Life

Comparison culture: it’s OK to be irrationally jealous as you scroll through Instagram

… but only so long as you deal with those feelings of envy properly.

First, some context: I am, by all accounts and purposes, a nice person. I’m the “shoulder to cry on” in my friendship group, the “cool-headed and warm-hearted” manager who has received multiple thank-you notes from former interns and junior writers, the person who volunteered to write a local school’s nativity play for them. I call my nan “just to chat”, spend an obscene amount of time thinking up thoughtful birthday gifts, and water my friendsplants while they’re away on holiday.

I always, always wait to see if anyone else wants the last slice of pizza – even if I really want it.

And yet, despite all of this, I also feel like a terrible person. Because, whenever I’m scrolling through social media and happen across an acquaintance celebrating their incredible achievements, I’m flooded with feelings of bitterness and envy.

Case in point? Recently, I was whiling away a few hours in coronavirus lockdown with an Instagram session. Happily hitting ‘like’ on people’s photos (see? Nice!), I stopped in my tracks when I noticed that someone I sort-of-know had landed a lucrative book deal.

Just like that, Kayleigh Dray vanished – and a seething green-eyed monster silently slipped into her place.

“Why her?” said the monster, her mouth a little moue of disappointment. “Why not me?”

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Comparison culture is taking its toll on our self-esteem

I hasten to point out here, dear reader, that, while I have written a novel-length piece of fiction, I have never, ever contacted a publisher about it. Ever. Presumably I expect one to come crashing through my living room window someday, in a hailstorm of glass, and inform me that they know I’ve got a book in me. They just…they just know, through some sort of psychic means. And they want to publish it, goddamnit. They want to publish it now.

Obviously, that’s never going to happen. Obviously, I need to get off my bum and do something, anything if I want to secure the book deal of my dreams. And yet, despite all of this being obvious, I still got mad at someone I barely know for doing all of the things I should’ve done. I still was overcome with jealousy. And it put a massive dampener on the mood for the rest of the day, too.

A woman using social media
There are lots of different ways that social media can cause anxiety.

I’m not the only one who feels overwhelmed by feelings of envy, of course. Stylist’s digital deputy editor, Jazmin Kopotsha, admits: “I’m often quite embarrassed by the little knot that forms in my stomach whenever I see someone’s life/work/relationship achievement on Instagram. It could be an engagement, an(other) book deal, or even just someone’s home looking cooler than mine.

“I’m acutely aware of how silly and inconsequential this sounds, especially as I know – like we all know – that Instagram is a warped, filtered little world. But, with more time on my hands than usual, I’ve found myself slipping into comparison mode whenever I scroll through my feed at the moment… and feeling needlessly jealous as a result.

“Am I doing isolation wrong? No. Why am I not doing cute dance routines with my partner? Lol, because I’m single and actually quite happy about that. It feels endless.”

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“How quitting my life in London helped me say no to social media envy”

As part of our Love Women campaign – our pledge to celebrate all women – we recently surveyed Stylist readers in a bid to investigate how both traditional and social media impact women. The survey found that both have a profound effect on our self-esteem, leading to a damaging comparison culture when we don’t feel we live up to the images we see on our screens and in magazines.

Here are some of the most shocking results:

  • 14% of women have high levels of self-esteem
  • 83% of women say social media negatively affects their self-esteem
  • 40% of women compare themselves with other people’s successful careers
  • 39% of women compare themselves with women they think look pristine without effort
  • 58% of women say that social media has changed how others view them and how they view others

On top of this, some 44% of our readers can’t help but compare when we see others having amazing experiences; for others it’s career success (40%) or benchmarking where they’re at in their life compared to their peers (38%) that makes them feel inferior.

All of this, in turn, causes us to be more self-critical. And it’s infinitely harder to get out of this spiral when you’re in lockdown mode, as we spend so much more time glued to our phones.

A woman on social media
How to stop comparing yourself to others: “Don’t beat yourself up when you catch yourself making comparisons – that only fans the 'I’m not enough' flames even higher and amplifies our insecurities.”

Thankfully, NLP Master Coach & Hypnosis Trainer Rebecca Lockwood is here to help.

“Being aware that these feelings of envy are there is the first step in overcoming them,” she tells me, when I reach out to her for advice.

“Usually, when we see things in others that make us feel jealous it is because we want them things ourselves, too. The light we see in others is the light we wish to see in ourselves and that’s why we notice it.”

So what should we do when we’re taken over by our green-eyed monsters?

“Reach out to the person and congratulate them, tell them how much they have inspired you to work on bettering yourself,” advises Lockwood.

“Check in with yourself and ask yourself what it is you are working towards. What does success really look like to you? Make a plan and work towards it.”

With that in mind, then, I’d best go congratulate that lucky acquaintance on her book deal. Wish me luck, eh?

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