When I was in sixth grade, I wanted an iPhone for various reasons. I hoped to keep in touch with my friends and family, play the newest games, and explore the unfamiliar, exciting world of social media. Seeing my peers navigating Snapchat and Instagram on a daily basis and connecting with one another gave me even more of a reason to want one in the palm of my hand.

Finally, the time arrived in seventh grade after I eagerly tore open my Christmas gift to discover a shiny, new iPhone 5c. Ecstatic, I downloaded all the apps I’d been waiting for and began to follow different pages. Through the next few years of my phone-ownership adventure, all was well and running smoothly — or so I thought.

It wasn’t until junior year of high school that I realized the unnecessarily negative viewpoints social media had polluted my mind with, especially around the subject of body positivity. For years, I was slowly, unknowingly infected with a distorted outlook on food, health, and overall body image. When not scrolling past the next fad diet that would “burn fat by the hour,” I saw plenty of fatphobic comments and pro-ED (eating disorder) material.

However, now that I’m in a place where I understand the ignorance of these perspectives, I’m hoping to discourage their support and following.

The main thing that bothers me on social media is the encouragement of comparison. Whether it’s about weight, body type, height, or abilities, it’s not healthy to assume that everyone should fit one particular image. However, I’ve noticed that many, including myself at times, are turning to comparison for validation, and it’s not their own fault at all. The fault lies in society as a whole and the stigma around weight gain and body image.

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Social media is full of photos that are edited, posed, and photoshopped. These things are perfectly okay in moderation and can bring confidence to the poster in a healthy way. However, we often don’t see the other side of these pictures — the raw, unedited images, the textured skin, the body hair, the chipped nails, the slightly smudged makeup. So, when we look back at ourselves after seeing “flawless,” airbrushed photos, it can be awfully difficult to recognize how unrealistic of a standard we hold ourselves accountable to so often.

The other day, I came across an infographic that basically stated, “we’ve gone through an entire pandemic, it’s okay if you’ve gained weight.” While I was happy at first to see a post that wasn’t discouraging weight gain, I realized that it’s still promoting that distorted viewpoint. Why must it take a global pandemic -- a mentally and physically taxing experience that took so many innocent lives -- to justify weight gain? Why can’t we just accept that fluctuations in weight are an entirely natural part of life?

Earlier on in the year, I wrote a column about an experience I had taking time away from my phone and social media. What I didn’t mention in that article, though, was the improvement of my self esteem. It wasn’t immense, but it was there. I wasn’t plagued with the daily reminder that my body wasn’t as “perfect” as someone else’s, or that my diet was unhealthy because it included carbohydrates.

While you can’t control what other people post, you can choose to follow accounts that encourage you to be confident in yourself and promote healthiness in all of its forms. My heart goes out to anyone struggling with their body image, their relationship with food, or anything else preventing them from being content with themselves. You are all wonderful just the way you are.

Grace Sprecher is a 2021 graduate of Mayo High School. Send comments on teen columns to Jeff Pieters, jpieters@postbulletin.com.