The Instagram Explore page, otherwise known as the self-esteem graveyard, reflects the type of content you engage with most.
If you're a huge meme guy, your Explore page likely consists of funny pictures and videos. If you're a 22-year-old female, your Explore page is probably a taunting mix of unbelievably skinny, inexplicably curvy girls in bikinis and portrait mode selfies of young women donning Kylie Jenner Lip Kits and velvet choker necklaces.
The algorithm that populates your Explore page with content Instagram believes will be appealing to you is, perhaps, the greatest irony in the social media comparison game. My own Explore page is a lot of hot girls, random airplane photos, and yoga pictures.
Presumably like most people, my own self-esteem ebbs and flows. My confidence is—generally—at a healthy level, one that reflects a well-adjusted person with a realistic perception of her own strengths and weaknesses. Lately, however, my self-esteem has been suspiciously shaky. The culprit, I realized, was the Instagram Explore page: a place where I could scroll for literal hours through high-definition image after image of "normal" young women like myself, except filtered and posed to perfection.
You know the drill. It starts out innocently enough. You navigate to the Explore page out of sheer boredom or curiosity, and 45 minutes later you're standing six inches from your bathroom mirror grasping at your side fat and wondering why your pores are so damn big.
It's natural to want to be attractive. It's natural to compare yourselves to other people. Comparison, although unhealthy in extremes, can actually be quite helpful. I think that's why being around successful people will generally drive you to success and hanging around losers allows you to settle into mediocrity. You compare yourself to your peers and then level up or down accordingly.
The thing that's bothering me lately is that I find myself spending more time scrutinizing, comparing, and obsessing than is healthy.
I say "more time than is healthy" because I do believe that wanting to look your best and taking your outward appearance seriously is actually positive, within reason.
Here's the sad reality of this situation: attractive people have it just a little easier. That's not my opinion, that's a biological and societal fact.
Wanting to look your own personal best isn't vain or self-serving, it's just common sense. But when the way you look becomes an all-consuming focus in your daily life, you're going to waste a lot of time and money on gimmicky products and trendy clothes, saddling yourself to a superficial rat race that you're destined to lose.
How many times have you been scrolling through some random girl's profile on Instagram and realized you were comparing a part of yourself you had previously never given any thought to? I remember the first time this happened to me: it was that "thigh brow" phenomenon that followed the "thigh gap" craze. Look it up. Indulge the stupidity. I had never once paid any attention to that part of my body, yet 15 minutes later was crouching in front of a full-length mirror trying to determine whether or not my upper thighs performed the coveted curvature.
Blame biology. Blame society. Blame the laziness with which we humans judge appearances at face value. Just don’t blame yourself. Instead, take personal responsibility for the role (however big or small) you play in your own comparison game.
When I start to compulsively obsess over my appearance and how it does or doesn’t stack up to the random girl on my tiny screen, I remind myself of my role models who are both beautiful AND strong, smart, funny, and hard-working: Megyn Kelly. Reese Witherspoon. Chelsea Handler. Women who urge me to aspire to be more than a pretty blonde who looks good in a bathing suit on the Internet.
To employ my favorite car metaphor, even the most shallow automotive fan wouldn't want a Tesla with nothing under the hood.
What you look like is only one component of who you are. If you allow it to become your central focus, I bet you'll notice other parts of your personality begin to slip. Have you ever met a really conventionally attractive person without an original thought to speak of?
I remember meeting a girl a few years back in college who was—by any standard—beautiful, and we got lunch together. All I remember about that lunch was how painfully boring it was. Her repertoire of conversation topics ranged from pizza to hair products, and not much else in between. It was clear this young woman had skated by on her looks for a long time and never felt compelled to develop any other interests. Needless to say, we didn't get lunch again.
My point is this: Yes, the Instagram Explore page will definitely make you hate yourself if you spend enough time comparing your waist-to-hips ratio to girls who eat three almonds and a chick pea for lunch between sets of squats, but people don't choose you because of your pant size. Your friends don't hang out with you because you're pretty (at least, I hope not). Nobody's going to fall in love with you because your balayage is so on-trend.
The traits that make people truly want to be with and around you can't be posted on a timeline. After getting especially self-critical last night, I decided I was being self-indulgent and whiney. I sat down and wrote down a few "I am" statements that described all the non-physical things I like about myself. Things that set me apart. It helped me come back to Earth and get my head out of the Cloud (data pun intended).
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how pretty you are—self-obsession automatically renders your physical state irrelevant.
I'm going to make a concerted effort not to compare myself to someone else's highlight reel. It's not fair or productive, and honestly, it's not accurate. When I look at my OWN best pictures, I think, I hardly ever actually look that way. There's a reason the women you see on Instagram look better than the women you see every day in real life—because it's not real life. Let it motivate you, but don't let it shame you.
The fine print: