girl looking in mirror

Unrealistic beauty ideals: ‘Nowadays people even compare themselves to their own edited picture’

Instagram makes it really easy to compare yourself to others, be it influencers or friends. Everybody seems picture perfect. Clinical Psychologist Saskia Geraerts (47) is specialised in self-esteem ánd active on Instagram. She gives tips on what to do to feel better: ‘If you compare yourself to others, make sure it’s with people that inspire you or are a role model for you.’

A study from Bond University in Australia showed that people who based their self-worth more on others’ approval, tended to engage in more social comparison on Instagram. And people who engaged more in social comparison on Instagram tended to have a lower self-esteem.

‘I specifically chose Instagram because I have the feeling that it gives of the idea that the world needs to be perfect’, Saskia says. ‘We only see pretty pictures of others, which we compare ourselves to. I post insights in the human brain and try to give perspective in how we see ourselves. A little bit of psychological support from a distance, you could say. Of course, you can’t compare this to real psychological help that I offer in my clinic.’

‘I’m half of identical twins, so I grew up with comparing myself to others. Even when I wasn’t comparing myself to her, or she to me, our surroundings compared us with each other’, Saskia mentions. ‘If I’m having a bad day, it’s easy to compare myself to people that seem to have it easier in life. I’ve gotten good at tapping myself on the fingers for that, though. I know it’ll just make me feel bad, so I try to get inspired instead of comparing myself.’

‘A plastic surgeon I know, told me that he gets a lot of requests from people wanting to look like a filtered or edited version of themselves.’

Desire to be different
‘Comparing yourself to others happens a lot. Nowadays people even compare themselves to edited pictures of themselves. You can imagine how much discontent that can bring. You always look so pretty in a picture, and then you get out of your bed, look in the mirror, and you look completely different? It only enlarges the desire to be different.’

‘A plastic surgeon I know, told me that he gets a lot of requests from people wanting to look like a filtered or edited version of themselves. That didn’t happen in the old days.’

Not only looks
It’s not only looks that may make you sad. The life that others are living may create a feeling of discontent as well, Saskia explains: ‘Think about the life those digital nomads are living. It must be great, scrolling on your laptop on a stunning beach. And there you are, in your lame office with the same colleagues and the grey weather outside. Pretty much anything that seems too beautiful or effortless makes people feel that way.’

‘Luckily, there are still protecting factors. I’ve never heard someone getting derailed by only using social media. But it does make you live in a certain tunnel. You have to try and put things in perspective, give it context.’

Social media as an inspiration
‘I think there are two options when it comes to this problem’, Saskia sums up. ‘The first one is: you compare yourself to others. If you do this, make sure it’s with people that inspire you or are a role model for you. But don’t try to meet up to the extremes. Choose someone that’s in your ‘league’. Just be prepared to put the same effort in to it as these people do.’

‘The second option is: don’t compare yourself to others, which would be really impressive if you could. It’s in our human nature to look at other people and compare ourselves. The trick is to create a realistic and positive self-image. Give yourself that loving pat on the back when your day was rough. But also be able to give yourself a little push whenever necessary. Focus on the good things, not the things you fear.’

‘You have to see social media as an inspiration or as pastime. Let the nice things you see, inspire you and make your plans based off on that inspiration.’

Text and photo: © Janne Schellingen