Today, social media makes obsessing over edited photos much easier due to the array of applications available. Social media editing tools claim to erase blemishes, whiten teeth, and even make you look 10 pounds lighter. Individuals are going to extreme lengths to obtain the perfect Instagram post. However, often times, these photos are not true depictions of one’s self. Consumers of social media are having an increasing difficult time distinguishing what is and isn’t real.
What Young Women Face Today
When I was in high school, the only social media platform available was AOL messenger. Therefore, my online friends, filters, and followers didn’t define my identity, unlike in today’s world. (I don’t envy girls growing up in today’s society.) Social media’s reach and the ability to post filtered and edited images have left today’s teenage girls increasingly cyber-bullied, trolled, and ultimately more body conscious. The Pew Research Center reports that among all Internet users, 40% have experienced harassment online. 66% of Internet users who have experienced online harassment said their most recent incident occurred on a social media platform. No wonder social media users are afraid to portray their true selves.
Social Media Deflates Self-Esteem
Along with harassment, social media is completely deflating young women’s self-esteem. Dove recently conducted a social media survey and found that 82% of women feel the beauty standards set by social media are unrealistic. Additionally, three quarters of women believe social media comments critiquing women’s beauty are destructive to their self-esteem. We live in a society that hopes for “likes,” but when it comes to the self-esteem of today’s young women, it seems it’s difficult for them to “like” themselves. Dr. Jennifer Powell-Lunder, a clinical psychologist who specializes in social media’s impact on teens and tweens, explains that there are numerous things that young women encounter on social media platforms that may influence their self-esteem.
- Positive or negative feedback to her posts.
- The number of “likes” she gets on a post and how quickly those ‘likes” are received.
- How many followers she has, with the goal of having more “followers” than people she is “following.”
- How often she gets positive “mentions” and is tagged in pictures/posts.
- How often her posts/photos are “shared” for positive reasons.
Overall, social media has a large impact on young women’s self-identity. Tweens and teenagers are no longer solely impacted by the airbrushed images in magazines or on billboards that illustrate society’s “ideal” woman. Now, however, it’s their friends and peers in their newsfeeds appearing to have the perfect lives using filters, captions, and the perfect angle to present a mere perfect image and lifestyle. The root of insecurity is comparison – the idea that they need to keep up with one another.
From Classrooms to Newsfeeds
“The popularity contest that high school has always been has sort of migrated onto social media,” Nancy Jo Sales, author of the book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers. For example, social media “likes” are perceived as a form of acceptance and not “keeping up” can hurt a young girl’s self-esteem. Teenagers can have thousands of “friends” online, but that can leave them exposed. Never have teenagers known so much about their friends’ lives including how they look, what they eat, what places they frequent and who they hangout with. Ultimately, they are seeing the world through a filter, and that’s not healthy.
Standing Up and Revealing the Truth
Fortunately, companies are launching campaigns to bring awareness to the issue. In 2015, Dove launched a campaign called #SpeakBeautiful, which encourages women to “realize the role our online words play in impacting our confidence and self-esteem.” Additionally, bloggers, social media celebrities and models are raising awareness by telling the truth about their posts. Many have come forward and admitted to using filters and posing in such a way to make them look thinner. Essena O’Neill, a former Instagram model, re-captioned the posts she left up on Instagram to reveal the lengths she went through to make certain shots look perfect.