The comparison trap

Social media and body image, extracting water out of thin air, and what hit Uranus?

At the risk of turning this newsletter into a diary of my own Instagram habits, here’s a story I wrote for BBC Future about the complicated relationship between social media and body image.

Most of the studies so far are quite small and correlational (which obviously does not = causation). But we’re starting to get hints of what exactly about social media makes us feed bad about our bodies, and what could be good.

What’s emerging is that comparisons seem to be key to those bad feelings. In particular, it’s not comparing ourselves to celebrities that seems to do the most damage, but comparing ourselves to acquaintances. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that acquaintances, or ‘distant peers’ as they’re referred to in the research, are the people who exist mostly as highlight reels on social media, and that we rarely see IRL.

Of course, comparisons on social media don’t just make us feel bad about our bodies – they can make us feel inadequate in many, many ways. As a freelancer working on my own a lot, it’s especially easy to fall into the comparison trap. Instead of chatting to real life colleagues with multifaceted lives, I can spend whole days only getting glimpses into other people’s lives online. I spend far too long scrolling through Twitter instead of either doing something more productive, or just giving my brain a break.

Which is why I’ve deleted Twitter from my phone, and moved Instagram to the far reaches of the fourth screen – to break the habit of turning to social media during downtime, and hopefully to live more in my own brain and care less about what everyone else is doing.

I’ve also read six books this month, which I don’t think is a coincidence. (Shout out to Bad Blood, by John Carreyrou, and The Psychology of Time Travel, by Kate Mascarenhas, for both being mind-bending page turners, albeit for very different reasons.)

The rest:

What hit Uranus? (All About Space)

Uranus is weird. The ice giant is tilted, with its north and south poles where you would expect the planet’s equator to be. Its magnetic field is off-centre. And though you’d expect an ice giant to be cold, Uranus is even colder than scientists think it should be. Now researchers is starting to unravel how it came to be this way.

(This is in print only, so you’ll have to buy it to find out)

Getting water out of thin air (Technologist)

Fog catchers have been providing water to people in dry, mountainous regions for decades. As more regions get drier thanks to climate change, could recovering water from air solve some of our problems?

How we can save hydropower (Technologist)

The way we’ve historically generated energy from water is not good for the environment. Here’s how that’s changing.

Nearly half of global childhood cancers go undiagnosed (Nature News)

Tens of thousands of cancers are missed each year, particularly in countries where children have poor access to health care.

“No vaccine, no school”: the stark reality of low vaccination rates (Prospect)

Unvaccinated children aren't only at risk themselves—if too few people receive their vaccinations, the protection of "herd immunity" can be threatened.

Until next time: say hi at @kahoakes, or lurk at kellyoak.es.

– Kelly