Social Media and the Comparison Game

body image comparison self-esteem social media

It has been estimated that 48% of the world’s population is active on social media. And although there are many benefits of social media, there can also be less desirable consequences from its use. For example, studies consistently show that social media use is linked with decreased self-esteem and increased depression. There are also many studies showing that exposure to appearance-related content on social media results in greater body dissatisfaction and a desire to be thinner.

And this isn’t really surprising, given that social media feeds tend to be full of carefully curated, posed, filtered and edited photos of celebrities and friends.

 But here’s what might be more surprising to hear: scrolling through Instagram can have negative effects on mental health in just 7 minutes, according to a recent study done at Northwestern University.

And, a previous study from York University found that women who posted selfies on social media reported feeling more anxious, less confident, and less physically attractive after doing so.

The theory behind why this happens is that we are constantly comparing ourselves to others when we’re scrolling through social media feeds. It’s simply human nature to compare ourselves to the people around us. There’s even a name for it – it’s called social comparison theory. What this means is that we essentially gauge our “success” in any given area, including our physical appearance, by looking at those around us for points of reference.

And if we don’t feel like we measure up, we end up hating on ourselves. Eventually we feel like everyone else is doing better than we are, and that no matter how hard we try, our efforts just aren’t good enough.

So the question for us is this: if comparing ourselves to others is human nature, how can we ever feel good about ourselves and our bodies?

Well, the most obvious way is to take a break from social media and other sources that focus on health, beauty, or fitness. This means taking a break from following the Instagram feeds of your favorite fitness celebrities, perusing Pinterest for healthy recipes, reading posts in weight loss Facebook groups, etc.

If you’re not quite ready to give up social media entirely, then consider making your newsfeeds a happier place for you. Look at your friends list and who you’re following, and ask yourself if each of those bring you joy. If not, unfriend or unfollow them. Go total Marie Kondo on your newsfeed. Then start following people who inspire you or make you feel good about yourself and your body.

It’s also important to find your tribe. I can guarantee that you aren’t alone in your struggles when it comes to weight and body image. Putting yourself out there and being honest about your struggles is one of the best ways to build a connection with the people around you. You’re less likely to compare and feel bad about yourself when you have a supportive network of friends who you’re completely open with. So rather than trying to portray your life as being perfect on social media, instead be open, honest and vulnerable about where you’re really at.

 Another strategy is to pay attention to the things or people that seem to trigger the feeling that you’re just not good enough. If you find that a weight loss challenge you’re a part of us is making you feel bad, leave the challenge. If the diet you’re on leaves you feeling guilty all the time because you’re always “cheating”, then that’s not the diet for you. If you follow recipe bloggers but are always feeling bad because you can’t find the time to cook, then stop reading those blogs.

And finally, when you find yourself obsessing about the things you don’t like about you or your body, take a step back and aim for a perspective shift. One of the best ways to do this is by grabbing a journal and writing down three things you’re grateful for, something that you’re excited about, and something that you’re proud if. This is a great practice to shift your mindset from comparing yourself to others and really appreciating yourself.

Next week, we’ll talk about an object that throws us into the comparison game like no other – the scale.


  1. Engeln R, Loach R, Imundo MN, Zola A. Compared to Facebook, Instagram use causes more appearance comparison and lower body satisfaction in college women.. Body Image. 2020 Jun 4;34:38–45.

  2. Mills JS, Musto S, Williams L, Tiggemann M. “Selfie” harm: Effects on mood and body image in young women. Body Image. 2018 Dec;27:86–92.