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How Social Media Metastasized Teen Body Images
Imagine what I am about to tell. Imagine looking at yourself in the mirror; you do not look like these stick-thin models seen plastered across the media. Your legs are too big, your bottom is too small, and you are too pale. You are too “ugly.” You stare in wonder and anger, “Why don’t I look like them?”
However, you don’t need to imagine this scenario, because this is a bitter truth for millions of people. As social media increasingly becomes more intertwined with everyday life, the less we can see past one’s external appearance, the more we become reliant on skin-deep validation. Although beauty has been a significant part of each culture throughout history, and each culture possesses a different beauty standard, there is not a wide array of representation in the media. In the media, one can quickly see the ideal body, the ideal face, and the ideal person. The lack of representation and the promotion of unrealistic beauty on social media causes millions of people to become dissatisfied with their looks. Dissatisfaction with one's appearance can elicit dangerous behaviors like self-induced vomiting and food restriction. These are symptoms of eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. Although eating disorders have seen a dramatic increase following the rise of social media (119% increase according to Mirror Mirror), many argue this is not a reason to limit media exposure in teens. Faced with statistics like this, people continue to say that social media’s benefits outweigh the negative impacts on body image.
However, such claims are discernable misstatements, as anecdotal and statistical evidence can prove this wrong. According to Brittany Tackett, a mental health professional, “30%-50% of teen patients [in eating disorder clinics] used social media as a means of supporting their eating disorders.” Cosmopolitan interviewed Alexis Ren, a model and woman who is struggling with Anorexia. Ren, herself, states, "Looking up to girls for inspo is a beautiful thing, but comparing yourself [to people on social media] is what creates the anxiety and self-hatred." Even Alexis Ren, a social media guru, says that social media can be toxic to self-esteem.
This all leads to a crucial point. Social media supports unhealthy behaviors. As stated before, “30%-50% of teen patients [in eating disorder clinics] used social media as a means of supporting their eating disorders” (Project Know). Not only can social media become a support-system for unhealthy behaviors, but an article written by Rachel Simmons, a Time magazine writer, suggests that social media has a strong correlation to self-objectification, and people who spend more time online tend to link their self-worth to their looks (Time). Faced with these facts, people continue to argue that social media is, in fact, a good outlet as hashtags like “#edwarrior, #foodisfuel, and #nofilter” are on the rise. But there is evidence which discredits this claim. A study conducted by Park Nicollet Melrose Center says that in the 1990’s fifty-percent of women wanted to change their weight, now it finds that eighty-percent of women want to change their weight. Although this higher percentage cannot be directly related to the rise of social media, one can argue that the unrealistic and damaging beauty expectations that social media portrays contributes to this number. It is necessary to keep this in mind as one in every ten people suffering from anorexia dies. Monitoring teenagers media usage will most definitely decrease the likelihood of such behaviors.
Furthermore, monitoring teenagers’ media usage can protect from the influence of altered pictures displayed on magazines, Instagram accounts, and online shopping. Because of the “competition” brought upon young men and women, seventy-percent of women and fifty-percent of men alter their appearance in photos before posting them online (The Guardian 2017). A study performed on teens aged 13-17 found that “500 adolescent girls aged 9–16, nearly 70% believed magazine pictures influenced their idea of the ideal body shape, and 47% of the same sample wished to lose weight as a result” (Girls’ Body Image and Self Image 2005). In spite of this evidence, periodicals such as Fashion, GQ, Glamour, Ellie, OK!, and ESPN insist on photoshopping their models. However, according to Frank Multari, a photographer in New York, when he photoshops photos, he is merely trying to rid the picture of any distraction, and focus on the main subject. “When I “heal” blemishes and retouch skin, it isn’t because I am trying to give the illusion of perfection or make us mere mortals envious” (Peta Pixel 2014). This being said, photoshop is still harmful. France and Israel have even implemented laws requiring magazines to state when a photo has been altered for cosmetic purposes.
In addition, social media causes stress. A survey was conducted in which people were asked whether or not they used social media, and how stressed they claimed to be. The study found that “social network users are, in fact, 14 percent more likely than non-users to characterize their lives as at least ‘somewhat stressful.’ Non-users, conversely, are 28 percent more likely than users to say their lives are ‘not at all’ stressful” (Huffington Post). Additionally, stress may have more correlation to self-esteem than is believed. Research done by the Australian National University found that “higher initial levels of stress predicted greater levels of body dissatisfaction 12 months later” (Sydney Morning Herald). Despite this evidence, people continue to use social media for long durations. Pew Research Center found that sixty-nine-percent of Americans use social media, and Social Media Today claims that the average teenager spends up to nine hours a day online. This extraneous media usage may be due to the lack of knowledge among teenagers regarding such topics.
So there you are again, standing in front of the mirror criticizing the parts of your body which do not follow the idealistic portrayals of models seen on social media. Your legs are too big, your bottom is too small, and you are too pale. You are too “ugly.” Although this time, you realize it is not you who is the problem. The problem is the unhealthy and unrealistic norms that social media encourages. So the next time you are scrolling through Instagram, opening Snapchats, or commenting on Twitter; ask yourself, is it worth it?
Clay, Daniel, et al. Body Image and Self-Esteem Among Adolescent Girls: Testing the Influence of Sociocultural Factors. Society for Research on Adolescence, demoiselle2femme.org/wp-content/uploads/Body-Image-and-Self-Esteem-Among-Girls.pdf. Accessed 2005.
Dick, John. “Why Do Social Networks Increase Stress?” Huffington Post, www.huffingtonpost.com/john-dick/social-networks-and-stress_b_3534170.html. Accessed 6 Dec. 2017.
East, Susie. “Teens: This is How Social Media Affects Your Brain.” CNN, 1 Aug. 2016, edition.cnn.com/2016/07/12/health/social-media-brain/index.html.
Filucci, Sierra. “Photoshop: The Ugly Truth About Pretty Pictures.” Huffington Post, www.huffingtonpost.com/common-sense-media/photoshop-the-ugly-truth-_b_6124234.html?guccounter=1. Accessed 11 Nov. 2014.
Knorr, Caroline. “How girls use social media to build up, break down self-image.” CNN, 12 Jan. 2017, edition.cnn.com/2017/01/12/health/girls-social-media-self-image-partner/index.html.
Multari, Frank. “Why I’ll Photoshop Your Face and Why I Believe It’s Okay.” PetaPixel, 14 Sept. 2014, petapixel.com/2014/09/14/ill-photoshop-face-believe-okay/.
Murray, Kristen. “Stress a predictor of body dissatisfaction in adolescents.” The Sydney Morning Herald, www.smh.com.au/opinion/stress-a-predictor-of-body-dissatisfaction-in-adolescents-20141107-11ittc.html. Accessed 8 Nov. 2014.
Ratcliffe, Rebecca. “Friends’ pictures on social media have biggest impact on body image.” The Guardian, www.theguardian.com/society/2017/mar/05/friends-pictures-on-social-media-biggest-impact-body-image. Accessed 5 Mar. 2017.
Richards, Patti. “How Does Media Impact Body Image and Eating Disorder Rates?” Center for Change, centerforchange.com/how-does-media-impact-body-image-and-eating-disorder-rates/.
Simmons, Rachel. “How Social Mediais a Toxic Mirror.” Time, time.com/4459153/social-media-body-image/. Accessed 9 Aug. 2016.
Social Media Fact Sheet. Pew Research Center, www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/social-media/. Accessed 5 Feb. 2018.
Tackett, Brittany. “Social Media and Body Image.” Project Know, www.projectknow.com/research/social-media-and-body-image/.