Social Media’s Myth of Health and Happiness

Photo by Jason Howie (Flickr).
Written by BU News Service

Why the intense pressure to be perfect on social media can stimulate mental illnesses.

By Maxine Diehl
BU News Service

19-year-old Essena O’Neill’s life seemed enviable — her Instagram account showed beautiful morning workouts on the beach, artful vegan dishes and a slim body clad in designer clothes. Her social media had been described as a “visual diary of her healthy and happy life in the sun” by her model agency, IMG. But soon, videos surfaced online showing O’Neill crying after losing her battle against society’s standards. She revealed her life to be full of anxiety, depression and restrictive eating. It raised the question — does body image really contribute to a healthy and happy state of being?

When you mention the negative influences of social media, people roll their eyes, take out their phones and begin doing something else. Many believe that those who dislike social media are just jealous of other people, and just don’t have any followers/friends on their own accounts. But depression, anxiety and eating disorder rates continue to increase, which in turn forces us to investigate what the parallel rise of social media has to do with it. All O’Neill did was spark the conversation.

Most of us have several social media accounts where we attempt to portray our lives in a favorable way. Every day, we are confronted with society’s formula for happiness: healthy foods, perfect bodies and a great relationship with an exciting job in order to be #blessed. But if we really had all that, would it still mean as much if we didn’t get society’s approval? If we didn’t get likes on our green smoothie and ab pics, would we still skip the cookie and the night in?

We’re led to believe that every one else is always happier than we are, and this naturally fuels feelings of self-loathing, especially in regards to food and exercise. These feelings increase exponentially with every picture of someone else’s happy and healthy life. Research had already proven social media as a trigger for mental illnesses, since we are encouraged to constantly compare ourselves with others, oblivious to the fact that our happiness may not result from the same things as theirs. The unfiltered, unedited version of our lives may not be worthy of likes and hearts, but that doesn’t mean that our lives aren’t healthy or filled with happiness. Let’s work toward making our social media accounts portray happiness and don’t allow these tools to contribute towards destroying yourself by aiming for impossible standards.

It is amazing how we can sensor nipples and swear words, but not unhealthy ideas of body and lifestyle. We need to fight against these ideals, in order to ensure people don’t continue to destroy themselves in the process of finding acclamation. So surround yourself with real people — people who use #nofilter, without tagging it or highlighting it. Go out with people who can eat without letting their food get cold because they need to post a pic first.

O’Neill also raised noted that social media can be beneficial. Social media can inspire you through times of depression, eating disorders or anxiety as Izzy Mulkerrins‘ blog does. It can motivate you to work out and see the positives in life. It can be an asset, if used consciously. But it’s important to be aware of the ubiquitous triggers of social media, and learn how we can avoid them.

There is no ideal lifestyle and there is no universal healthy. Most people know this, but we fail to remind ourselves while we enviously scroll down our newsfeed. So I’ll say it now, just like thousands have said in the past weeks: You need to be healthy for yourself, not for likes. Whether that means being vegan or never working out, it is your choice. Support the movement for happiness, not for perfection.

Leave a Comment