Put the “Self” in Self-Improvement
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We’ve all gotten a sudden burst of motivation at 3:00 a.m. after watching a 30-second clip of an influencer giving tips on improving yourself. And we’ve definitely seen montages on TikTok of 20-year-old self-made millionaires in their Dubai penthouses explaining how to “escape the matrix,” with the first step being to buy their online course. Self-improvement has become a distinct genre on most social media platforms, with content ranging from gym tutorials to skincare routines.
Self-help is a multi-billion dollar market, and social media has made it a negative influence now more than ever. As they grew, self-development videos became less about influencers genuinely helping their audience and more about trying to profit off of viewers desperate for advice. TikTokers make earnings based on engagement, and some of the most popular categories are beauty/skincare, life advice, and general tips on different aspects of life. Branded TikToks promoting sponsored products make between $100,000 to $250,000, and celebrities promoting products make up to $500,000 per post. This marketing is usually targeted toward young people who tend to have insecurities about every aspect of their lives and, therefore, are easily manipulated into thinking that a method or product is the way to fix their internal problems. Whether it be being lost in the college application process or struggling with acne, content creators and celebrities feed off these mass insecurities in young men and women. For this reason, self-improvement videos generally gain heaps of traction. Users ask for more videos in the comments, save the video for later, and share it with friends and family. Creators make as many videos as they can because they know that self-improvement sells. Recently, a new feature called TikTok Shop was added, where brands and creators can display and sell products directly on TikTok. This has made it easier than ever to profit from advertising instant-solving products that target insecurities. The MySmile Teeth Whitening Kit, in particular, has over 50 million views, with endless creators saying it will quickly make your teeth pearly white and that a whiter smile is the key to getting girls. Whether or not it works, the issue here is that it’s only one example out of endless products being advertised to supposedly “better” yourself.
Users consume countless videos from countless influencers recycling the same old advice to promote their so-called unique products, just for these products to ultimately end up not doing anything at all to truly improve users’ lives. Each video provides small doses of motivation and false assurance that following these tips and buying those products will result in reaching the better you. In reality, people just want to be told what to do. No one really believes they’re capable of taking charge of their own lives. Instead, we buy into the advice given by people who appear to live better lives. Now, this is not to say every influencer is trying to profit off of self-help items or that the tips circulating on social media are not helpful to some extent. But, at a certain point, the relentless tips and methods being thrown at us end up doing more harm than good. It can be a pressure on our mental health when all we do is compare ourselves to influencers, and the constant pressure to always better ourselves gets overwhelming. When we constantly see people around our age with chiseled bodies making tons of money urging us to take steps to become like them, it creates toxic comparative motivation. Only a mere five percent of real life resembles what is displayed on social media, creating an illusion that the remaining 95 percent are the minority. Self-improvement on social media doesn’t encourage you to be the better version of yourself; rather, it induces the desire to become what’s believed to be ideal.
Exposure to self-improvement on social media usually ends up in two different paths. The first is self-improvement addiction. If we follow every routine and take up every healthy habit, we end up feeling unfulfilled and discontent with ourselves, as comparison can quickly become an addiction that haunts us. At a certain point, nothing will be good enough because social media will always manage to display someone “better” than whoever we are. Hyper-fixating on fixing your insecurities as quickly as possible will lead to even more depreciation of self-worth. The other outcome is that improving ourselves becomes a heavy burden. When we look at the gap between who we are and what we supposedly should be, it seems like treading the Pacific. Given the unrealistic ideals and irrational methods projected by social media, that gap becomes impossible to close. Oftentimes, it’s so overwhelming that we don’t do anything at all because we feel as if it’s already too late. So, with each scroll and each comment read, the feeling of guilt crushes us.
Given all the negative effects of constant consumption of self-development media, it’s important to remember that most social media is composed of the best bits of influencers’ lives they want their viewers to see. Of course, many professionals share genuine advice, but the best self-improvement tip anyone can give you is that it’s called SELF-improvement for a reason. No one can give you a step-by-step guide on how to fix or maintain your lifestyle. Most of the advice on social media is either a business campaign or generic tips that can be difficult to apply to an individual life. Content creators’ main aim is to sell to as many people as possible, so everything is oversimplified in a one-size-fits-all method and sweetened with false hope. Everyone is at different stages in life and requires different types of advice.
Thus, those who do want to share their knowledge on social media should take a deeper psychological approach and explain why people in certain situations are in those situations. TikToker Adrian Markovac does a good job of this, explaining that no one is born lazy, useless, or unwilling to try and achieve the best versions of themselves. Only after people realize why issues in their lives occurred, why they are continuing to happen, and why something should be done about them, will they want to make changes happen. With their motivation inspiring them, these changes will happen in a fulfilling way because it’s out of their own genuine desire instead of being told by someone what to do. More professional and in-depth psychological advice would help to provide a healthier outlet for self-improvement on social media platforms.
Self-development will most likely remain a profitable business, but it’s up to viewers to choose what content they consume and use as a stepping stone toward finding methods and routines that work best individually. It’s critical to understand that everyone is in different mental and physical states. Some need to realize that the constant pursuit of perfection and attempting to fill the void of what’s not enough leads to a lifetime lack of self-satisfaction. Others need to stop using comparison as the fuel for motivation. No matter what help we receive from surrounding people, the environment, and online, becoming our better selves remains within our own hands.