“Social comparison theory posits that individuals learn about the self by comparing themselves with other individuals. Instagram allows its users to present themselves in a desired manner that represents their ideal self with emphasis on their desired traits. There is evidence to suggest that individuals consider other users to have happier, more successful lives than themselves, which may, in turn, create opportunity for upward social comparison and adverse effects on their self-esteem.”
– (Stapleton et al 2017: 148)
Social comparison involves learning about oneself by comparison with others. As Stapleton et al discuss in their paper, social comparison is an opportunity to exercise our own self-validation goals. We can subsequently authenticate our own self-worth based on this validation. We constantly evaluate ourselves against others in many ways. We consider wealth, attractiveness, intelligence, and success. This comparison allows us to know ourselves. We evaluate our own attitudes, abilities, and beliefs in comparison with others.
But who exactly do we evaluate ourselves against? In most cases, we compare ourselves to those in our peer group or with whom we are similar. In extreme cases, we may compare ourselves against seemingly perfect celebrities, which can have negative effects. The ubiquitous presence of celebrities in the media make this second option more likely now. It is a dangerous path that we are taking when we compare ourselves to celebrities. The images we see of celebrities are often retouched and enhanced to produce an image of perfection that we cannot recreate. Common sense has to rule, but we cannot always see that.
Stapleton, P., Luiz, G., and Chatwin, H. 2017. “Generation Validation: The Role of Social Comparison in Use of Instagram Among Emerging Adults”. In Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 20(3), 142-149.