Do social media interactions shape the way women see themselves?

The comfort of mommy groups and bonding over recipes are just two of the many reasons why all-women WhatsApp and social media groups are a hit. Seven women share their experiences this Women’s Day

Jyoti Parikh, 28, Area sales manager for an FMCG company, Mumbai

How much time do you spend on WhatsApp/Facebook or other social media groups meant exclusively for women?
Weekly. Mostly after seeing an update in my news feed

For how long have you been on these groups?
I’ve been in the groups for a couple of years. I joined these groups for tips on health and wellness and skin and haircare.

What kind of content do you read about from these groups and how useful is it?
I mostly read about new forms of fitness routines, weight management tips and since I am a complete rookie with make-up products and techniques, I joined these groups to get DIY videos in my news feed - just in case I find myself in a situation where I need to look... well, made-up.

Do you recall any post or message that you strongly agreed or disagreed with, or had a quarrel over on such a group?
I was once watching a DIY make-up video on Facebook and the girl in the video smeared her entire face with lipstick and excruciatingly rubbed her face to spread it evenly and lighten it, in order to get a 'blush' look. As I watched the video, I tried hard not to feel terrible for her because maybe she wasn't subscribing to popular (unrealistic) standards of beauty for women, but in fact, she liked doing this. However, it was the comments that really made me angry. Women didn’t hold back in calling her a slut, a disgraceful woman and a variety of other rude things. This, to me, is the dichotomy of being a woman in the current frame of society.

Do you think a woman's perception of herself is shaped by her social media interactions?
Yes, a woman's perception of herself is shaped by her social media interactions. Trolls who comment negatively, sometimes end up demotivating women and at other times, this kind of negativity gives them more encouragement to fight back and do what they want to. Positive encouragement in terms of views/likes/shares/comments brings hope, makes one feel recognised. As an example, Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi woman activist chose to fight the regime simply by uploading a video of herself driving a car, on YouTube. This inspired thousands of Saudi women to do the same and today, after a decade there’s change.

Sheetal Chhugani

Sheetal Chhugani, 35, works in human resources at an IT company in Pune

How much time do you spend on average on WhatsApp/Facebook or other social media groups meant exclusively for women?
I don’t spend more than 5 to 10 minutes on these groups.

For how long have you been on these groups?
Some of my friends were already on these groups, which motivated me to join.

What kind of content do you usually spend time reading about on these groups? I love reading about parenting tips because this is one area which I think we need to grow in, and adapt as per the changing needs/style of our child every year. Also I love cooking and exploring recipes so I read any content pertaining to this. Some women-oriented quotes are interesting but at times they demotivate me because the more we read, the more we become judgmental and our expectations from others increase. So I try to be away from women-oriented content and quotes.

Do you recall any post or message that you strongly agreed or disagreed with, or had a quarrel over on such a group?
I cannot think of any such incident immediately.

Do you think a woman's perception of herself is shaped by her social media interactions?
No, I do not agree. Social media interactions are not a deciding factor to form any perception about anybody. For me, it is just a tool which should be used for passing time or gaining some knowledge.

Prachi Jatania

Prachi Jatania, 37, Communications and media relations professional, Mumbai

How much time do you spend on average on WhatsApp/Facebook or other social media groups meant exclusively for women?
I spend between two to four hours on these groups daily.

For how long have you been on these groups?
I’ve been on a mommy Facebook group for the last five years and on a book reading Facebook group for 6-8 months.

What kind of content do you usually spend time reading about on these groups?
Mostly food tips for young babies, and is a platform to vent and discuss with other moms. When my child was very young, I would often connect with other mothers to seek advice on sleep habits and meal recipes. It gave a sense of belonging and a feeling of reassurance that there are other parents who share similar experiences and one can talk through challenging phases of parenting. Often simply being a silent observer gave me an idea of what’s to come ahead with school admissions, dealing with playground dynamics and so on.

Do you recall any post or message that you strongly agreed or disagreed with, or had a quarrel over on such a group?
I don’t get dragged into arguments over social media... it is a virtual world and the tone of posts can be misconstrued if you don’t know the entire story. I have seen mothers quarrel over home-schooling versus conventional schooling choices, arguments over mother-in-law and daughter-in-law issues and often on breastfed versus bottle-fed choices made by mothers! It is endless. Social media tussles are common in these groups. Unless the administrator exercises control and filters the group for productive and supportive conversations, such arguments are inevitable.

Do you think a woman's perception of herself is shaped by her social media interactions?
Most women are invested in their social media interactions, and being able to detach is easier said than done. I try to step back once in a while to tell myself that social media platforms are not as personal as real world conversations, so I try not to take every discussion too seriously. But there are topics on social media that I connect with instantly and I want to add value to those discussions, so what I take away from my interactions does influence my thoughts and views of myself no matter how detached or objective/unaffected I may think I am from it all.

Rajani Suresh

Rajani Suresh, 55, Works in a nationalised bank, Goa

How much time do you spend on average on WhatsApp/Facebook or other social media groups meant exclusively for women?
I spend about half an hour daily on WhatsApp.

For how long have you been on these groups, and what attracted you to them?
I’ve been on these groups for the last two years. It’s a good medium to keep in touch with long lost friends and to extended family. It’s comforting to be in touch.

What kind of content do you usually spend time reading about on these groups?
There are a lot of creative forwards, short jokes, healthy debate on current issues. Some tips are useful for health management. Keeping in touch is an emotional boost

Do you recall any post or message that you strongly agreed or disagreed with, or had a quarrel over on such a group?
I am not active on Facebook. I don’t get too affected by forwards since it is somebody else's opinion and I can accept it as that and leave it. There is no question of quarelling over these things since I value what I feel and think and only take what I want from these forwards. I may silently enjoy a hearty laugh over some forwards and may immediately delete things that I find offensive.

Do you think a woman's perception of herself is shaped by her social media interactions?
It may be true for some, especially the younger generation. Ideally it should not be the case but an ideal world doesn’t exist.

Nidhi Acharya

Nidhi Acharya, 40, Homemaker, Mumbai

How much time do you spend on average on WhatsApp/Facebook or other social media groups meant exclusively for women?
A couple of hours daily but not at a continuous period, it’s throughout the day.

For how long have you been on these groups, and what attracted you to them?
I’ve been a part of these groups for the last six years. The groups are useful for information exchange that can range from a good summer class for the kids to yoga sessions, restaurant reviews, discount deals, doctors and more.

What kind of content do you usually spend time reading about on these groups?
I find the information very helpful as a number of members are also women who wear many hats. There are working professionals, entrepreneurs and even extremely busy homemakers. The exchange pertaining to hobby ideas, fitness and skill development are very handy. With members from different backgrounds, it helps in keeping these groups a more candid platform rather than being forums to sell products or services.

Do you recall any post or message that you strongly agreed or disagreed with, or had a quarrel over on such a group?
One of the housing society groups initially turned into a marketing channel to promote home-grown entrepreneurs. This led to some heated discussion and for everyone's peace, it was decided that business messages were restricted to one so that those interested can take it one-on-one instead of flooding everyone with promotions.

Do you think a woman's perception of herself is shaped by her social media interactions?
Social media interaction has greatly replaced physical social interaction. Like any influencer, they do tend to impact an individual woman's thinking in some ways. However, this is still a very relative experience. There are women who don't give two hoots about what the society says or thinks about them but there are always many others who are greatly impacted by the perception of others. This leads them to put up appearances and on social media it is easy to get away without ever being caught.

Jigeesha Pasricha

Jigeesha Pasricha, 45, Creative director at a production house, New Delhi

How much time do you spend on average on WhatsApp/Facebook or other social media groups meant exclusively for women?
About 5-10 minutes, daily.

For how long have you been on these groups, and what attracted you to them?
Perhaps 4-5 years, not sure. These are personal school/college friends' groups.

What kind of content do you usually spend time reading about on these groups?
Forwards are mostly ignored. Occasionally, I read only from very special friends whose opinion I totally trust. These are quite helpful, and the content is mostly on spirituality, health or self-help.

Do you recall any post or message that you strongly agreed or disagreed with, or had a quarrel over on such a group?
Can't recall any.

Do you think a woman's perception of herself is shaped by her social media interactions?
Yes and no. It can be revealing to hear what other people think of you, not necessarily through social media, it just happens to be the medium of conversation at some point. At the same time, I have my own opinion of myself as well. Both together, they possibly shape the perception. Am not sure if this is true for all women.

Shridevi Mahadevan

Shridevi Mahadevan, 40, Experiential learning trainer, Bangalore

How much time do you spend on average on WhatsApp/Facebook or other social media groups meant exclusively for women?
Overall a couple of hours per day, marketing for my work, communicating in my work groups, reading relevant articles/vlogs etc. Women specific, maybe about 10 minutes, to see what's happening on the women's groups that I am a part of - groups related to sustainable menstruation, early childhood development, gentle parenting, second sales on moms of Bangalore, breast feeding, informed birthing.

For how long have you been on these groups, and what attracted you to them?
I have been part of the birthing and motherhood groups for the last five years when my parenting journey. I found a lot of support, experiences and sensible advice on these groups especially about natural birthing, extended breast-feeding and early childhood development that I could rely on in these commercial/consumerist times. I have also been able to contribute productively with my experiences and information. Apart from these, the sustainable menstruation and other sustainability groups have helped me in my journey towards a better lifestyle.

What kind of content do you usually spend time reading about on these groups?
If one has the discretion to choose the groups wisely and understand information and experiences shared, these groups can be very useful to help connect a lot of like-minded individuals who are genuine about their knowledge sharing. I read experiences, advice and any research data posted to support the knowledge base. Tips related to motherhood and overall natural/sustainable initiatives are the content I read most about.

Do you recall any post or message that you strongly agreed or disagreed with, or had a quarrel over on such a group?
No serious disagreements on the women's groups, but I’ve had intense political disagreements on regular Facebook posts. Sometimes these have gotten ugly and left a really bitter taste. Family and friends WhatsApp groups that you can’t get out of and their sexist jokes are also bad. After a couple of attempts at trying to bring to the group's notice the insensitivity for really abysmal content, some as direct retorts, some sarcasm, and being bullied for it, I stayed away from them or put them on mute.

Do you think a woman's perception of herself is shaped by her social media interactions?
In busy times of less actual interaction with the real world, our perceptions (man or woman) can be shaped by how popular we are or how people respond to us on social media. This is especially true for cases where the entire profile with images boasts of perfect lives and creates an instant celebrity-like feeling. It’s very easy to thrive on the fantasy of it all. And then comparisons ensue. It may not be the case for all women or people in general, but does happen in varying degrees. The ones who have less emotional support in real life or are going through low phases will surely get more affected than others.

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