6 Tips For Managing Your Self Esteem On Social Media

Recently, because I am struggling a lot with my mental health, I have not been posting much on social media, and the other week I went a full fortnight without posting on everyone’s favourite photo sharing app: Instagram. In the grand scheme of things, this is not a big deal at all, but in my head, after fourteen days still with no photo to post, I was in a right panic and felt like the apocalypse was bound to begin.
As much as I hate to admit it, my self esteem rests a lot on what people think of me in real life and online, and therefore a large portion of what I think about myself comes from things like social media. I know it is unhealthy, unhelpful and perhaps a little bit silly and I am ironically the kind of person to shake my fist at the sky when people get upset about the number of “likes” on their selfie and cry in dramatic anguish “The number of likes doesn’t matter and doesn’t dictate your value as a person”, but in the end I cannot help it.
After two weeks of not posting a photo I managed to convince myself that everybody hated me, was furious at my inability to post a reasonable selfie or a witty hashtag and so I resigned myself to the fact that this was the end. Solemnly I sat in my lounge and listened for the sound of an approaching mob, preparing myself for the hoards of villagers to arrive with their flaming torches and their pitchforks. After four hours of anxious worrying however, no angry villagers, no flaming torches and no pitchforks had arrived which was both a nice surprise and quite a shame as I had bought a nice bag of marshmallows to toast on those terrifying torches for a little snack before the riot started and I had a lot of hay and straw that needed tidying (according to Wikipedia: “clearing hay and straw” is what a pitchfork is used for…handy little farming fact for you right there…ooh and in other farming fact news, chickens lay eggs and sheep say “Baa”).

Turns out I may have got a bit carried away with the catastrophising (which is odd and so unlike me…), and I would imagine that there are some other people out there with buckets of anxiety and no buckets of self esteem who have been in similar situations. Therefore today I thought I would try and help my fellow pitch fork, flaming torch fearing, mentally ill pals out there which is why I am here to offer a few tips as to how to manage the anxieties that can be caused by this 21st century obsession with social media accounts and how to help keep your self esteem and the way you think about yourself away from that..

Tip 1: Know that trolls exist – Twenty years ago, the word “Troll” was used to denote a creature that likes to live under bridges tormenting billy goats. Nowadays though, if someone speaks of “trolls” they are more likely to be referring to those hate filled creatures on the internet (otherwise known as humans who have nothing better to do), who spend their time locked away in computer filled rooms spouting as much hate as they can to torment all the innocent people they can find (like the original troll definition they also are known to torment billy goats if they come across them, although billy goats are slightly harder to come across using the internet due to their lack of opposable thumbs, laptops, Wi-Fi and their preference of crossing bridges to googling cat videos.) Basically, these are people who are going to potentially post negative or offensive comments on your uploads regardless of what they are and the key here to remember is that it is NOT your fault nor is it personal. If you find yourself getting hate online do not simply accept that it is hate you deserve and be aware that as well as cool things and nice people, some real idiots exist on the web, but whatever they say is no reflection on reality. Seriously, if people want to be nasty they will say anything just to get a reaction and that reaction is all they are looking for rather than a desire to state the truth about you as a person. I once saw a troll commenting on a video of a penguin saying that “penguins suck” which I think perfectly illustrates my “some people are idiots,” as clearly penguins do not suck and I think we can all agree are waddling miracles of nature who deserve much love and respect. If you ever get hate remember that penguin hating troll and with that remember that some people just want to be mean for the sake of it, so don’t take any negative comments you might get to heart.

Tip 2: Remember that interactions are open to interpretation – One day years ago, my mum and I were buying a new microwave and in asking for my opinion of which one I preferred, my mother asked me “if you were buying for your own house which one would you pick”. By this she meant “I know nothing about microwaves. Do you have a preference or opinion you would like to share to help me?” What I heard however was “how long are you going to live in our house for? Please start thinking about buying microwaves and other appliances for your own place and start the process of moving out of the family home immediately.” I guess the point I am making here is that I can often read too much into comments made by other people, or indeed read them as meaning entirely different things to what the speaker intended, and I think people often do this online in social media where comments and likes are flying all over the place without the correct tone or specification of the meaning perfectly portrayed. Therefore whenever reading a comment or interpreting the meaning of a “like” online, always remind yourself to not get carried away with interpretations and that it is unlikely that a simple statement such as “I do not like penguins” on a photo of you and a penguin means something dramatic like “The entire foundation on which you base your life is wrong, please jump off a cliff”…

Tip 3: Be aware that people do things – There are periods of time when people use social media. Logically then, this means that there are some periods of time when people don’t use social media and it is vital to be aware of this fact if you, like me, often find yourself relying a little too heavily on social media as a source of self esteem. Every time I post a tweet, photo on Instagram or a blog on this delightful website you are currently visiting (cheers for that), unless it is well received within the first five minutes I am in despair about the fact that everybody hates me/nobody likes me anymore and that I am a terrible human, without realising that there are multiple reasons for silence on one of your posts, one of these reasons being that people haven’t seen it because they are not on social media. It isn’t as if people sit 24 hours a day, 7 days a week staring at your account in anticipation of your next post, ready to react seconds after it is uploaded, they do stuff and live their lives. If you ever find yourself panicking about the lack of likes on a post a few minutes after you have submitted it, try not to assume this is because you are hated and get carried away thinking all of the negative thoughts you can about yourself. Maybe some people won’t see your post at all but that is fine and the lack of interaction is more likely to be down to that than some flaw in your character. Whenever you get no likes just remember, people need to leave social media to do things like pee (an activity they are hopefully not doing whilst using their phones…)

Tip 4: Think about the long term – Life is unpredictable and none of us can be sure where we will be in ten years time even if we make very organised plans for our lives over the next decade. One thing I can predict however, is that any interaction you have on social media today (yes…even commenting on this blog…feel free to do that by the way…as long as it is nice and doesn’t make me cry), will not matter to you or mean as much to you in ten years time as it does right now. When you find that social media scores and numbers are getting you down and are comparing yourself to other people with a million retweets on that picture of a tortoise (people love a tortoise), imagine yourself living in a nursing home at 100 years old reminiscing about your life and adventures. I cannot guarantee that you will have achieved all you wanted nor that you won’t have some regrets over time, but what I can guarantee is the fact that if someone were to ask you at 100 years old what the highlight of your life was, it is not going to be “that time my Instagram picture got over 1000 likes”, and is more likely to be something along the lines of “that time I swam with penguins”, “that time I hugged a penguin” or something else people see as important…like marriage and the birth of your kids…that stuff. Of all the nursing homes I have ever visited people in, I have never heard of anyone reminiscing about the time they got retweeted by that guy from that band (and not just because twitter wasn’t invented in the time period being discussed). In the long term, likes and comments don’t matter, it is experiences, people and penguins that do.

Tip 5: Know that none of it is real – Ok, with this one I am going to hold my hands up and admit that I do not exactly know how the internet works, where it comes from or where it “is”. In my head however, though the internet is a real thing that we all use and experience in day to day life, it is not something like a cliff which would take serious crane action to remove and technically, with one flip of a switch, it could all be gone tomorrow. Of course nothing real is permanent and mountains and rivers can be “deleted” with enough effort, but few things aside from the internet that are so integral to our lives could be gotten rid of so easily. The internet exists but it could just as easily not and sometimes that also helps me when I find myself basing too much of my self worth on things I find on there. Every time you are upset or struggle with a comment or interaction on social media, perhaps it will also help you then to think about the fact that it makes no sense to base your self esteem on something so flimsy, for at any second the internet could just be over (LORD PLEASE DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN) and could all disappear at the flick of a switch…

Tip 6: Don’t forget the “real” world – I suppose this point is quite similar to the previous one but it is still important because as much as I want to encourage remembering that the internet is so fragile in it’s existence, I want to encourage people not to forget that the real world (you know…that stuff outside that you see when you peep out from under the duvet every few weeks) and the “real” life exists outside. Virtual and digital worlds exist for sure and they can be fantastic places to get lost in or even find yourself in, but though our world can be a bit rubbish at times, it is there and you do have a life within it away from social media, so tuning out of social media and into the real world is ok. Again of course, everything in the world is technically very fragile and not even mountains or oceans will exist forever, but in a way it is a lot more permanent and real in my eyes than a thumbs up icon or a few characters typed on a mysterious “mobile telephone” device. I know that shortly after that incident where I didn’t post online for a while, I met up with a friend and it really helped because it reminded me of what is actually important and that there is a life and dare I say it real people around as apposed to digital emojis and Facebook profile pictures, and sometimes those real people are worth spending time with too (unless their name rhymes with Bonald Wump. Never trust anyone whose name sounds like Bonald Wump.) If you are too caught up in social media scores and “friends” and what they all mean, take a step back and maybe glance around at the real world to remind you of the other things out there. Trust me, some of them are quite fabulous and worth keeping an eye on.

So there you have it! 6 ways to manage and look after your self-esteem/general mental health and wellbeing when you find yourself spending too much time on the internet or worrying about social media. I am not saying that these tips are going to make that bizarre side of 21st century life easy, nor am I denying that you will probably still freak out a bit about that comment and that photo with only 2 likes on it (don’t worry…I may have written these tips but I know I shall be doing the same), but I hope these at least help a bit with those stresses and anxieties, even if they are things you only remember once in a while.
Now if you don’t mind me, I am off to upload this blog to that trusty friend the internet and then I am going to spend the next few hours staring at the screen to see exactly how many people read it, how many like or comment on it and how quickly so that I know how much to value myself/hate myself for the rest of the day/generally get an idea of my worth as a human. PLEASE LIKE ME AND MY BLOG OR I AM NOTHING. NOTHING I TELL YOU…ahem…

Take care everyone x

SocialMediaSelfEsteem

The Problem With Before And After Photos In Eating Disorder Recovery

A few months ago, towards the end of February, it was Eating Disorders awareness week, so naturally I did as I always do on this occasion and buried my head in the sand for the duration of the week (I also allowed children to use the remaining sand to build sand castles atop my hiding place because I am such a lovely person). This may sound like odd behaviour for someone who is constantly talking about mental health problems like eating disorders in order to raise awareness and for someone who has a strong disliking of sand, but then again odd behaviour is what I am known for. Literally.

The reason that I avoided the internet during that week, and indeed avoid it every year, is that it is a week in which social media is filled with “before and after” pictures, aka photos of someone taken during the depths of their illness, compared to a later photo taken post/during recovery. Don’t get me wrong, these photos certainly have their place and I would be lying if I were to say that I have never been inspired by any of them. Often these pictures will come with an empowering and motivating story of someone’s journey in recovery and triumph over anorexia, and that is brilliant. That is something that should be celebrated, and those stories  are shared throughout the Eating Disorder community to encourage others to fight their illnesses and to give hope to those who doubt recovery is truly possible. I love these stories but it is not the stories of recovery that I have a problem with, rather I have a problem with the “before and after” photos that are often involved in telling the triumphant tale.

Firstly, these images will usually show the person in the depths of their illness as an incredibly underweight individual, with ribs popping out so far all over the place that you could easily use them as a xylophone. Regardless of the inspirational intention with which they were posted, there is always the risk of these pictures going on to be triggers for other sufferers or, dare I say it, “thinspiration” for all those misguided souls who think that anorexia is something to aspire to. They can also make sufferers who are perhaps not as underweight (or who are unable to see themselves as that underweight) consequently see these images and feel that they cannot seek help because they aren’t “thin enough” or “bad enough”, when encouraging people to seek treatment is supposed to be the whole point of a week dedicated to educating and raising awareness of eating disorders. Similarly, in their representation of someone with an eating disorder and someone without, they encourage the myth that eating disorders are about being thin and that eating disorders can be seen, (a myth I have tried to tackle here: Why it is physically impossible to “look anorexic”.)
For people who do not know much about eating disorders and who do not have the time or interest in reading full accounts of recovery journeys, these snapshots may be the only experience they get of someone with an eating disorder, so the risk is that the stigma and lesson of “ill is underweight”, “well is a healthy weight” will be perpetuated without taking into account the far more complex and important internal and mental struggle that is having an eating disorder.

Similarly, as an image to summarise recovery, I feel it is problematic in that the main difference that is visible between the two pictures is weight, which implies that the main difference one goes through is the difference of the number on the scales. It suggests that in recovery, the biggest thing you “gain” is weight, when really weight is probably the smallest of all the things I have seen people gain in recovery. I may not be able to speak as a recovered person myself, but of all the friends I have watched beat their eating disorders into a soggy pulp on the ground that is no longer able to control their lives, the change in their weight has been the least significant change of all. Okay there is a change in weight and perhaps clothes size, but when I see my recovered friends, I do not see the change in their BMI, what strikes me most is the change in their lifestyle and their overall presentation as a person. To me they have not gained weight as much as they have gained themselves. When you are in the depths of your eating disorder, as much as you fool yourself, you cannot maintain a normal life. Your ability to have a job, have normal relationships with people, be happy or even function are seriously compromised, and these things are all aspects of life that can be improved on with recovery. I have seen friends go on to study medicine at university, have romantic relationships, give birth to children, climb mountains (I am talking proper big mountains like Kilimanjaro), and travel the world. They have regained their ability to properly smile, to laugh without having to fake it, and to me seeing all those photos of them skydiving in Australia or getting married and having babies have been far more significant and noticeable changes than what size jeans they wear. It is these aspects of recovery that are the really important reasons that people need to fight and it is these changes in lifestyle that are the really inspiring stories. Yes weight gain is a part of the journey, but what is more important is the places that weight can take you, for example to medical school or up a flipping huge mountain.

On a similar note, my other issue is that I feel before and after photos simplify the process of recovery. In one picture you probably have someone who is underweight and either looking miserable or faking a smile out of dead eyes, and in the other you have someone who has gained weight and perhaps, is beaming at you with genuine joy. This then makes recovery very straight forward, “Being underweight make you unhappy and thus gaining weight will make you happy”. It automatically assumes that the happiness comes as the weight increases, without highlighting the far more complicated journey in getting that weight to be there.

It is hard to explain exactly what I mean, but it is like looking at a picture of someone standing in a field looking miserable, and then another photo of them smiling in the same field but with the addition of an ice cream. At face value then, you can look at these pictures and think “well a person was sad because they didn’t have an ice cream but then they got an ice cream and they were happy” , simple. What the picture will not tell you however, is how that ice cream got there. Little would you know that the person had not simply walked up to the nearest ice cream van, asked for a 99p Mr Whippy and walked away smiling, just as the person in recovery had not simply gained some weight, and in turn, a smile (side note did you know that they don’t even do 99p Mr Whippys anymore? They are now at least £1.50! How do those ice cream men still have the nerve to play jolly tunes as they patrol the streets for customers now that they are basically performing daylight robbery rather than offering a merry treat. You can play Greensleeves all you want but that doesn’t change the fact you are making me re-mortgage the house to buy myself an ice cream. SHAME ON YOU ICE CREAM MEN. SHAME ON YOU.)

Anyway, what the picture doesn’t show is that to acquire their ice cream they were forced to go on a perilous test of their endurance, that pushed them to the limits of mental and physical strength. To get that ice cream in the picture, that person had in fact had to walk across continents and cross oceans to America, the largest producer of almonds in 2014 I will have you know, and then had to hand pick hundreds of almonds ready to blend into a creamy milk worthy of a tasty frozen dessert (this person was lactose intolerant so almond milk was the milk required for the job.)
Then, exhausted from months of trekking, nut picking and milk making, that person had to swim across even more oceans into the freezing cold pole of the Arctic where they stirred their almond milk with a wooden spoon atop a large glacier that acted as a natural freezer for their ice cream churning process. Even when the ice cream was made it didn’t get any easier as they had to then wrestle with a penguin who had cheekily tried to steal the ice cream (I don’t blame him to be honest. I would steal ice cream if all I had ever eaten was raw fish), and then they had to get the ice cream all the way back to that field in their country of origin, back through the hot climate of almond fields in America, without the creation melting. Clearly that is a far more character building excursion to get to that point of “person with ice cream in a field” than the picture initially suggests, and I didn’t even tell you the 5 month side trip it took to make the cone in which the ice cream was to rest (it would take too long to tell you fully but as a brief summary it involved a very angry rhino and a lot of waffles).
The person worked hard to get to the point where they were standing in that field with that ice cream, and all that hard work is eradicated, as it is in recovery journeys, when all you see is a simple before and after shot.

Obviously I am not saying we should stop people from sharing their recovery stories and indeed, if you have recovered from an eating disorder, then I am OVERWHELMINGLY proud and impressed by your determination and strength. If you were here with me now rather than wherever you are reading this, I would give you so many rounds of applause that my hands would fall off and I would be left clapping stumpy wrists to show appreciation of your achievement. What I am saying is that maybe, more often we should be celebrating and telling these stories without the underweight photos that go with them. A story is still a great story without pictures. Hell, look at Harry Potter, that story changed and continues to change generations of people, it has grown theme parks and movie franchises, careers and other astonishing things, all from a pile of words cobbled together with no images at all (For the purpose of this post can we please just pretend that the illustrated versions that are currently in production don’t exist.) Still, even when pictures are added to the Harry Potter books, it will still be the words that are doing all the talking.

So that is why I have a problem with before and after photos when it comes to eating disorder recovery, not because I don’t like inspirational stories or don’t want people to celebrate their achievements, but because those pictures don’t really do anything but diminish and reduce the value and greatness of what has been achieved. As a snapshot ok, a picture may say a thousand words, but a recovery journey is made up of millions of them.

Take care everyone x

BeforeAndAfter