Social media affecting our self-esteem

It was just past eight on a Tuesday night, what was considered to be the prime time to post something on Instagram for me and my middle school friends. After numerous consultations with others on what filter best masked my insecurities, outlined my best features, but was not too overdone, I settled on “Lark,” a filter that made my rouge cheeks look more pale, my eyes softer, and my hair look shinier.

I then spent the next thirty minutes thinking of a phrase that would perfectly capture the mood of the picture. It needed to be short. It needed to be funny, or at least entertaining. It needed to seem like I had not thought it over too much but still seemed like I cared. I settled on a smiley face. If nothing else, I thought, at least it’s not one of those cliche quotes people always put.

By the end of the night, my picture had raked in a total of 106 likes. One hundred and six likes worth of self confidence, 106 likes worth of desperation, acceptance, over thinking, obsessing, and overall anxiety, all from one picture.

This was a common process that I endured throughout middle school while attempting to post a picture, status, or comment on a social media platform. In middle school, the fear of acceptance on social media and the jealousy that came from looking at other’s pictures, created not only issues of self-esteem, but a lack of confidence completely. After interviewing numerous other students, it turns out I was not alone.

Freshmen Halle Barker and Holiday Wear echoed this sentiment saying it affects them both negatively. Though in agreement, freshman Eva Katsoulakis said, “It affected me more in middle school than now, but if I’m having a bad day and I’m on Instagram it makes my day a lot worse.”

Freshman Julia Slaughter said,  “Whenever I’m sad and I go on Snapchat and see everyone’s stories, it just makes me more sad because I feel like I’m missing out when I see other people doing things.”

Sophomore Larkin Campbell also stated that in turn, she felt less confident “because there are a lot of good looking people out there that edit their pictures a lot and make you feel like you have to live up to those standards.”

If so many people feel negative effects of social media, why do they use it? About 90 percent of those interviewed said that the main reason they use social media is to keep in touch with friends. Having a phone around becomes “more of a security” than anything else, according to Katsoulakis.

For some, such as sophomore Natalie Dougan, the time spent scrolling through social media or messaging friends has become an important part of her daily routine. “Ninety percent of what I do is on my phone, the other 10 percent is eating,” she said.

This may be why people, such as senior Mardi Houn, shy away from the use of social media. “I was sick and tired of seeing the same things over and over again. It just seemed like a place for people to argue,” she said. “It definitely made me want certain things I’m not capable of having. A lot of standards are not realistic for girls.”

Houn is not alone. Senior Zachary Hatiras also tries to actively avoid social media.

“I think people have alter egos on social media where they act differently on social media than they do in person,” he said.

Junior Louis Triggs also said, “It becomes a bit of a contest you know? When the platform, in many ways, is about the number of likes you get. People are keeping score, so it’s a bit dodgy in that respect.”

For others though, the benefits of social media outweigh the negative effects. “It only affects you if you look at a lot of pretty people’s Instas. I don’t do that because I know I will be like ‘why don’t I look like that?’” said sophomore Gaelen Murray.

Whether used for browsing purposes or posting, it is undeniable that social media has become a large part of teens’ lives. In a study published in the journal of Psychological Science, teens were found to experience a direct correlation between the number of likes on a picture and the activation of the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain’s reward system.

In the study, teens were shown a total of 148 pictures, including 40 they submitted themselves, that were assigned various amount of likes. When shown a picture with more likes, the reward system in the brain showed a great deal of activity, especially when shown a picture that the participant had selected.

In the same way that more likes activate the rewards portion of the brain, a small number of likes can create the effect of not feeling good enough. How much will we let social media affect our self-esteem?

Now, I am a far cry from my middle school self who put filters on pictures, hoping to rack up likes. I recently deleted the Facebook app on my phone and stray away from social media use.

The only app I really use is Snapchat, which allows me to send messages and attach pictures which disappear from my account within 30 seconds.

A nice mix of text messaging and low-pressure Instagram, it appeals to my desire to remain a social being without crafting a perfect image of my life.