Why Selfies Totally Ruin Your Self-Esteem (UNLESS You Have This!)

Photo: WeHeartIt

Facebook usage and selfies have been receiving a lot of hype from academic researchers across the globe lately. This is thanks to the numerous academic journal publications released this year alone, which highlight the potential dangers certain social media behavior has on the mental health of young women. Particularly, the maladaptive consequences of internalized objectification, such as body consciousness, body shame, depression and eating disorders.

A recent Australian study published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly has brought to light the negative outcomes of Facebook usage on how young women see themselves and others. According to this study lead by Fardouly at Sydney’s UNSW, the longer a girl spends on Facebook, the more likely she is to compare herself to both her past images of herself and those of her friends and acquaintances.

According to researchers, the problem with us using Facebook is that when we post selfies and check out the selfies of our friends, we actually start looking at ourselves from the perspective of an observer.

In other words, we literally see ourselves as objects (self-objectification). This means we have a greater tendency to critically evaluate and judge ourselves for our physical appearance, which in turn leads to a whole myriad of consequences like body surveillance, body shame, depression and negative eating attitudes.

Fardouly says that when we compare what we look like to past pictures of ourselves and pictures of other people we know, we tend to focus on specific parts of our body that we aren't so happy with, which again, leads to body surveillance, body shame, depression and negative eating attitudes.

Another study, conducted at the University of Michigan and published in the February edition of the Pyschology and Psychiatry Journal, explored the impact of Facebook on young people.

The researchers found that use of Facebook was a predictor of objectified body consciousness in both men and women of college age, which then resulted in increased body shame and less sexual assertiveness. Associate Professor of Journalism Yusuf Kalyango from The University of Ohio, who co-authored the study, said that this was the first study linking time spent on Facebook with negative body image.

Mass mediated objectification is a phenomenon caused by negative body image comparisons via social media platforms such as Facebook.

Study author Kalyango suggests, "Such an online climate could trigger body shame due to over-comparison to unrealistic images." He goes on to say, "This online social comparison media environment creates a perfect breeding ground for disordered eating, and therefore poses as a risk factor, especially among the highly susceptible group of college women."

According to the researchers of this study, Facebook and social media platforms facilitate an amplified experience of oneself from the perspective of the observer or onlooker. This impacts on our body image as well as our sexual agency, and poses sexual health outcomes such as negative condom use.

But fear not, my selfie-loving friends!

bring you good news from the University of Washington, where researchers conducted a study measuring the role self-compassion plays in moderating the negative impact Facebook and mass media objectification has on us. This study revealed that young women with high levels of compassion for themselves (as in being self-accepting and empathic with yourself without being judgmental) had less shame about their bodies, less depression, less negative eating attitudes, and engaged in less body surveillance, than the women with low levels of self-compassion. 

What their monumental study findings revealed was that even when young women did objectify themselves and self-compare their images on Facebook, a compassionate attitude towards the self acted as a blocker, preventing maladaptive self-objectification processes from taking place.

Fardouly and the researchers from the Australian study said the way to solve the problem with women comparing and objectifying themselves on Facebook was to post less selfies and avoid friending other selfie-obsessed people. (Which to me, sounds like a Band-Aid solution that doesn’t address the core issue.)

The real solution, according to authors of the Washington study, lies in compassion-focused clinical interventions such as therapists helping women treat themselves more kindly. 

Research even shows that we don’t actually need formal therapy to cultivate our self-compassion skills; simply getting self-compassion training through meditation or psycho-educational courses will do the job just fine. Some 2014 research revealed how listening to self-compassion focused podcasts reduced body-shame and body dissatisfaction among study participants. 

A study by Adams and Leary showed that highly restrictive eaters felt less guilt when they consumed unhealthy foods after being exposed to self-compassion training in the form of simply being instructed to treat themselves with kindness.

So to sum it all up, take as many selfies as you like and virtually fraternize with as many fellow selfie lovers as you so wish, as long as you are kind to yourself, accept who you are, truly love yourself, and don’t judge the way you lookSelf-compassion ameliorates all the negatives of self-objectification! Good news, huh?

"Self-compassion is an inoculate for the mind, protecting it from potential harm. Emotional disease cannot contaminate the minds of those who are wise enough to love and accept themselves.”

Want to fast track your self-compassion levels with practical techniques you can implement right now? Click here!