July 24th was International Self-Care Day. In this blog post, MEDIAGIRLS Mentor and Editorial Volunteer Isabela Rocha consults experts around the globe to examine the intersection of self-care and social media in the age of COVID-19.
Deyanira Cabazos, a micro-influencer, used to be on social media every day, but the pandemic has changed her habits. She now paces her use of social media so she won’t be overwhelmed by the news constantly coming from her screen. “Being exposed to so many opinions, so many thoughts… it can be a little bit overwhelming,” Cabazos says. “Sometimes I need to step back.”
She’s not the only one feeling overwhelmed. 53% of American adults say that worry or stress related to COVID-19 has had a negative impact on their mental health, according to a March 2020 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. But, contrary to what Cabazos is doing, Americans have increased their use of smartphones by 40% during COVID-19, according to a June 2020 study by Statista.
According to Shanley Lewis, a self-care coach and psychological therapist, the increased use of smartphones has likely happened because social media can provide an escape from reality. “We’ve been locked down and we’ve been forced to be alone, to spend time with ourselves, and we can often find that a really difficult space,” says Lewis. “[People] see it as ‘Oh my God, I can’t be alone, I need something to constantly distract me.’”
The distraction of social media can be especially overwhelming for girls and young women, who — on top of the constant stream of news, opinions, and trends — are constantly exposed to stereotypes and expectations based on their gender. Girls and women often feel pressure to look perfect on social media, to live up to what we at MEDIAGIRLS call “media’s perfect girl” — an aesthetically flawless woman (perfectly thin, curvy, clear-skinned, the list of adjectives goes on) whose value is measured, first and foremost, by her looks. Such an archetype, especially when girls are constantly comparing themselves to and attempting to emulate this ideal, can lead a lot of girls to feel like they are not enough.
“Girls use social media as a way to confirm or alter their self-identity in terms of things like appearance, attitudes and beliefs,” says Marianne LaFrance, a Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies and Psychology professor at Yale University. “When women and girls pay attention to media they tend to feel that they come up short somehow, that they’re not looking or behaving, or acting, or succeeding in ways that media suggests are really the goals to be attained.”
But, social media can also have a positive impact on girls and women. Even if overwhelmed by the volume of information, Cabazos says social media is a way for her to find support during these difficult times, “I think [social media] has really helped me connect with other like-minded people.”
For Lewis, social media was a way to empower herself by empowering other people. “It’s been really empowering because… currently, in the UK, anyway, there’s not many… Black therapists,” she says. “I got into [this work] to be a representation for… the people who are Black in mental health.” Lewis is the founder of Good to Me, a British company that offers self-care boxes, workshops and coaching services.
So, how can we take care of ourselves and our girls in these tough times without having to ban social media once for all?
Lewis says that, despite what the media may dictate about who you should be, it is important to focus on finding out who you are as a woman or a girl. “It’s important to hone in on what is actually important to you, what matters to you, instead of being led by the media,” she says. “Start the day with you instead of with your phone, and everybody else’s requests and what’s going on in the world.”
Cabazos says what works for her is stepping off of social media. She has a YouTube channel where she talks about plants and mental-health, combining both things into mindful practices that can help combat stress and anxiety. “I’ll sit right in front of my window where I have a bunch of my plants and I’ll just stare at a leaf if I start to feel really anxious,” she says. “I’ll touch the leaf and… try to focus on the present moment and what’s happening right in front of me and it helps to keep me grounded.”
For parents worried about their girls’ use of social media, coming to an agreement with your girl about how many hours should she use her device is key, according to LaFrance. “Negotiation says that since ‘this is something that we’re both interested in, concerned about, then let’s see if we can come up with something that’s neutrally agreeable,’ and it’s more likely to be followed than some arbitrary deadline,” she says.
Want to learn more about how you can support the girls in your life as they navigate social media during COVID-19?
Watch our Virtual Workshop Help Girls Make Healthy Social-Media Choices in this Unsettling Time.
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Isabela Rocha is a Brazilian journalism and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies student at Boston University. Her favorite book in this world is The Hunger Games and her favorite snack food is M&Ms. A 5 foot woman determined to change the world, Isa believes that women have the power to build a gender-equitable media, so she decided to take up that challenge by joining MEDIAGIRLS in the Fall of 2019.