Is Social media a toxic mirror?

How social media is ruining teens body image

79% of Australians have a social media account (Rob Tolliday), and in this dazzling world of interactivity, today’s youths are leading the way. Social media is a wonderful way of sharing experiences, connecting with others, expressing ideas and stating opinions. For older generations, posting a status or sharing a selfie to let others know how you are doing may seem bizarre, however, this is a common occurrence among teens like myself. Getting ‘likes’ on photos, posts or comments brings a powerful sense of accomplishment and acceptance by my peers, but might this search for validation be affecting me? Might the constant comparison between other’s photos and myself trigger negative thoughts about body image?

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First off, what actually is body image? I’m sure you are already fully aware of body image but here is just a recap. Body image is the mental representation we create of ourselves of what we think we look like, and it may or may not bear close relations to how other people see us.

Social media can be a dangerous body image environment

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest… The list goes on. Viewing pictures on these social media platforms that contain thin, attractive women or muscular, lean men has been shown in recent research (click here)  to lead to body dissatisfaction. This research shows that the more frequently social media is used, the more an individual is exposed to these images the more likely they are to have these unhealthy body confidence issues.

Visual platforms like Snapchat and Instagram deliver the tools for individuals to earn approval from their peers for their appearance through likes, followers, and views, and to compare this with others. And thanks to a host of free applications, these ‘Selfie-holics’ now have the ability to digitally alter the way they look, whitening teeth, covering up imperfections, even airbrushing their photos with the swipe of a finger. All this effort is to curate their own pictures to be hotter, thinner and prettier. Collecting “likes” and followers provide an immediate marker of achievement and popularity, feeding directly into users’ sense of self-worth. This creates greater pressure on appearance and competition to outdo one’s peers.

  “While social media is not the cause of low self-esteem, it has all the right elements to contribute to it. Social media creates an environment where disordered thoughts and behaviors really thrive.”                                                                         -Claire Mysko

Not all feedback is positive, in fact, criticism is bountiful. The instantly interactive and anonymous nature of social media allows feedback to be instant and unfiltered. Negative comments are harsh and overblown, can you imagine how you would feel being told you are fat and gross daily? 41% of social media users report having received abuse online (Maeve Duggan), most commonly including offensive name calling and purposeful embarrassment. This could have serious effects on a person’s confidence to be so cruelly put down.

When the problem gets worse

A study conducted by Florida State University and published by the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that a group of women who were asked to browse Facebook for 20 minutes experienced greater body dissatisfaction than those who spent 20 minutes researching rainforest cats online (click here). The continued use of social media can result in an accumulation of negativity, and even severe mental implications. For young people who have a tendency towards perfectionism, anxiety or disordered eating, the (often digitally enhanced) images of thin girls or women they see online can lead them to equate slimness with happiness, and vice versa with male muscles and athleticism.

These standards are persuading more and more young people to partake in unhealthy activities to try and equate with these unrealistic standards. These can lead to body dysmorphic disorders, including a range of things from anorexia and bulimia to muscle dysmorphia. Eating disorders alone are estimated to have current effect over 9% of Australia’s population, and just below 85% of people studied have said they know someone who may have an eating disorder (Guian Bolisay). This is a 2% jump in amount of people with the disorders over the past year, which has risen alongside the increased popularity of social media, and these are just the cases that are known, many more could potentially go hidden.

For more information on eating and body dysmorphic disorders please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMVyZ6Ax-74

How to avoid body insecurity:

There are a number of strategies that could be used to help reduce the impact of social media on your body image, these include:

  • Limiting screen time, of course. There is a correlation between the more time spent on social media and the increase of negative body image issues, so why not sway it the other way? Quit the excessive time on social media and spend more time doing other things.
  • Follow more body accepted pages, and unfollow the pages which are not so friendly. Reducing the number of unrealistic standards that you see on a day to day basis may help you feel better about your more realistic body.
  • Take a closer look at your health. Go to a doctor or take some certified online tests yourself, Figure out where your health is and work from there to improve yourself in a health-wise manner and stay there if you can, actual health matters more than perceived health.
  • Block the haters, or in other terms, dab on those haterz!. Blocking those people who put you down on social media will reduce the amount of criticism you receive, this may help you feel better about your insecurities.

Social Media is an important part of who we are as individuals, and it is only going to increase with the trends of technology. It helps us stay connected to others and shapes our perspectives, including those of ourselves. Do yourself a favor and focus more of your life on other things, I’m not saying cut it out altogether, just spend some more time doing things you actually like to do instead, and spend more of your life actually living, you know… The old-fashioned way.

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