The Not So Perfect Lens

The Effects of Social Media on Mental Health

By: Sydney Fiorentino

On social media, we often see other people's lives through a curated, "perfect" lens. Between the facetunes, the filters, and the fakeness, teenagers today can hardly tell the difference between authenticity and unattainable. The amount of Instagram likes you receive and your following to follower ratio have become a determinate of self worth. The obsessions don't stop at Instagram; Snapchat messages left opened and unresponded to, maintaining Snapchat streaks, and snapmap stalking keeps teenagers addicted to receiving validation from others. And with the rise of TikTok this past year, screen time continues to drastically dominate teenagers' lives.

According to Sprout Social, “about 6 in 10 Instagram users log in at least once daily. It’s the second most logged in social media site for daily use after Facebook. Twenty-one percent of users log in weekly and 16% log in less often than that.” As of 2020, there are about 90 million of active Snapchat users in the U.S alone.

The Danger of the "Perfect" Lens

Although social media serves as a connector of people, the excess exposure to strangers' “perfect" lives takes a toll. I find myself scrolling through Instagram, coming across girls my age who flaunt their happiness and beauty. It is easy, then, to start downplaying myself in comparison to these seemingly "perfect" strangers: “Why don’t I look like that? Why doesn’t my life look like that? Am I not pretty? Am I not good enough?” But the reality is: social media is mostly fake. Yes; social media can be real and helpful in connecting us to strangers. For example, Tumblr or TikTok often help teens find supportive communities and sub-cultures to join. On our own mainstream feeds, though, people are more prone to posting and editing photos that project a perfect life. I will admit, there have been plenty of times when I get jealous of an influencer's glamorous life, or when I see yet another selfie from photogenic model. The constant reinforcement of unrealistic beauty standards can affect how I feel on the inside. It is important to remember that in reality, no one’s life is perfect, no one is always happy 100% of the time, and your Instagram feed is only a portion of who you are.

Taking a Social Media Cleanse

Today, high follower counts and perfectly curated feeds are normalized on social media. I agree, it’s nice to look good in photos and subsequently edit them to feel more confident, but holding yourself to such unrealistic standards becomes toxic to your mental health. Taking a social media cleanse once and a while is extremely beneficial in self-care regimens. I have taken breaks from Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram after noticing their unhealthy side effects on my mental health. To be constantly bombarded by strangers' lives becomes unproductive at a certain point. I have also deleted LinkedIn in order to stop comparing my achievements to others'. I was obsessed with these social media apps, constantly checking to see who replied and their activity, instead of living my own life to the fullest. After realizing the toll that social media was taking on my mental health, I sought to logout for a few weeks in order to tune into the world around me. When I did this, I finally could connect with myself when I wasn’t constantly comparing my life to a "perfect" stranger.

Social media creates standards that aren’t necessarily ideal or achievable. While that’s important to recognize, it's also important not to overlook its benefits: social media connects people who feel similarly and relate to one another. It serves as a constant source of information, keeping us informed on local, nationwide and international news. It provides us with inspiration via Pinterest or TikTok. And if you're looking for a simple cheer-me-up, the abundance of cute animal videos out there seems endless. Social media has it’s pros and cons. But when we begin to overuse these apps, and in turn affecting mental health, we must step back and remember that "perfect" is just an illusion.