Last year, a study found that the social media app that is worst for your mental health is: Instagram. While doubters – think people like Piers Morgan or Katie Hopkins – would roll their eyes at this idea, there’s no denying that Instagram is full of images of beautiful people. That’s part of the whole appeal: you log in, and spend hours looking at edited snapshots of people’s lives. Users tend only to upload parts of their life that are good. For example, I might upload a snapshot of my delish poached eggs on avocado toast – purposefully cropping out the pile of washing up in the corner. Likewise, I’m always uploading holiday snaps from when I was last abroad – while I’m sat on my sofa, in rainy England, wearing a tracksuit.
Because of the easy ability to only portray what you want people to see, people constantly change the way their image is portrayed on social media. This has always been the case for celebrities (who have been photoshopped since day one), but with anyone and everyone having an Instagram account, more and more people are doing it. Suddenly, you open up Instagram and Daisy who you sat next to in college is striking a Beyonce-style pose, looking fit, and you’re left feeling like a potato. Camera angles, filters, poses – they all play a part in creating the Insta-perfect look. The better a picture looks, the more likes it gets, which in turns activates the part of your brain associated with rewards. This recognition produces a happy feeling which is also highly addictive, meaning it can be hard for people to stop using social media. It is also detrimental to mental health. Instagram has been proven to cause eating disorders, as well as causing other issues such as anxiety and depression.
One of the key reasons Instagram is perceived as being damaging for mental health is due to comparison. Surrounded by images of beauty, it’s hard to differentiate between what’s real and what isn’t – and even harder to stop comparing yourself. I am a classic example of someone who spends a lot of time scrolling through pictures of beautiful women, and then looks in the mirror and feels terrible. On Instagram, women are glowing: they have white teeth, no spots, and are out having fun while wearing cute outfits. Because access to all these images is right in front of me, I fall into the trap of thinking that they always look perfect. The chances are, however, that these women have days where they’re spotty, or their hair is greasy, or they have a food baby that looks like they’re 8 months pregnant with twins. I’m not saying this to detract from their beauty, but to draw attention to the fact that we are all human.
While Instagram is a great tool for sharing photos and experiences, it’s so important to acknowledge that we only see the best bits. If life is a film (cheesy), then Instagram is the highlights; the 30-second trailer that shows only the most glamorous parts. But a lot of the time, the best things on life aren’t glamorous. Stuffing your face with greasy carbs, singing in a taxi while drunk with your mates, stepping off a 4am flight looking like a troll, finally hitting your target in the gym, waking up and kissing someone you love – none of these are glamorous, none of them would make ‘good Instagram posts’, but all of them are real life experiences that we enjoy. While Instagram HAS been found to cause mental health problems, a lot can be done to prevent it from taking over your life. This includes taking regular breaks, not using it for hours a day, and always remembering that no one’s life is as good as it is on Instagram.