Instagram Is Ruining You: 3 Steps To Be Happier

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The more social media people use, the worse their body dissatisfaction. This is the finding of a meta-analysis of scientific studies featuring over 36,000 individuals.


00:00 Introduction

02:30 Step 1 – It is you, not them

04:52 Step 2 – Filter your social media

07:10 Step 3 – value-based affirmation

08:12 Body positivity

12:23 Real-life standards

13:44 Population stats for comparison

18:13 Conclusion


 The more social media people use, the worse their body dissatisfaction. This is the finding of a meta analysis of scientific studies featuring over 36,000 individuals. A lot of this is due to exposure to very good looking individuals. #fitspiration, #fitspo Instagram Models. Influencers. All of these things can make it look like everyone in the world looks absolutely amazing. And in comparison, then, I don’t look that good. So what can we do about this? Well, one option is to forbid it or to have strong social norms against it. And currently there is indeed a very strong backlash against influencers and magazines that feature Instagram models, people that look very good, edited photos. All of these kind of things. Recently, I posted a video, for example, showing an exercise demonstration with my girlfriend, overwhelmingly the feedback was very good, but there was a vocal minority of people that was saying like, Oh, why would you choose a model like this? It’s unrealistic. Some people said, It makes me feel bad. Why would you? You know, you’re portraying unrealistic beauty standards.

Why could you not select a normal individual or whatever? Aside from the fact that it was my girlfriend, it also just makes the video nicer to watch. So I don’t think the video would have been any better if I had taken a 90 year old sarcopenic man. For example. And Norway has even taken this mindset to extremes and recently introduced a law that makes it.. well it prohibits certain kind of activities and it also makes it mandatory for any kind of social media content to have a label that says it is edited when it has been edited. don’t know the specifics of the law as it currently is, but especially the original draft was very ridiculous. Like any kind of editing would be either not allowed or you would need a label here.

Full disclaimer from my site. Everything that you see from me is edited. Ivan, could you show how it looks without editing? So this is what it looks like without editing and the rest of the video will still be edited. Now, I think pretty much any video will benefit from some improvement in lighting. contrast, these kind of things because your lighting isn’t going to be perfect unless you live in a studio and this kind of things would only hurt amateur content creators more than professionals. Because if you have a perfect studio, then you don’t need a lot of editing. But as an amateur, then, you know, you have regular room. Your lighting is going to be bad and you can’t post nice photos. Even though you actually look amazing in certain lighting, you may actually not look good at all.

Step 1 – It is you, not them Now, more important, the core of this mindset is the idea that being exposed to beautiful people, to other people that look good or have a body that you would like to have. And if that makes you feel bad, then the problem is with them. Like we should restrict magazines, we should restrict influencers. And I would say that as an individual, I think that is a very bad mindset. So if you’re the type of person that goes on other people’s channels and tells them what they can and cannot post about themselves because it makes you feel bad, honestly, that is the exact same thing as like what you see in Muslim countries where a guy might say, Oh, girls can go out on the street without a burka, because they cannot control themselves sexually. So it is exactly the same thing as slut-shaming. You are restricting other people’s actions because of something that doesn’t hurt you at all, but you’re too emotionally insecure about and therefore you want them to not do it. I think it is a lot more effective to look to the inside and adopt the lesson from Buddhism, which says that all of these inputs that we receive, they are just that, they are inputs and we choose how to interpret that, what kind of emotional response we associate with this and how we react, most importantly, to these feelings, because someone else looking good is just something that is and nobody is – unless you are the one person in the world that is best looking person in the world – everyone else is going to have other people that look better than them. And that’s a reality that you have to deal with.

And you you’re going to see people, whether it’s in daily life or on social media. We’ll get to the difference in a moment that look better than you or that have a physique that you would look like. So you have to be able to deal with that. And there is also research showing that it’s not everyone that is affected Most research focuses on women. A recent study actually found that men are less affected than women by #fitspiration type content and dating app and social media use. However, a lot of other research has found that men are either still susceptible or even just as susceptible as women to body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, And all of these things that can result from social media use, and especially #fitspration or fitness type content, models, Instagram influencers, etc.. So I recommend that rather than try to penalize other people for looking good or trying to restrict other people’s actions, look towards the inside and see what you can do, especially emotionally and mentally, to not be as affected as much. And I’ll go into exactly how to do this in a moment.

Step 2 – Filter your social media But another thing that you can do, first and foremost is to filter your social media. And I think this is where a lot of people really go wrong currently with how they use social media and how to use their phone and computer and everything because they are kind of indiscriminately taking dopamine hits, instant gratification, and they are following a lot of things that don’t make them feel better. And especially if you know that you are not being positively affected by seeing like lots of beautiful people on social media, then why are you following them? And I think it is very important in general to think before you follow anyone. How is this making my life better? Maybe someone’s funny. Maybe it’s just entertainment. Okay, good.

But especially if you’re following somebody just because they have a good physique, just because they are pretty or whatever. Really think, Is this making me feel better? Yes. You are emotionally drawn to these types of images, just like we are drawn to scams for how to make quick money. abs in six weeks. We are drawn to these things because they provide instant gratification or the promise of instant gratification, but they are not necessarily the things that make us better. So I think a large part of this is simply filtering your social media. If you are following 20 fitness models and they all look amazing and then you complain that you think, Well, everybody looks amazing. Well, you created that feed you told the algorithm that this is what you like, this is what your likes and subscribes show.

So the algorithm is going to show you more of that, and you’re creating your own virtual world in a sense, and you can also shape and filter your feed and virtual world by unfollowing accounts that are not making your life better and really focusing on accounts that do make your life better. So if you look at my social media, for example, I am extremely selective about them because I really only want to follow channels that make my life better, that are either teaching me educational content or they are providing pure entertainment. And that’s pretty much it. That’s the only things I really follow on social media. So it has to either be educational or entertaining for me to follow it. I don’t see any value in following somebody just because they look good. So I don’t. of course, you cannot always control what you see online. You can tell the algorithm what you like, watch and subscribe to, but you will still be exposed to content that you may not want to see, including pictures of beautiful Instagram models. So what do you do if this happens? Well, a recent study has actually found an intervention

Step 3 – value-based affirmation that can help with this, and it’s called value based affirmation. Researchers have tried a few different things to reduce the body dissatisfaction that people get from social media exposure and they found one of the best ones is the new one. It’s called value based affirmation. And essentially it means that you are refocusing your values on other things. So you are affirming what kind of values you actually find important. is being beautiful or having a good physique the most important thing to you in your life? I hope not.

And that means that you should internalize that feeling and also be aware of that whenever you see a lot of beautiful Instagram models for example, you have to realize, okay, they’re beautiful, great. You know, some people are intelligent, other people are beautiful. Some people have integrity. Some people are honest, some people are dishonest. Right. there are a lot of different values that are important. And beauty should certainly not be the most important of those. And realizing this and also reminding yourself of this is very effective to reduce the body dissatisfaction you get from social media.

Body positivity another kind of version of this is body positivity. It’s also reframing how you perceive things and saying, Well, you should always be happy with your body and it’s very strongly associated with the healthy at every size movement, which unfortunately is simply wrong. Like I have an article on that on my website that you can read. It is not healthy to be obese. That is simply the medical reality and trying to normalize obesity and putting obese women on magazines is a good ploy by companies to make you sell more products. And they realize that two out of three people are overweight these days, so it is actually just good marketing to use overweight models because there are a lot of overweight people looking at these magazines and wanting to buy clothes, etc..

So, yes, companies will gladly go with this, but it’s not actually solving the problem. If we look at beauty norms, for example, in research, we can see that they are cross-cultural. They exist from pretty much childbirth on like babies will reliably look longer at beautiful faces than less beautiful faces, for example. And there is relatively strong inter-cultural or cross-cultural consensus on what things are beautiful. For example, there won’t be any culture where highly asymmetrical faces are perceived as beautiful, and things like waist to hip ratio and stuff have also remained historically quite constant. They value somewhat and there are certainly some cultural differences and like what body fat level is deemed beautiful. But overall there is definitely things that we are genetically predisposed to because they are associated with health and fertility. So they are markers that we are hardwired to like essentially. Also, it’s good to note that it’s not normal, evolutionarily speaking, to be overweight, and it’s also not unrealistic. If we look at research, for example, on the Hadza, one of the few remaining hunter gatherer societies and even these populations have already discovered alcohol and tobacco, they still live relatively traditional life of whole foods based diets, decent activity level, etc.. And you find that the body fat level in men is on average 13.5%, and in women it is 20.9%. I have a guide on my website with photos that you can see exactly how lean this is, but about 20% for women and 13% for guys is lean.

That means that if a guy is muscular at 13 body fat, they have abs. And the women, they will have very little cellulite, typically relatively tight. So you know, no major love handles and stuff. 20% is lean, like most people would be very happy or should be very happy, at least when they are 20% body fat. And again, these are already cultures that are using tobacco, drinking alcohol, not going to a gym, like not doing formal exercise and not having extremely high levels of muscle mass or anything. So it should be very realistic to achieve these levels of body fat for people that want it and prioritize it enough to do what it takes to get there. In today’s society. So rather than essentially trying to glorify obesity in this way with magazines and everything, we should just accept that different people look different.

And I think there is a lot of value in body positivity, but it should not be about indiscriminately liking yourself at all times because you can also be very useful to actually be exposed to fitspiration and actually get inspired by fitness. I know that I was actually very inspired, for example, by the first time when I saw Usher for people to still remember Usher. I actually didn’t listen to his music, but I remember I saw a picture of him and he wasn’t even that muscular anything. I was like, I need to look like that. And I remember I got the same feeling from 300 when it was released. I know a lot of guys at that. Brad Pitt in Fight Club also inspired loads of individuals. Arnold Schwarzenegger is probably responsible for inspiring more men to lift than probably anyone else on the planet. And how many of those individuals actually ended up looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger? Well, basically none.

Nevertheless, probably what he did was very beneficial. A lot of people got into lifting a lot more people became healthy, got better physiques, and maybe they didn’t end up looking like him, but they were still better off than they were before. And he inspired them to better themselves. I think there’s a lot of value in accepting how you look and your certain genetics and your limitations but also realizing that it’s okay to want to look differently than you do. The most important thing is simply that you are happy with your decision, either where you are now or where you are doing so. I think body positivity has a lot of value, but not in the sense of glorifying obesity.

Real-life standards I think a much better version of body positivity is having real life standards and this is also personally what has helped me the most because I, for example, I have a physique that is good, especially by Real-Life Standards, but by e-standards, YouTube standards, I am not fit enough to make a living off YouTube. For example, I am not fit enough to just show my physique on a video and people will be like, Oh damn, they follow me just because of how I look. And it’s also not how I would like to make money or how I would like to have a YouTube channel. So I’m perfectly fine with that. And it’s very good to realize that even if you are not already very muscular, very lean, you probably look a lot better than you think, like objectively.

And it’s good to have an objective frame of reference, just like it’s good to have an objective frame of reference of what is realistic body fat level wise, with for example, the Hadza and hunter gatherer societies, like it’s normal to be relatively lean. It’s also good to objectively know where you currently stands because if you already have a good physique and you feel bad, that is exactly the scenario where body positivity shines. That is exactly where I think a lot of people currently feel bad where they really shouldn’t. And it’s okay to look in the mirror. And this is also what I have. I look in the mirror and I think I look good. I could look better and there’s no “but”, there’s no “and”, these are just two beliefs that you have. And both are true. They’re objectively true and they’re also motivational. So

Population stats for comparison just think of the facts two out of three people in most Western societies these days, even one non-Western ones, are overweight. One out of three is obese simply by virtue of being at a healthy body fat level. You are in the top 33% of society in terms of your physique, about 20% of people, based on statistics from the Health Racket and Sports Club Association, go to gym. about a third of those don’t actually use their membership, so they have a gym membership. So they don’t actually go to the gym. They have a gym membership. About a third of those. They have a membership, but they don’t actually go, probably at least another third is being generous that people that go to the gym don’t actually achieve anything. You know, you see those people year-in year-out, they look exactly the same they’re not going anywhere, simply not training hard enough. They’re not going frequently enough. They don’t know what they’re doing.

A lot of reasons why people don’t achieve what they want from going to the gym. So let’s say that’s a third of people is actually achieving at least something. And I’m not talking about looking like a bodybuilder. I’m just saying you’re going to the gym, you’re you’re building some level of muscle and strength and your at a healthy body fat level those facts alone put you statistically in the top 7% of the population. So if you’re just remotely looking good, you’re just healthy and fit. You are almost certainly – physique wise, performance wise, fitness wise in the top 10% of the population. Most of the arguing online is about the 99 versus the 99.9 percentile people.

So for example, when I am in a video and people see my physique, I also get lots of shit. A lot of people say – Menno doesn’t look like he lifts. Oh, what is this guy? I had one guy in my team and the first time he posted a photo because that was still when – in the Bayesian bodybuilding days when people in my team also did posts and you saw their photo and people were like, What does this twig know about bodybuilding? And you get a lot of negative comments online, even if you look pretty good. And I think in general there is a very negative bias on most social media. I think YouTube community is comparatively great in that regard. Much more thankful, grateful, positive community, but especially some social media platforms are pretty toxic where there is a lot of negativity bias and you get a lot of negative feedback that is absolutely not representative of real life standards. It’s pure e-standards.

Like, for example, there’s already a huge, huge misconception about what is achievable naturally if you’re interested in that, by the way, I have a calculator on my website that you can use and you can actually find a like percentage of the population that could achieve this level and also how you are currently doing in terms of your genetic levels. And it will tell you you’re fat free mass, which for me for example, in contest shape, my fat free mass is about 23. So when people tell me, you don’t even look like you lift. And in general, you know, most people are very positive I got good feedback when I post physique photos or anything, but there’s still certainly a vocal minority of people that are quite negative.

And the way I deal with that, because it sucks, you know, you get a lot of comments and the more I grow as a content creator, the more comments you get, even if it’s only, you know, 10% of people that are negative, that can still be lots and lots of people are telling you – you look like shit. So the way I deal with that, it’s just to have a realistic frame of reference. Like my fat free mass index is 23. That’s like national, international natural bodybuilder level. So if people are saying to me, I look like I don’t lift the way I deal with that is just saying, well, clearly your standards are completely messed up.

That’s like telling a girl with a D-cup like – you have no boobs – or telling an individual with abs like – you’re fat, right, we’re talking about people that think that only the 99.9 percentile of the population has a physique that is actually worth being positive about and therefore all the other people look like crap, right? So for those individuals, you should just think they’re simply wrong. and that sucks for them because they probably have massive insecurity and body dissatisfaction issues because their standards are completely screwed. everyone kind of has that a little bit.

And that’s one of the big dangers of social media that we’re now talking about. And to deal with that, you want real life standards. Like I said, if you’re a healthy body weight, you go to the gym and you’re achieving at least something you’re probably or most certainly in the top 10% of the population. And if you really think about it like how many people in average gyms look, you know much better than you do, and especially on the streets, like how many people have physique that you’re like, oh, wow for a lot of people it’s not nearly as much. Whereas online it appears like it’s much, much more so in this sense. Body positivity as in just having real life standards I think is very important. And then saying like, this is how I look. now, you can be happy with that.

Conclusion So in conclusion, to wrap it up, If you are watching this video, you almost certainly have a level of unwarranted body dissatisfaction. And I like to implement a three step process to get rid of this and to cure you of your body dissatisfaction. First, it’s you – look to the inside, think of how you can change your interpretation and your emotional reaction to these inputs that you receive from social media. And secondly, filter your social media. Think, whenever you follow anybody. How is this improving my life? And if it’s not, or you can’t say, maybe you don’t want to follow these accounts Three, If you do get exposed to, you know, excessively beautiful individuals, and you get unrealistic e-standards, these kind of things use value based affirmation.

Think of, you know, what’s actually important to you. And it’s just somebody beautiful, right, there are a lot more important things in life than somebody being beautiful or having a good physique. In the end, you I make my living in large part telling people how to improve their physique, but I’m fully aware that this is not the most important thing in everybody’s life and use real life standards. Be very careful with getting sucked into e-satndards and a reference frame that is completely objectively unrealistic. Think of, you know, real life numbers, what is achievable naturally in terms of muscle mass, strength development, body fat level and where do you currently lie in terms of the population?

And then you can say, you can look in the mirror and say, okay, I’m currently this percentile probably in the total population. I want to be here. You can say I’m happy with where I am now and then it’s already great. Or you could say I’m happy where I am now, but I could be better. Or you could even say – I’m not happy with where I am now, I need to change. And all of these things can be positive if they result in goal directed action and help you achieve the physique that you want and be happy with how you look. All right, so I hope this helps you get rid of any body dissatisfaction and it makes you feel better about your body and better in general. If you like this type of content, I’d be honored if you like and subscribe.

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About the author

Menno Henselmans

Formerly a business consultant, I've traded my company car to follow my passion in strength training. I'm now an online physique coach, scientist and international public speaker with the mission to help serious trainees master their physique.

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