Social Media & The Body Image Comparison Trap

Clearly most of us are on social media these days. We Facebook, tweet, instagram or snapchat.
We are exposed to hundreds of thousands of images daily.

We all do it – that mindless idle scrolling, the quick pop-in that somehow becomes a 30+ minute time suck blur.
Take Instagram for example, sometimes we take a minute to read captions, and other times we’re just zooming past. We may spend only a fraction of a second actually viewing photos, but I’d argue these images still weasel their way into our subconscious.

As a health and fitness professional connected with others in my field on social media, I’m naturally immersed in a sea of fitness and wellness photos. Photos of super-fit, toned, sculpted physiques are the norm.

While I tend to follow like-minded individuals (those who are genuinely focused on health as the goal), I’ve had to come to this selective place through the process of elimination. I’ve realized if I’m not careful other women’s posts can affect the way I see my body, my day and even my life, which for the record I generally feel is really great!

Simply browse the hasthtag #fitgirl or #fiitspo on Instagram, and you’ll see everything from motivating quotes to scantily clad women proudly displaying their bottoms, abs and infamous thigh gaps.
Now I DON’T think there’s anything wrong with a bathing suit shot or a post celebrating physical results you’ve seen from hard work (I’ve taken a few!), but these images can have a cumulative effect and prompt damaging comparison.

I’ve been giving this thought lately as the New Year is here, and there’s renewed motivation to work on one’s body. Year after year losing weight and getting in shape are cited as Americans top two resolutions.

Listen, I applaud such resolutions. I genuinely want everyone (especially my own clients) to feel their best. However, I caution those seeking external motivation to be careful. What can start out as a hunt for inspiration via social media can turn into a comparison trap.

Remember, comparison is the thief of joy.

The day you’re feeling bloated from a fun weekend of beer and salty foods and you see the happy photo of a girl a size smaller basking in her cross-fit glow with a green smoothie, it may be easy to get down on yourself.
So how do we balance wanting motivation without a dose of comparability?
First, choose who you follow carefully.

Second, and more importantly remember that social media is a HIGHLIGHT reel. Most of us are putting our best face, our best moments, our most flattering angles forward. How many selfies were taken to get that perfect shot? How much belly sucking, and angling?

Recently I asked a close friend how another friend of hers who I mostly know through social media was doing. I had noticed she often seemed to be vacationing at the beach or partying with friends and she had noticeably lost some weight and was looking great. By all accounts her life appeared rosy.

Her answer really surprised me. My friend relayed that this woman wasn’t doing so well at all. She’s been laid off and was now unemployed and feeling stuck. She has a sick parent, had broken up with her partner, and is dealing with a lot of personal strife.

This update made me sad, but it also reinforced that we do not get a full picture of someone’s life just because they appear happy and look good in a bikini.

My advice? Connect with others that inspire you but remember nobody (seriously not even Princess Kate) has a perfect life. And if you do find yourself sucked into a dangerous comparison rabbit hole, take a little social media detox. It’ll still be there when you want to come back.

About author View all posts

Beth Funari Sims

Beth is an Athletic and Personal Trainer who specializes in working with women and kids. A health and wellness junkie who loves helping others reach their personal goals. She’s into cooking, whipping up healthy cocktails, reading in bed, and spending time with her husband, and one-year-old daughter. Beth relocated to Cleveland from NYC a few years ago, and now loves calling CLE home. Stay connected to Beth on Instagram @FitnessBeth

6 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Love this! I think you could probably write an entire series on social media comparison…it’s such a real issue. It’s so easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole. I think your point of following like-minded people is SO important. I noticed how this was taking a toll on my life and happiness a few years ago, so I did a social media detox of my own for about a year. Now, I follow people who show the whole story, flex and unflexed, good and bad days. While I’m not brave enough to bare all on social media, the people that do and are completely raw and exposed inspire me so much. In the middle of all the photoshop, twisting and flexing, they are the people that keep me grounded and motivated. One of my favorite people to follow is Rachel Turner @strongchicksrock. Thanks again for this reminder!

    • Thanks, Garbrielle! Yes, following people who try and show the BROADER picture – both good and bad days – is so refreshing.

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