the usual. There were countless posts about dieting and training, a few self-taken pics either flaunting progress or bitching due to lack thereof, videos of squat PRs, and a few inspirational posters. Intertwined with all of that were plenty of the mundane lifestyle updates of the “I just brushed my teeth” varietal and, of course, political rants.
 All of these things undoubtedly offer varying degrees of entertainment for us, but is it possible that some of this stuff is affecting us on a deeper level?

According to the Forbes article “The True Costs of Facebook addiction: Low self-esteem and poor body image”, our time spent on Facebook is time spent making unhealthy comparisons to others, especially us ladies. In this study, over half of the women polled said that looking at pics and status updates on FB made them more self-conscious about their body and their weight. That same study also showed that “the most avid female Facebook users were also more likely to be unhappier and less content with their lives than others.”
It’s hard to deny the addictive qualities of social media. If you can’t stay off of Facebook and what you see is making you feel bad about yourself, I think we can agree that can be a pretty dangerous combo for your self-esteem.

It seems like nowadays, having a positive body image isn’t something that comes naturally for most of us. We have to work at it and personally, I have to make a conscious effort to remind myself that I look damn good everyday. So is it hard for us to see pictures that people post of their smokin’ hot bodies even though we’ve been trying to shed some L.B.s? What about a lift that they dominated that we’ve been working on forever? Yeah. Probably. We are only human. However, we can handle this one of two ways. We can either let it get us down or we can use it to fuel our fire…

While some people get discouraged and upset reading about other people’s successes, others derive plenty of inspiration from it and aspire to work even harder to get to their goals using the, “If they can, then why not me?” mentality.

Next time you are on Facebook or your favorite social media site, I’d like to encourage you to be aware of your feelings as you scroll through the timeline. If it’s causing you grief and feelings of disappointment in yourself, then it could be time for a break from it. Along those same lines, maybe there are just certain people you need to take a break from?
There are a few Braggy Braggarts on my Facebook that seem to go out of their way to post about how awesome they are, all for the sake of desperately needed validation. Maybe you can’t delete them because you have mutual friends, or maybe they are tolerable in real life, but for now I have one word for those kind of people:

HIDDEN

I “hide” their updates from my feed and I’m not sorry about it. If somebody is sucking your energy or happiness, put a stop to it and hide their updates! Your happiness and self-esteem is more important than reading their friggin’ status updates.

Something else to keep in mind while reading people’s stuff is The Highlight Reel.
Most people (myself included) typically only post from our “highlight reel”. That means it’s our best pictures, greatest news, big accomplishments, beasty lifting videos, and snaps from our killer vacations. Most people refrain from posting about the 10 pounds they gained on that gorge vacation, the fact that their dog pooped in the house, or the squat attempt that shouldn’t have folded them like a lawnchair but did.
It’s important to keep things in perspective on social media and remind yourself that everybody is human – nobody is perfect, no matter how they portray themselves online. 

 My bottom line is this: Social media causes most of us to pay far too much attention to what everybody else is doing, which means wasting precious time and emotion that could be put to better use working towards our own happiness and goals.

Does seeing people with amazing lives or physiques on social media encourage or discourage you?
Do you get a bit jealous or frustrated when you read about people reaching a goal that you’ve been working towards, or does it push you to work harder?

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40 Comments

  • Reply
    Jonathan Goodman
    September 7, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Nice points. Love reading this. What I would like to add is the psychological effect that many use social media for. It's pretty well established in the literature that narcissists have more social contacts than nonnarcissists and therefore social media will over-represent them.

    It's also shown that participating in social networking online is attractive to narcissists because it allows for controlled self-presentation, satiates the craving for attention, and promotes shallow relationships. This is all negative of course but there is another side to the story…

    It's also been shown that microblogging (i.e. status updates) are popular among low emotionally stable individuals. This is a way for them to express emotion. Self-disclosure on online social networks is easier and less threatening than offline disclosure.

    Just some food for thought. Here are some papers on the subject:

    https://marketing.wharton.upenn.edu/files/?whdmsaction=public:main.file&fileID=4377

    and

    http://psp.sagepub.com/content/34/10/1303.abstract

  • Reply
    Emily
    September 7, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    Jen,
    One of your best blog posts yet. I appreciate this so much as it is something that really upsets me about Facebook. I have a Facebook page for both my business and my personal page but really avoid my personal page as much as possible. I focus on my business page and try to keep my messages positive and informative. Whenever I do go to my personal page, I am quickly reminded as to why I avoid the homepage. It is hard to stay positive when there is so much negativity and narcissism out there. ;( It is not so much jealousy as it is more "Really? Are you that insecure?" My triumphs are my triumphs and the people closest to me are the ones I want to share them with because they will actually care. Thanks again for the post Jen. Keep 'em coming. 😉

  • Reply
    Liz
    September 7, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Jen, you make so many great points in this post, I love it! I find too, social media effects my "business image"…I'd start clicking around on what amazing people are doing online and off and start to feel like I'm behind or should be doing more or maybe that business model works better..blah blah blah.

    I actually did begin to spend less time on social media and found that I love it, it helps me stay focused on and connected to my message, my body, what I'm sharing with the world and be much more selective about what I'm not.

    The quote about comparing our behind the scenes with other people's highlight reel was perfect. Thanks for this!! xo

  • Reply
    Jessie
    September 7, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Jen,

    Freaking awesome post! I've been b*tching about this same topic to my husband lately, so I'm glad that others are seeing what I'm seeing and I'm not just some crazy, psycho girl. I've been known to block a lot of people that post too much (like many…many..times a day) or post a lot of negativity, and I've even blocked others (even family) from seeing or being able to post on my wall or pictures because their comments were always negative or had a catty-vibe to them. Social media can be such a curse and a blessing.

  • Reply
    Anonymous
    September 7, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Very true. And the 'highlight' reel was awesome. I figured this is what was going on, but couldn't quite put my finger on it. There are only a handful of my FB 'friends' that I love reading about. And they're not the braggers.

    Another media source that is known to elicit the same responses as listed above? Stupid magazines!!! Shows, movies, etc can do the same.

  • Reply
    Anonymous
    September 7, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Social media helped me learn more about fitness/lifting. I sometimes get a twinge of jealousy but for the most part I follow the "if they can do it then so can I!" philosophy, it helps me push harder. Whenever I do get a bit jealous I take a step back and focus on why I'm feeling the way I am and what can I do to change it since I figure me feeling like that has much more to do with me and my insecurities than with them and their archievements.

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    September 7, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Thanks Jon!
    I did quite a bit of research for this post and turned up much of what you wrote about above. I'd be willing to bet that a lot of us "media socialites" don't even realize that this stuff is happening. It's definitely interesting to learn about and has made me aware of certain behaviors of mine as well.

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    September 7, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Hi Emily! It's so nice to hear from you, and thank you for the kind words.

    Ahhh, you've touched on an interesting point and that is tying in social media with our businesses. I took an extended holiday from Facebook earlier in the year because I found it to be such a time suck, however, it's a huge form of marketing for me, my brand, and my blog. That break that I took from FB actually hurt my blog's readership a bit! So as much as I dislike it, I feel compelled to continue being involved in it because social media (whether we like it or not) is the new "word of mouth" marketing.

    I agree with you that there is so much negativity and narcissism out there that perusing my timeline can be nauseating some days! I use the "block" feature quite liberally 😉

    Thank you for chiming in!

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    September 7, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Hey Liz!
    A pleasure to have you drop me a line! 🙂

    I totally relate to what you said regarding your business image. It's very hard, especially in this fitness world that is SO driven by social media, to refrain from getting wrapping up in what others are doing! I have found myself drawn into the cycle of second guessing myself and questioning what I'm doing.
    I think it's vital that we have tunnel vision in regards to social media. Focus on us and have faith that what we are doing is right for us right now!

    Thank you for your thoughts, and I look forward to seeing what you have coming up on your site!

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    September 7, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    Thanks Jessie!
    Oh no, you are not crazy – I am right there with you! I think that this phenomenon will only continue to get more attention as the beast of social media grows and grows.
    Like you, I block a ton of people. I block negative people, braggy people, and I've even blocked a few people that I love in "real life" but can't stand their online persona because they act like a completely different person!
    Social media can be fun but we have to work to keep things in perspective!

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    September 7, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    I'm glad that you enjoyed it, and I was thrilled to find that highlight reel picture because it really nailed the point!

    Yep – tv shows, movies, etc, can all elicit the same self-image issues and I relate to that as well. I personally think Facebook is a bit more powerful because they are "real life" friends – people we actually know!

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    September 7, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Great point! There are certainly plenty of things that I read about or see online and I think, "Ohhhh yeah! I can't wait to work even harder on that now!" Plenty of my inspiration for my training, fitness, and life in general comes from things I see online.
    I think you have a wonderful perspective on this topic, and it's a viewpoint that I wish more people had!

  • Reply
    malita
    September 7, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    Ugh, there are so many things that drive me nuts, so many things that make me smile – it's one of those weird little monsters in our lives.

    Remember back when none of it existed and we somehow managed to wake up and live our lives each day?! I think we, myself definitely included, give way too much stock in it all, we take it all too seriously and rely on it way too much. Sometimes I have to remind myself that once upon a time I didn't have social networking, and I didn't need it and really I don't need it now, so just unplug for a while. Sometimes it all makes me cranky and I can see that in my attitude. Sometimes it's ok to think something or do something and not announce it to the internets, and it's definitely ok to unfriend, unfollow and delete! And then there are times it's great connecting with someone, I actually learn something or something makes me think and evaluate myself.

    It's definitely the highlight reel, especially those kid/baby posts cause no ones posting about the colicky baby that won't stop screaming through the night 😉

  • Reply
    Emily
    September 7, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Thanks Jen. I actually find it quite liberating when I do not worry about my page for a day. I was not feeling well yesterday – nasty sinus headache and as a result, I was offline pretty much all day. It felt really, really good to just rest and take care of my needs. There are plenty of people out there who really don't want to be blasted with something new on your page every five minutes. It can become a bit much and really turn people off. I am careful about how much I post and when I post. Sometimes I really just have nothing to say….and that is OK! 😉

  • Reply
    Tom
    September 7, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Great post. You have many good insights. Don't feel bad about the pullup comparison. She makes me feel bad about my form and strength too. That's insane!

    I think we set ourselves up for disapointment when we compare ourselves and our weaknesses against other's strengths (which is usually all we see of other people in social media).

    I think we just need to remember that even the people with "perfect" bodies, families, and lifestyles, are probably going through a lot of struggles that most people don't even know about.

  • Reply
    Tara @ Sweat like a Pig
    September 8, 2012 at 8:47 am

    I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. When I first started using it, I updated my status all the time and posted pictures like crazy. Now, I still go on my phone to check what's going on in other people's lives every day, but I rarely update my status. I posted some pictures a couple of weeks ago, and they were the first I'd posted in 18 months!

    At the start of the year I actually went through and deleted 3/4 of my 'friends', and had my list at under 100. Since then, a bunch of my clients have added me so I'm now at about 120, but it's so much nicer having a smaller friend group. My best friend has 1400 'friends' and that would drive me crazy. I honestly don't care what some guy I went to high school with did on the weekend. I truly believe that if your life was that amazing/busy/exciting, you wouldn't be posting about it on FB because you would be out there living it!

  • Reply
    Nancy Anne
    September 8, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    I agree with your points, however blocking is kinda harsh, can be taken personally and hurt the other person (leaving you NOT in a good position to help them see the err of their ways in a productive manner), and leaves you so that you can't see when they comment on other people's stuff, so you often don't know fully what is going on in a thread. Instead, you could just unsubscribe from their feed. They never know you did it, yet stay on your friends list. No harm, no foul.

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    September 8, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Hi Nancy!
    Good point and this is my fault for not clarifying what I meant by "Blocking". I was referring to blocking them (aka, "Hiding them") from the feed so that you're unable to see their updates. Not de-friending them and blocking them from Facebook altogether.

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    September 8, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    I just changed this post to reflect "Hidden" rather than "blocked". Thanks for the catch! 🙂

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    September 8, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    Hey Tara!
    Your comment about not caring what some guy from high school did on the weekend made me laugh! I'm with you there!

    I think people's social skills are declining in general because so many people spend their time online nowadays rather than actually interacting with other people. Even at group dinners, everybody is always glued to their phones, so even when we are together in person we aren't really mentally there. Scary! Who knows what it'll be like in 20 years from now! (O_o) However, the social media madness is definitely here to stay. I suppose it really just boils down to how we choose to handle it.

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    September 8, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Thanks Tom, and aren't her chinups nuts?! She is so strong!

    You are right. Nothing good can come from us comparing ourselves to others and those "perfect" bods definitely have their own trials and tribulations because they are, after all, only human, too!

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    September 8, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Hi Malita!
    I struggle with the same feelings that you have. Some days it drives me all nuts and I wish social media would all disappear forever, and then other days it's all fun & games.
    I do miss the days when life was lived through our actual lives, rather than pseudo lives via the internet. I miss the days when there were no cell phones and you had to leave a message on an answering machine or even better – you got a busy signal!
    But, things are evolving and so I'll go with the flow and try to make sure it remains fun and brings happiness. When that stops happening, I'll pull the plug on it – literally!

    Thanks for chiming in!

  • Reply
    Kyle
    September 9, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    A little competition is a good thing. At my gym, only one woman has deadlifted 100kg or more, one of my clients. Most of the others have no trouble with pulling their bodyweight. They compare themselves to my other clients.

    However, none of the other trainers' women clients manage anything close to this. They compare themselves to other women clients of those trainers. Thus I usually have the strongest 6 or so women of over 2,000 at my gym.

    Leaving my gym, a mate of mine has a strength gym where 18 or more women have pulled over 100kg – and the place only has 100 or so members, started in the guy's garage. The woman there who pulls 100kg is congratulated, but she looks at the platform on her left and sees 110kg, and the platform on her right and see 130kg, and realises she can do more.

    The expectations you have of yourself will be based on the company you keep, and we usually keep company with people who have similar lifestyles. The trouble with the internet is that it's not live, so the expectations are warped by keeping company with people for whom training is part of their full-time job – whether as trainers, models, athletes or whatever.

    Whether in my community gym or my mate's strength gym, the women get to compare like with like. If Anna is managing these results with a full-time job (whether paid or parenting), she can be compared with Barbara who also has a full-time job. But if Anna gets online and compares herself with someone whose full-time job is modelling or shotput, well… she's comparing like with unlike.

    I don't compare my mathematics ability with that of a PhD mathematics student, because while some maths is important and useful to me, I have a couple of full-time jobs to deal with first. Likewise, most of JCK's readers should not compare themselves with models or athletes.

    All of this doesn't even consider photoshop and online embellishment of lifts and runs, of course. On the internet, everyone has 10% bodyfat and squats 405.

  • Reply
    PracticeBalance
    September 10, 2012 at 7:39 am

    Pullups… I totally hear you, and while we're talking about comparing, I'd be PSYCHED to do 5, or even 1! I work them every time I train, I am a rock climber and climb 5.12 (pretty hard) level, and I still can't do one! I'm taller than you, amd I think body mechanics has a huge part in it…

    I have learned through the years (I'm almost 40 and have lived through a cancer, gotten way out of shape and now am getting back into shape through heavy lifting!) to not compare myself to others. Life is just too short! Your thoughts on Facebook give good perspective on reality. Thanks!

  • Reply
    PirateJenny
    September 10, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Great post – it's like any new 'medium' – we've been seduced by the spectacle of participating in the our own entertainment… and you're so right it's feeding our neurosis and vanity at the same time – nice trick. However, without it I wouldn't have come across loads of interesting and helpful stuff – particularly around free weights and nutrition – so it's win some, lose some. Think we all need to approach it like candy – don't binge on social networking – its empty calories. South Park – my moral compass on most things – nailed it long before the head-doctors steamed in… http://vimeo.com/23477011

  • Reply
    rebecca douglas
    September 10, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Love this! In my boot camp facility, I talk a lot about women's self image and how our society is NOT helping. We (as women) are too eager to find things, like Facebook, to distract us from taking care of ourselves and ultimately perpetuate the lack of self esteem that is so rampant among women.
    Rebecca
    Fit Body Boot Camp
    Billings, Montana

  • Reply
    Jess McDougall
    September 11, 2012 at 10:54 am

    Wow – I'm so glad to see this post. I'm currently trying to write up something about those of us who are working really hard but have physical, hormonal and mental roadblocks and how society has this constant pressure to DO NOT STOP and just go go go. Part of my post is about what you surround yourself with and how your social media feed, brand advertising and what you referenced as the 'highlight reel' can work against us if our bodies are not ready to go there. I'd love to reference this post if that is ok with you?

    Again, it's great to see someone post about vulnerabilities as opposed to just constant PR's and achievements.

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    September 11, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Hi Jess!
    Thanks for the kind words. It's very important for me to be transparent in my writing and tell the truth – the road to our goals isn't always full of bunnies and rainbows!

    I'm excited to read your post and of course I'd be honored if you'd link to mine. Please notify me when it's up! JenComasKeck@gmail.com

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    September 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Hello!
    You are right – life is too short to compare ourselves to others OR to waste our time doing so on social media!

    Thanks for the kind words!

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    September 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Social Media absolutely has it perks. That is, after all, how Girls Gone Strong was formed! 🙂 There are pros and cons to it and as long as we keep things in perspective and use it in moderation, it's all good!

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    September 11, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Hi Rebecca!
    I'm so glad to hear that you cover the important topic of self-image in your facility. Every day I become more and more aware of how little confidence and self-esteem most women have and it's something we need to actively work on!

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    September 11, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    A little competition is definitely a good thing, and personally, it fuels my fire because I am highly competitive – not only with others, but also with myself.
    However, getting too caught up in what other people are doing can have the opposite effect. It discourages that individual and ends up wasting energy and precious time that could otherwise be devoted to bettering ourselves.

    You are right that photoshop and other enhancements make online pics/vids even more unattainable!

  • Reply
    Kyle
    September 12, 2012 at 8:05 am

    It doesn't have to be discouraging if it's put in context. Once I had two clients who worked out together regularly. One was small-framed, the other large-framed.

    The slim one was jealous of the larger one's lifts, and felt down. "The lifts are produced by that body, do you want to have that body?"

    The larger one was jealous of the slimmer one's physique. "With that physique goes those lifts, do you want those lifts?"

    Apparently, each of them wanted to be someone they were not, but also themselves – the "best" (to them) of each. After some discussion with me, they decided they were happy as they were.

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    September 12, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    It certainly doesn't have to be discouraging, however, the studies show that over half of the women perusing Facebook are comparing themselves in unhealthy ways.

    The topic of my post isn't so much about friendly gym competition (which I believe would be a fantastic post for a future post); it's about social media and how some women are letting it affect their self-esteem and self-worth.

  • Reply
    Gráinne
    September 13, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    Great post!
    I've definitely experienced that-even this week. I'm meeting people in LA next week and one of them posted a picture of herself in a bikini saying how it proved that starving yourself and working out till you drop will get you into your bikini regardless of age. I felt dreadful. I've been dieting but nowhere near that hard and while I've made improvements, I don't look like her. It made all my work seem insignificant and pointless….until I went back into the real world where people just saw me!

    Some people, like all of you at GGS, have a different effect. I've started to care more about what I can do, not so much about how I look. I haven't starved myself and I eat foods I like that are real foods-so fruit has stayed! I found myself thinking about changing my evening meals after I get back from the week away-not for the diet, but because I think I should be getting more veggies in. So I suppose it depends which fit people you follow. Hiding sounds good!

  • Reply
    Melissa
    September 14, 2012 at 6:18 am

    I love reading about my friends' achievements, so much so that if I know they've been to do an event I will keep checking back to see how they went. Only very occasionally will the green eyed monster surface but I can put things into perspective fairly quickly when I remind myself that that person is 10 years younger or that they do fitness for a living or have more time to train than I do. The funny thing is that I get shy about posting my pb's and event results because I don't want to be seen as bragging and I would hate to think that my achievements have made someone else feel bad about themselves.

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    September 14, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Hi!
    ARRRGH, I cringed when I read what you wrote about that woman's status update! That is just awful. Starvation is nothing to be proud of, but I can absolutely understand how it has made your changes seem insignificant, even though you are handling it the smart way.

    Thank you for the kind words about GGS. That is exactly what we aim to do – show women that health, happiness and performance are much more important than what people think of us in a bikini. I'll admit, that I'm still trying to convince myself of that, too 😉

    I appreciate your comment!

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    September 14, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Hi Melissa!
    I'm so happy to hear that you are able to keep social media in perspective and enjoy your friends' updates so much.

    I loved your comment about being concerned that your update may make somebody else feel bad about themselves. One can only imagine how this world would be should we all operate under the same pretense!

    Thank you so much for this insightful comment!

  • Reply
    Gráinne
    September 14, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    Thanks so much Jen! It makes me feel so much better that her comment made you cringe too!

    I thoroughly appreciate the GGS movement. You each come at it in slightly different ways and the result is a stronger, happier me 🙂

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