Instagram’s inbuilt compare and despair feature has not gone unstudied. There’s research on its negative effects on mental health, on body image, on buying habits, on loneliness, on dopamine, on sleep quality … and now, thanks to a nationwide Refinery29 Canada survey, there’s also research on how it impacts motherhood.
And — spoiler alert — things aren’t looking too good.
The study, which surveyed 500 Canadian women about motherhood and social media, found that apps like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are making mothers feel insecure about their parenting.
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More specifically, even though 53 per cent of those surveyed believed social media did not accurately depict the experience of motherhood, 69 per cent still had insecurities stemming from those apps.
“What really stood out to me from the survey is what a significant role social media has come to play in our day-to-day lives as mothers,” Carley Fortune, the website’s executive editor, said in a news release.
“The issue is, social media does not always offer realistic depictions of motherhood, so it can become detrimental when we start to compare ourselves and judge other women and mothers based on their social content.”
It’s true that social media has disrupted how we think about motherhood, in the same way that it’s disrupted the way we think about (and do) everything else. Instagram, specifically, has become a feedback loop of voyeurism, aspirationalism, and self-abasement — a cycle where you look, then want, and then inevitably feel bad about not measuring up.
In fact, the study specifically mapped out those areas where mothers often feel as though they aren’t hitting the mark. And while motherhood is — clearly — different for everyone, there were some consistencies across the board on what people felt bad about.
When it came to the popularly photographed “post-baby body,” nearly four in 10 women thought they didn’t look as good as other moms. Three in 10 thought other mothers seemed as though they had more time for themselves. Another three in 10 felt motherhood looks like it comes easier to the ubiquitous #instamom, and 30 per cent thought the meals they made didn’t look nearly as healthy or tasty as those they saw on social media.
Though bleak, some of this is unsurprising. With what feels like a recent uptick in the phenomenon of “sharenting” — or “Insta-parenting” — over the last few years, it seems logical that people would be fooled by the veneer of these pages. Recent studies have linked Facebook with lower self-esteem and Instagram with poor mental health.
Just this week it was announced that Instagram would begin blocking content that promotes weight-loss products or cosmetic procedures to all users under the age of 18, a policy that seems to target some of those products that promise miraculous changes if you use them.
“We want Instagram to be a positive place for everyone that uses it,” the app’s public policy manager Emma Collins told CNN Business in a statement. “This policy is part of our ongoing work to reduce the pressure that people can sometimes feel as a result of social media.
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This pressure almost always has to do with the awkward line between representation and reality, which has been blurred further and further since Instagram’s birth in 2010.
Almost one quarter of respondents in the Refinery29 Canada study, for example, thought other moms on social media appeared to be happier than them, and 29 per cent said they themselves had experienced postpartum depression, but rarely saw other moms discussing it on their pages.
This sense of loneliness is another common symptom of social media, and is one shared by many other users, not just mothers. It’s also the reason this study was conducted in the first place — as a starting point to launch a series that will open up “the conversation about the struggles and identity shifts that come with being a mother.”
“The goal of the Parenthood series is to encourage an open conversation about the common struggles women and mothers are going through today,” Fortune explained.
“Whether someone’s experiencing difficulties trying to conceive, or is struggling with the career shifts that come with being a mother, we’re all going through something, and the more open we are about it, the more women won’t feel like they’re alone.”