Social Media Can Be a Toxic Mirror

Nicasia Thelen

Editor’s note: This column originally ran in the Lincoln Journal Star on March 1, 2018, in the Teen Voices series. 

Social media has become a toxic mirror. Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat deliver tools that allow teens to earn approval for their appearance and compare themselves to others.

When did we become a society so focused on how many Instagram likes you got or how many people view your Snapchat story? We are stuck in an endless cycle of constantly seeking approval from others, and it is only getting worse.

As a teenager, I am constantly on my phone, whether it is posting a new selfie to my Instagram feed or keeping up my streaks on Snapchat. When I am on social media, I have endless access to popular culture. It is literally everywhere — easily accessible within the swipe of a smartphone screen. Popular culture can influence the way we may view ourselves, either in a positive or negative way.

Many free apps can actually help alter how you look. Selfie-holics are able to alter their bodies so much easier with the help of programs like Photoshop. Apps like Instagram influence us into creating a specific image of beauty, an image that will make us feel good about ourselves.

As teenagers, we cover up our pimples, whiten our teeth and even airbrush ourselves to appear tanner. We want to appear “thinner” and “hotter” so we can feel “beautiful.” Today, we think of becoming beautiful as a job, and, if you work at it, you can improve on being beautiful.

Now, you can hardly find a selfie that someone else has taken on social media without a filter on it. Filters may help enhance the quality of the picture, but they also hide who you are because they mask your flaws that make you unique. They trick us into believing a false image of perfection. We compare ourselves to these false idols, and it lowers our self-esteem.

We have grown up in a society where we are so concerned about what other people think of us. We constantly change ourselves to follow the newest trends so we aren’t left behind. We will do anything to fit in. And for what? So we can have approval from others? So we can feel good about ourselves?

Although there are times where social media can be empowering, it can also feed into an unhealthy, attention-craving mentality. While not all aspects of social media are terrible, it becomes detrimental when the drive for posting selfies becomes fueled by a desire for attention.

I used to buy into the attention-seeking mentality of social media. So, when I took a really cute selfie, I just had to post it on my Instagram. And, when it didn’t get many likes, I would get really upset, and I would wonder what was wrong with me.

For years, I struggled to find my own confidence. I was in a place where I would look in the mirror and see someone who wasn’t pretty enough or trendy enough. I kept comparing myself to others, and I thought that if I could just look like them I would be pretty. I had to really open my eyes and take a moment to reflect in order to realize that this wasn’t true at all.

I have come a long way — and I still have a ways to go — but I am more confident in myself then I have ever been. We just have to understand that we are our own worst critics, and we may see things that we don’t like about ourselves that others don’t even notice.

In order to find our true beauty — the beauty that already lies within us — we must accept who we are as a person. We all have flaws, but we must embrace them as part of we are.

It is easier said than done. I know because it took me a very long time to realize that the one thing that I hated most about myself also made me unique. It was easier to accept my flaws because for once I was able to embrace my imperfections.

I have realized that you don’t need to be skinny or wear a lot of makeup to feel beautiful. Society may have brainwashed us into believe this as true — and social media may have contributed to this idea — but we are all beautiful inside and out. We shouldn’t have to post selfies to gain approval from others. We are all unique; it is part of what makes us special. Our beauty comes from our personality and who we are as a person.

Looks do not define beauty. Neither does how many likes you get on your Instagram page. Society feeds us with false information and tells us that if you are not perfect then you are not beautiful. We need to realize none of us are perfect. Everyone has their own problems they deal with on a daily basis, and, once we realize this, it becomes easier to love ourselves and love other people. Only then will we be able to accept ourselves as a beautiful person who has many unique qualities.