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How to avoid toxicity on social media


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We’ve known for several years now, that social media sites such as Instagram can have a hugely damaging influence on our body image and mental health.

Whenever we log onto social media sites, it’s really difficult to avoid ‘thinspiration’, detox tea promotions, Kardashian-esque models and clean eating bloggers.

Every day, whether we follow these accounts or not, our social media feeds are inundated with images of the ‘ideal’ body. For women, this ideal usually looks like a dainty tanned white woman, with Kim K hips, mile-long legs and a waist the circumference of an average wrist. Her hair is always immaculate, with dazzling white teeth and effortlessly flawless skin, and she is always, always under thirty.

For men, the ideal looks like a 6 foot or taller Greek statue, with hairless limbs, yet unblemished skin, a strong hairline and muscles that could only be obtained by spending each waking hour at the gym. These ‘ideals’ are people who we rarely, if ever, see in real life. These ‘ideals’ are often the product of heavy editing or, for many models, an unhealthy lifestyle. But what happens when we, the social media consumers, don’t look like these 'ideals' that are worshipped online? Well, research has shown that it’s not just our body confidence that plummets, but our overall self-esteem is jeopardised by our constant exposure to the new social media ‘ideals’.

Whether we are aware of it or not, social media is having a major influence on how we view ourselves. More and more, we are basing our self-worth on the number of likes and followers we have. At the better end of the spectrum, a lucky few of us escape this social media pressure storm unscathed, realising that beauty isn’t defined by social media stars selling fitness or weight loss products online. Somewhere in the middle is the vast majority of social media users, feeling a constant sense of inadequacy because we don’t possess the features that the insta-famous men and women do. At the worse end of the spectrum, social media can lead to psychological disorders like Anorexia and Bulimia.

Despite this, I would be a liar if I told you that social media was a purely negative force. I myself am a mental health and body positivity blogger, so I know first-hand the positive power that social media can have. After years of struggling with Anorexia and Bulimia and being negatively influenced by social media, I actually used it as a tool to turn my life around through the body positive community. But how can we all limit the damage that social media has on our confidence, and learn to use social media in a way that inspires, educates and motivates us?

Well, to get you started here are some straightforward ways to cut the toxicity out of social media, and start using it enhance, not jeopardise your confidence.

1. Perform a social media cleanse

Don’t worry, this doesn’t involve only drinking green juice for two weeks. Go through the list of people you follow on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat or whichever social media platforms you use, and determine which accounts make you feel good and which accounts make you feel insecure, anxious or generally bad. Unfollow those accounts. Even if you follow someone from work or school whose posts make you doubt yourself or your body, it’s better that you cut that negativity from your feed than constantly absorb it every day.

The accounts that often make people feel this way include fitness, clean eating, bodybuilding or lifestyle accounts, so just keep an eye out for those genres and be wary when following new people if you think their content might not be healthy for you to see every day. When I was recovering from eating disorders, unfollowing toxic influences on social media was a hugely important step in redefining my beauty standards.

2. Discover social media communities that empower you

Recently there has been a boom in the number of people following body positive accounts, which is a great sign for the future of social media. Replace the negative influencers in your feed with people who promote beauty at all weights, in all genders and races and regardless of what your body looks like.

A good place to start is by typing in ‘Body Positivity’ in the search bar of any social media platform, and you’ll find a plethora of accounts that embrace beauty in all its forms, not just beauty in the form of Calvin Klein men and Victoria Secret women.

3. Know that photo editing is more common than you think

Airbrushing used to be a tool handled only by the editors of Vogue magazine and bus stop posters, but with the rise of apps like FaceTune and other user-friendly airbrushing software, everyone and his dog seem to be brushing the imperfections from their skin and slimming down their waists before uploading pictures to social media. So the next time you look at a selfie and feel insecure because your *insert body feature here* doesn’t look like that person’s, just question whether or not that image was edited. You’d be surprised at how unnoticeable editing can be. Gone are the days when ‘photoshop fails’ were common online.

4. Try to separate your self-worth from your appearance

This might be slightly difficult for lots of people, especially younger people who grew up believing that happiness is synonymous with looking like the beauty ‘ideal’. But starting from today, start acknowledging elements of your character that you admire, that can’t necessarily be captured in a photo and uploaded to Instagram.

Remind yourself of your talents, personality traits and moral values that you admire, and recognise that these qualities define beauty just as much as your appearance does. A sense of humour, a kind heart and an adventurous spirit can’t be uploaded to Snapchat but they’re still parts of you that people notice and admire. So, don’t just look for gratification from your selfies online when there are a hundred other elements of your character that are equally valuable!

5. Understand the notion of a good day, angles and lighting

I’m sure you wouldn’t upload a photo of yourself to Instagram if you took it on a day you felt insecure, from an unflattering angle and with uncomplimentary lighting, so why would anyone else? Too often people see the images on their peers and celebrities’ social media accounts as a real reflection of their day to day life, when really you’re mostly seeing their best photos. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that everyone else is always on holiday with pristine skin and hair and an enviable figure. What’s harder to remember is the power of good lighting, posture, makeup, photographer and editing software.

Behind most photos there is a catalogue of efforts made to make it look effortless, and nearly all photos are taken ‘on a good day’. What we don’t see are the greasy hair days, the acne days, the ‘before editing’ photo or the bodies before they are poised and posed to look their best. We should never look at anyone’s social media as a diary of their life, as for most people their social media is a portfolio of their photographic greatest hits.

Social media is powerful. It has the ability to build us up, to educate us, unite people from all over the world and enable us to do things we could never achieve without it. Unfortunately, with that comes it’s ability to drag us down, delude us and poison us with toxic messages from toxic industries. Education is key. We need to educate ourselves on what is real and what is not, and encourage others to do the same, especially younger people and children who are just starting to use social media. With such an influential resource at the tips of our fingers, we need to take control of how we use it, rather than let it control us.

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