Digital wellness / October 07, 2021

Is social media making you feel bad?

Kimberly Bennett

Kimberly Bennett

Sr. Project Manager, TELUS Wise

Woman sitting at a table at a coffee shop. She has her phone in her hand and is staring into the distance, looking anxious

Is social media making you feel bad? If it is, you’re not alone. Filters, poses, makeup and photo editing have created a world of unattainable beauty and body image standards.

Social media use in Canada is only growing, along with the associated self-esteem issues. According to a March 2021 report by Statistics Canada, social media was used regularly by:

  • 9 in 10 Canadians aged 15 to 34
  • 8 in 10 Canadians aged 35 to 49
  • 6 in 10 Canadians aged 50 to 64

The report also highlighted some of the negative implications of pervasive social media use including increased social comparison, false positive self-representation, lower self-esteem and increased feelings of loneliness.

The confidence crisis

Self-esteem is about finding worth in your own abilities and achievements. Many people, particularly youth, experience diminished self-esteem after prolonged exposure to the highlight reels on social media.

Kaylee Walker has written about her experiences. She entered an op-ed competition run by Arianna Huffington-founded Thrive Global in partnership with Write the World. The topic? Unplugged: how social media and technology has impacted your well-being.

Her article, My Social Feed Was Hindering My Self-Esteem, and It Might Be Doing the Same For Yours, was published in June 2019, as part of the Thrive Global on Campus series. Her message is powerful and continues to ring true as social media’s influence continues to accelerate amongst youth.

For Kaylee, being bombarded with images of thin celebrities and endless ads for beauty products made her question her own self worth. She writes:

“I know from personal experience that time spent on Instagram is only time wasted as I compare myself to the godly portrayals of fitness influencers and other highly accomplished individuals. These portrayals, while illusory, have skewed my perception of what is truly important. I’ve noticed my values shift from academic success and lifelong fulfillment to petty weight loss and visible collarbones. This led me down a dark hole that I have yet to escape, a world in which my outward appearance trumps all other matters of importance.

Since deleting my Instagram and taking time to observe “real world bodies,” I have been able to reconstruct my views of beauty and realign myself with life’s greatest pleasures. Shockingly, they don’t involve having a flat tummy or bowls of watery protein ice cream.”

The healthy point of view

In 2004, Dove recognized how influential media can be on people’s perceptions of beauty. The company launched The Dove Self Esteem Project with the goal of helping the next generation develop a positive relationship with the way they look, so they are not held back by appearance-related anxiety and can realize their full potential.

Since launch, The Dove Self-Esteem Project has reached more than 69 million young people across 142 countries, making it one of the largest providers of body confidence education globally.

The Evolution film was Dove’s first foray into upending unattainable beauty standards by addressing image manipulation in advertising. Media has obviously changed since 2004, but Dove’s mission hasn’t. The company’s conversation about healthy beauty has now shifted to focus on social media.

New research from The Dove Self-Esteem Project (based on surveying Canadian girls aged 10 to 17) has found:

  • 80% of girls have downloaded a filter or used an app to change the way they look in photos by the age of 13
  • 67% of girls try to change or hide at least one body part/feature before posting a photo of themselves
  • 59% of girls with lower body-esteem regularly distort their photos before posting them on social media
  • 37% of girls say they don't look good enough without any photo editing

Importantly, girls said that if images on social media were more representative of the way girls look in everyday life, they would feel more confident:

  • 67% of girls say they would not end up feeling judged on the way they look
  • 66% of girls would be less worried about the way they look
  • 63% of girls wish the world would focus more on who they are instead of what they look like

This research and its alarming findings inspired Dove to create its latest film, The Reverse Selfie, which tackles how retouching applications can distort reality. Promoting positive self-esteem What can you do to combat the distortion deluge of social media and promote positive self-esteem, especially with the youth in your life? Some strategies to consider include:

  • Monitor time and content: set limits on how much time your kids spend on social media and understand the content they are consuming. It’s important to know that app algorithms learn from your content consumption and feed you ads based on it. So if your kids are following beauty or fitness influencers, they are going to be bombarded with more similar content
  • Set an example: how much time do you spend on social media? Who do you follow? How does it make you feel? Kids learn from what they see. Modeling healthy behaviours around social media can go a long way to helping them develop good habits and realistic expectations
  • Start young: trying to set rules when kids are teenagers may be too late. As soon as kids start using devices, deliver healthy messages about usage, content and fantasy vs. reality -- and keep reinforcing them. The more kids understand from an early age, the easier it will be for them to combat confusion and negative influences when they get older
  • Have open conversations: share your own experiences and triggers – and use examples. It helps kids to know they are not alone in the things that they are feeling and the questions they are asking. Dove’s message is a great one – social media should be more about self-expression and less about validation

Social media and self-esteem have become inextricably linked – sometimes positively, but more often negatively. Healthy, balanced conversations and points of view are critical. If you have kids in your life struggling with self-esteem as a result of social media, let them know they aren’t alone. Seek out education from sources like The Dove Self-Esteem Project to help them understand what they see on social is not an accurate measure of anyone’s worth.

To learn more about building and maintaining a healthy relationship with technology and for tips on ensuring your well-being in our connected world, take the TELUS Wise happiness workshop. Visit

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