Don’t Let (Social) Media & Advertising Affect Your Self-Esteem

Megan Smith
 min read

It should come as no surprise that (social) media and advertising affect your self-esteem. We’ve all experienced it at one point, some even suffer from it on a daily basis.

Don't Let (Social) Media & Advertising Affect Your Self-EsteemIndeed, self-esteem and its problems are very dependent on these influences.

However, avoiding social influences seems to be a mission impossible and some of the social norms we’re exposed to are perhaps not as absurd as they may seem.

This article will present tips to protect your self-esteem from our current society’s social and unequal pressures.

Don’t let (social) media & advertising affect your self-esteem: Introduction

If some feel more valuable when they are rich instead of poor, if they prefer to be tall rather than short, beautiful rather than ugly, it is because these characteristics are generally desirable in our societies and also bring concrete benefits.

Obviously, this is a form of inequality that limits us. Instead, there should be a place in any human group for each individual, whatever his characteristics, whether they are desirable or not.

In the history of humanity, each society has tried to celebrate other qualities, such as intelligence, goodness, and other virtues.

These qualities obeyed less the laws of genetics or family transmission, such as beauty, strength, wealth, or power.

However, nowadays, we live in a strange time when we are moving away from these other ways of acquiring self-esteem.

So we are regressing towards primary and unequal bases. It seems more and more difficult to build self-esteem if one is not young, rich, and beautiful.

In addition, other non-natural forces compound these inequalities: namely, advertising and marketing.

There are more and more pressures on body image

It is essential to know that the search for beauty has always existed because of the social benefits it can offer. Indeed, being beautiful would seem to be an effective way of being accepted in society.

However, this maximum pressure of the dictatorship of appearance (being young, beautiful, and skinny ) has reached an unprecedented level of toxicity.

There are many possible explanations, but the simplest is probably technological acceleration. Indeed, for the last few centuries, we have been subjected to an omnipresence of images, as no culture before has ever been.

The technology has developed under the effect of a double pressure:

  • On the one hand: the democratization of the mirror, then photography, then video to make our own imagery with our personal handheld devices.
  • On the other hand, the multiplication of images of perfect bodies in movies, television, and magazines.

These two factors have increased the awareness of our body (which is naturally imperfect) and multiplied opportunities for comparisons with perfect social models.

As a result, there is a growing dissatisfaction with our physical appearance.

Many indicators confirm these concerns. For example, some studies show that increasing self-awareness (e.g., being filmed with feedback on one’s image) increases the tendency to compare oneself to standards or to others.

The results of these comparisons will depend on self-esteem. Indeed, if self-esteem is fragile, it can have harmful consequences.

There are also other quasi-experimental studies on social evolutions: the appearance of the same concerns of the relationship to the body image of men, a few decades after women, both in Europe and the United States.

Social pressures on body image can also lead to the development of psychiatric disorders such as anorexia or obesity.

Other possible causes make people continue to compare themselves to others:

  • Advertisements that use perfect, muscular bodies.
  • The muscularity of children’s toys like GI Joe or Action Man for boys and Barbie for girls. These toys are gradually presenting unattainable physical standards as norms.
  • The steady growth in the musculature of movie heroes: compare the heroes of old movies from the 1960s with those of today. The more we advance in time, the more we will find muscular, beautiful, and young actors.

Good to know It is enough to present images of very muscular male bodies to decrease men’s satisfaction with their bodies, exactly as for women (while having a positive body image is crucial to be happy).


Is it possible to increase self-dissatisfaction?

The answer is yes! Suppose you expose yourself as much as possible to the images sold by our society without thinking critically about them. In that case, you will inevitably brood about your small breasts or ridiculous pectoral muscles.

Self-dissatisfaction is also obsessively asking yourself how to get closer to the ideal models or social media influencers you admire.

People who are dissatisfied with their bodies will spend some of their energy and money on beautifying their bodies. They also socialize with others who share the same concerns. They only read a press obsessed with perfect bodies.

Therefore, being surrounded by advertisements or images showing more and more perfect bodies can ruin some people’s lives and considerably lower their self-esteem.

There are also pressures to succeed and social conformity

In traditional societies, which are strongly marked by inequalities linked to birth rank, there was little social mobility.

Indeed, a peasant’s child remains a peasant’s child, and a commoner remains a commoner. While being born into a noble family ensured a privileged status without having to prove oneself.

At the time, self-satisfaction was linked to doing one’s duty and holding one’s place on the social chessboard.

For those unlucky, poor, or oppressed, Christianity reminded them that the winners of the social game would lose their place once in heaven and that the last would be first there.

Therefore, there was no need to devalue oneself if one was poor among the poor, ugly, or unloving. All this could be given to us later.

But then, with the great political and intellectual revolutions of the 17th century, traditional societies began to recede in favor of more mobile societies, where it was possible to change places.

Indeed, the poor start building their wealth, and the nobles fall into poverty.

However, in this new society, there is also a flip side. If one fails in this social competition, it is no longer a problem of destiny but rather a lack of personal value.

These new rules of the social game were still interesting for the dominant classes because their followers could start this new competition with considerable advantages such as inherited wealth and good education.

However, the poor were now in a position to be blamed for their poverty. This announced the severe self-esteem problems encountered by those left behind by this social organization when it started to malfunction.

For example, it is known that the long-term unemployed have major self-esteem problems.

In fact, every society imposes its own standards and pressures. For example, there are pressures to have a job, but also to have a spouse when you are over 35, or a child when you are a woman.

Failure to meet these conditions can lead to self-esteem problems.

Source: De Botton, Status Anxiety, Vintage, 2005

The lies in advertising

Our problem with body acceptance is because there is money to be made with the self-image on an industrial scale.

The more psychological aspects of self-esteem can also benefit psychotherapists, for example. But this contribution is much less interesting for the capitalist economy.

Sure, there are products like mugs or T-shirts with proud mottos such as “Proud to be me,” “I am the most beautiful,” “Feeling good,” etc.

However, the bottom line is that more money can be made (through clothing and beauty products) by telling women they can become even more beautiful and desirable.

This implies they are not already beautiful enough by being cheerful, friendly, or having other qualities.

A lot of research suggests the toxic role of magazine ads on women’s self-esteem, especially among women who value their physical appearance and are dissatisfied with it.

But what do these multiple images propose, if not endlessly comparing ourselves with the most beautiful girls in the world, comparisons we are sure to lose beforehand?

As a result, the mechanism of social comparison is put in place.

Even if we try to fight it, this mechanism is accomplished unconsciously. It has been shown that after being confronted with pictures of beautiful girls, women feel less attractive.

But unfortunately, today, it goes further. This was demonstrated in a study that presented subliminal images to volunteers. After presenting a baby’s face, people judged themselves as older.

The same goes for advertisements selling instantaneous happiness, love, and friendship. These seem so far from reality because happiness, love, and friendship require patience and deliberate work.

As a result, this can lead to frustration and disappointment with ourselves, leading to more people experiencing intimate failures with their self-esteem.

Moreover, people with low self-esteem are also subject to marketing and advertising pressures in the opposite direction. For example, we are told to stay slim while still eating a lot and drinking sugar.


Tips on how to protect your self-esteem from media and advertising

What if we start from the principle that we should say “no” to all these lies and false promises? Our self-esteem is precious and deserves to be taken care of. Here are some tips:

Get to know your weaknesses

Try to decipher your actual need. For example, what makes you want to buy a specific product or service?

Try to see if this product or service will really increase your well-being and happiness?

Think about non-market ways to get ahead and be a little happier.

Learn how to decipher advertisements

Ask yourself the right questions:

What do they want me to believe? By what means or what ego flattery do they want me to buy this thing?

One of the worst dangers would be to believe you are protected from these toxic social influences by your intelligence or awareness.

However, the only protection is to expose the processes of influence and manipulation at the moment they are exerted on us.

Think about the future and teach children to criticize advertisements at an early age

Knowing what marketing can do to our self-esteem, will we be more and more ignorant or more and more clever?

New generations seem to use their common sense more easily when thinking about marketing messages. As a result, they are often more critical of advertising than their elders.

However, it is not so simple! Namely, the critical conversation of adolescents about advertising can simultaneously be compatible with behaviors of submission to social pressures (such as their obsession with brands).

Remember that beautiful models or influencers are just doing their job

Of course, they are all beautiful, but it is their job to be! Indeed, their life consists of eating, sleeping, taking care of their body, and posing.

In addition, the photos are usually extensively retouched, and the illusion of naturalness they give is totally false.

Social media influencers may not have a job as a model in the traditional sense. Still, their livelihood nevertheless depends on how they portray themselves and what they say or do.

Consequences of social pressures on self-esteem

As is often the case with social aggression, it is always the weakest who suffer, the poorest, and those who do not have reliable counter-models regarding self-esteem.

For example, we never show counter-models that show that you can be a good person without wearing designer clothes or having a big luxury car.

Our society, influenced by these messages, therefore manufactures high self-esteem in an unnatural way. However, it is fragile self-esteem, unstable, dependent, and conditional.

Furthermore, this fragile high self-esteem is unsuited to the real, deeper struggles of life; namely, our pursuit of happiness and the meaning of our existence.

Don’t let (social) media & advertising affect your self-esteem: Conclusion

Advertising and social pressures can lower our self-esteem. By constantly comparing yourself to the so-called “norms” of society, you can feel devalued and not up to par.

However, it is essential to understand that all these “models” presented in advertisements or on social networks today do not reflect reality.

Keeping a critical eye on these advertisements is vital to protect our self-esteem. After all, they aim to sell us a maximum of products and are designed to sell us that unattainable dream.

Therefore, we must accept ourselves as we are with our qualities and defects.

About Megan Smith

Megan has been fighting overweight and her plus size since her teenage years. After trying all types of remedies without success, she started doing her own research. Megan founded Plus Size Zeal to share her findings. She also developed various detailed buying guides for plus-size people in order to make their lives easier and more comfortable. Read More