Today, one of the most significant factors affecting an individual’s emotional, mental, and physical health is their use of social media. Despite the fact that society has always valued beauty, our fascination with appearances has reached an all-time high in the last decade. The media’s relentless portrayal of a perfect appearance and body image comparisons has a global impact on beauty choices from men, women, and everyone else on the gender spectrum. What you see in the media and reflected around you can impact body image. Body image refers to a person’s view of their physical self, as well as the feelings and beliefs that arise from that perception, whether positive, negative, or both. How do we tell the difference between reality and fake, and how do we defend ourselves from the negative aspects of social media?
When most of us wake up in the morning, the first thing we do is automatically search for our phones. We are immersed in an alternate universe from the moment we first open our eyes.
Social media is basically people presenting themselves in the best way possible, it can be difficult to avoid seeing photos and comments that make you feel bad about yourself. When you start to feel bad about yourself, it can be easy to feel bad about your body, compare what you look like with others, or hold yourself to unrealistic standards.
These expectations can make us feel insecure and make us want to change our bodies. Studies appear to show a strong correlation between social media and body disorders. Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a mental health disease in which a person spends a lot of time thinking about imperfections in their appearance, according to the NHS (2021). Often these flaws are unnoticeable to others. It can afflict persons of any age or gender, but teenagers and young adults are the most affected. Bigorexia, also known as muscular dysmorphia, is a body dysmorphic condition in which a person develops an unrealistic urge to be as muscular as possible. According to a BBC study from 2015, one out of every ten men who go to the gym has this condition. Other factors, such as genes, trauma, traditional media have all contributed to this, but social media has made it more popular. The Millennium Cohort Study, led by the UK government, found that the pressures of social media (one of which is beauty) are hazardous to the health of girls, because girls tend to spend more time on social media than boys. On a personal note, I’ve noticed over the years that people do not click on the entire comment to describing how ‘ugly’ that person is, essentially condemning them. Not only is condemning other people for their body a shameful thing to do, it can have severe lasting effects on the minds of people who may have anything from body dysmorphia to low self- esteem. It is something that must be eradicated as quickly as possible.
Dove released an advert this year highlighting the dangers and pressures of social media. Dove has stated the company is on a mission to tackle the issue of real beauty standards in a digital era. With ‘Reverse Selfie,’ it is leveraging its platform to emphasize the widespread harm caused by the practise of overly manipulated selfies. In the ad, we can tell that her ‘perfect’ selfie is the result of an app that allows her to change her face using ‘Photofix’. We can see that she’s made her eyes wider, her nose smaller, and her skin imperfections are gone, leaving her with a flawless radiance. The commercial goes on to break down her cosmetics regimen, which was designed to snap the perfect selfie. It ends with her staring in the mirror (now the effects have been reversed), clearly dissatisfied with her appearance. The ad claims, “The pressure of social media is damaging our girls’ self-esteem.”
Technology has the power to make us insecure, but it also provides an alluring and somewhat satisfying solution: editing apps allow users to remove blemishes and imperfections in a matter of seconds. Beauty and augmented-reality facial filters are available on TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat, sites that saw record-breaking levels of interaction during the pandemic. However, these apps have conjured up a warped fantasy universe for what people consider to be the right or ‘perfect’ way to be. There’s a fair chance that the majority of the images you see on social media have been filtered or altered in some way. Kim and Khloe Kardashian, well-known socialites, have used Photoshop to edit selfies for their Instagram pages. Many fans have chastised the sisters for making unrealistic changes to make themselves look smaller and more toned, as stated in a Mirror Magazine post (Rutter & Strang, 2016). Editing images can give users a false sense of power, giving them the impression that they can change their bodies to get more positive attention. Feelings of inadequacy can overwhelm those of us who aren’t being photographed (or taking selfies) for a living struggle to reach anywhere near the imagined perfection in the photos of people we follow. The gap between what users think about themselves in real life and what they think about their online identity grows as a result of this mismatch between perception and reality.
While the negative effects of social media on body image are well known, it is also possible for social media to have a positive influence on your body image. Body positive content aims to demonstrate respect and inclusion for people of all shapes and sizes. On social media, a new trend termed “body positivity” (or “BoPo”) has recently arisen. Body positivity encourages acceptance and admiration of bodies of different shapes, sizes, and looks by challenging limiting beauty norms. On Instagram, BoPo accounts like @bodyposipanda (with over 1 million followers) have proven extremely popular. According to Jill M. Emanuele (senior director of the Mood Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute), another way social media can improve body image is by linking you with others and creating a body-accepting culture. Instagram has the potential to EMPOWER people. Since the site has found eating disorder-specific keywords or hashtags unsearchable people will concentrate on healthy images of bodies on social media when these search words are removed.
We’ve come a long way from where we were a generation ago, but we’re still not there. Larger women, disabled women, and old adults are still excluded from many of the most exclusive spheres of beauty. To be honest, I have no idea what a utopia would look like. Is there a world where everyone gets a tiara and a beauty queen’s sash just for showing up?
Personally, I do not believe social media is based on a binary of “good” or “bad” mental health. Social media has been demonstrated to have a positive impact on body image when used as a form of community and inspiration for health and wellness. In contrast to traditional media outlets social media users have the ability to customise their feeds by following specific people and generate their own media material to share with others. As consumers it is important to be more cautious about the material we choose to follow and attentive about the content we are forced to view; raising awareness about the harmful impacts of inertly absorbed social media information, particularly adverts and posts from influencers with very specific agendas, could help other social media users develop a positive social media experience.
So, what do you think? Is it right or fair for there to be such limiting beauty standards? Perhaps you’ve left a negative comment on somebody else’s picture? If you find yourself thinking differently based on what you’ve just read, then now is the time to think for yourself about how much you trust social media and the pressures being enforced on many people on a daily basis to try and fit into the narrow boundaries of what is considered “beautiful” in 2021.