The effects of social media consumption on psychological well-being have been a significant public concern in the last few years. There are many benefits to being so easily connected with others all the time. However, when used in an unhealthy manner, it can seriously affect your mental well-being. Social expectations are influenced by social media use. Low self-esteem has increased within the last years due to social media use's impacts on social norms. Perhaps you were not aware of the way it has influenced your perception of yourself. Here is a guide on how best to consume media and the small things you can do that can make life easier.


Social media can damage a person’s sense of self. This is due to the pressure of presenting oneself in a specific way online and due to unhealthy comparisons. On social media, we control which parts of ourselves are revealed, often showing an image aligning with our desired self rather than our current self. Social media influences the beauty standard, which in turn influences our ‘desired self’. It influences what we want to look like in the future. However, this beauty standard defined by filters, photoshop and plastic surgery is almost unattainable. Even though we know all that beauty online and on billboards is not necessarily real beauty it still contributes to setting up a beauty standard. An unattainable beauty standard makes us more susceptible to a lower self-esteem.

It is very typical to compare yourself to others. In fact, it is hard to define yourself without comparison to others. Social media can be used as a tool for defining oneself through a comparison of social criteria (e.g., how pretty am I compared to my followers) and objective measures (e.g., I have 100 fewer followers than my best friend: am I a loser?).

Festinger (1954) suggests there are different types of comparisons: downward comparison, where we compare ourselves to someone we perceive as worse than us and upward comparison, where we compare ourselves to someone we perceive as better than us. Those with low self-esteem often benefit from downward comparisons online to make themselves feel better. This can lead to the active downward comparison that is cyberbullying.

Who you follow

Cohen et al. (2017) found that following fitness/health accounts and influencers/celebrities correlated with higher rates of thin-ideal internalisation. Suppose you regularly engage with people who meet societal beauty ideals online. In that case, you may start to believe yourself that you are also expected to meet certain beauty standard ideals within your looks.

Chen et al. (2019) found that increased social media engagement correlates with more consideration for cosmetic surgery and that those with low self-esteem were likelier to use Photoshop. Even if you do consciously recognise it and know that the influencers you follow use Photoshop, seeing unrealistic images online regularly can still subconsciously impact how you view yourself.

Social norms

We evaluate ourselves through the lens of a nonspecific person in our head who represents our believed social norms and the opinions of those significant to us. This lens guides us on how to behave. Information on social norms are often influenced by social media use. Although most people have heard “what you see online is not always true”, the material you see online can still impact your worldview, setting unrealistic expectations for yourself (Piccoli et al, 2021).

How to use social media

There is no “best way to use social media”. It depends on who you are. I would encourage you to reflect on your social media use and aim to be more mindful when you do use social media. Does going on social media give you an increased fear of missing out? Does looking at fitness accounts impact your version of a beauty standard? Make the most out of social media connections without slipping into negative habits. Think about what brings you happiness not only short term but also within your long-term thinking.

Six months ago, after reading about the effects of social media use, I decided to unfollow all influencers, celebrity and health accounts from social media and have scrolled past TikTok’s from similar accounts. The effects of this have been really beneficial. I have become visibly more confident in myself. Even though I always knew consciously that the accounts were unrealistic, it still impacted the way I viewed myself due to the subconscious comparisons I was making. Now I feel that my standard of beauty is more online with the people I see in real life.


It is incredible that we can connect to so many of our friends no matter where they are. Social media is a handy tool to stay in contact with others. It also helps us discover new experiences: exhibitions, nights out, bookshops etc. It is also fun to gain more information on your favourite celebrities. However, it is important to know what makes you feel good and bad about yourself, and social media’s role in this. Crucially, it is beneficial to remind yourself of your control over the content you are exposed to online.


Here are some links to articles exploring the negative effects of social media use and how to deal with these negative effects:


Cohen, R., Newton-john, T., & Slater, A. (2017). The relationship between Facebook and Instagram appearance-focused activities and body imagine concerns in young women. Body Imagine, 23, 183-187

Chen, J., Ishii, M., Bater, K., Darrach, H., Liao, D., Huynh, P., Reh, I., Nellis, J., Kumar, A., and Ishii, L. (2019). Associated between the Use of Social Media and Photograph Editing Application, Self-esteem and Cosmetic Surgery Acceptance (Volume: 21 Issue 5). JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery.

Festinger, L. (1954) A Theory of Social Comparison Processes. Available from: .

Marino, C., Gini, G., Angelini, F., Vieno, A., & Spada, M. M. (2020). Social norms and e- motions in problematic social media use among adolescents. Addictive Behaviors Reports, 11, 100250.

Piccoli, V., Carnaghi, A., Grassi, M., & Bianchi, M. (2021). The relationship between Instagram activity and female body concerns: The serial mediating role of appearance‐related comparisons and internalization of beauty norms. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 32(4).