Is Facebook Making Us Sad (And By “Us” I Mean Women)?

I recently came upon an article “Is Facebook Making Us Sad?” The article above draws on a research paper “Misery Has More Company Than People Think: Underestimating the Prevalence of Others’ Negative Emotions.” The findings reported the negative effects on mental health are exacerbated by the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality on Facebook and other social networks.

These articles both argue that Facebook is characterized by the very public curation of one’s assets in the form of friends, photos, biographical data, accomplishments, pithy observations, even the books we say we like. Look, we have baked beautiful cookies. We are playing with a new puppy. We are smiling in pictures (or, if we are moody, we are artfully moody.) Blandness will not do, and with some exceptions, sad stuff doesn’t make the cut, either. The site’s very design—the presence of a ‘Like’ button, without a corresponding ‘Hate’ button—reinforces a kind of upbeat spin doctoring.”

The Fabulosity Competition

I see women all the time talking about how fabulous their life is online, like it’s some kind of “fabulosity” competition.

In the article “Is Facebook Making Us Sad,” the writer suggests that Facebook has a “special power to make us sadder and lonelier. By showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people’s lives, and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers, Facebook appears to exploit an Achilles’ heel of human nature. And women—an especially unhappy bunch of late—may be especially vulnerable to keeping up with what they imagine is the happiness of the Joneses.”

That includes showcasing what seems like abundance, or wealth. And for women, wealth is not always equated to dollars–it’s equated to what might be seen as physical wealth.

Some of us acknowledge the fact that celebrities in America are worshiped like Gods. Instead of caring about what goes on in Third World Countries and other problems in the U.S. we distract ourselves with Jennifer Aniston’s love life in US Weekly. I don’t mean to be Debbie Downer here–I am just as guilty and have sat in many nail salons reading many of these magazines. But I acknowledge that celebrities, especially female celebrities, are worshiped (like religious figures)–and they generally fit a certain physical quota. These images are EVERYWHERE and are so normative to us that women feel they should be mirroring what they see in the media. I am not saying all women are like this (I can hear my friend Genna’s voice in my head saying…Blake I’m not like that…) But I think that this is part of the problem. Women are held to unrealistic standards, and compete offline, online to mirror this kind of 2011 Cleopatra-esque figure.

I don’t claim to be a saint, or deny that I get my hair done and I go to the gym. I do. But I’m tired of seeing what I see as a female self-esteem crisis unfolding around us. And getting worse.

And I don’t think this is my own paranoia.

There are countless studies that show how much Americans spend each year on beauty. In the WSJ it was reported that the beauty industry is worth $58.9 billion in the U.S. In addition Newsweek reported in an article, “The Business of Beauty,” women ages 12-24 buy more cosmetics and skin care products than any other age group.

We spend more money on beauty in this country than we do on education. Does that seem counter-intuitive to you too?

Women are not worshiped generally for what they build or create, but rather are rewarded for having good looks. People who refute this are just turning a blind eye. It’s impossible not to notice–it’s everywhere. And this won’t stop until women start supporting each other and give up trying to fit someone else’s notion of physical perfection.

And in considering what sometimes seem like an ongoing beauty competition Megan O’Roarke in “Women Are Unhappier Than Ever” argues that the drop in happiness is pegged to an anxiety caused by “women’s feeling that they have to perform well across more categories [including beauty].”

She argues that “the women’s movement has decreased women’s happiness at this moment in time, because ‘the increased opportunity to succeed in many dimensions may have led to an increased likelihood in believing that one’s life is not measuring up.” The paradox of choice model might explain, too, why men’s happiness has also declined—just not as extremely as women’s.

I am not writing this because I feel that the intentions are bad, but to be honest as a woman and a woman who feels self-aware and hyper-aware of what goes on for young girls, I am just tired of it.

Can you imagine if we put as much effort into supporting each other as we put toward improving our looks? This whole idea of “measuring up” seems to be attempts by women to be loved, to feel respected, to get opportunities, to gain the admiration of their facebook friends….but I can’t be satisfied with the idea that no one else is fed up with what is going on today.

I hope that in my lifetime we see viral change across the world, that women need to start helping each other and stop competing with the Joneses. We can do better than this!

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