The omni-present nature of social media has captured the attention of growing generations that develop alongside with the technological progress. Social media websites and applications, such as Facebook and Instagram, have become highly incorporated in the lives of young people, with teenage girls and young women being their primary users. Studying the effects of social media exposure on body image and self-esteem of this target population is expected to reveal how the Internet changes the behaviors of their users. Despite being external vehicles for getting and sharing information between people, young women can feel dissatisfied with their appearance when comparing how they look to the images they find online.
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Over the past decade, the usage of social media has dramatically increased and continues to rise. According to the findings from the Pew Research Center, approximately a half (51%) of US teenagers aged between 13 and 17 use Facebook, 69% use Snapchat, 725 use Instagram, and 85% use YouTube. Moreover, smartphone ownership has become a crucial element of teens’ lives, with 95% of them reporting having the device themselves or being able to access it. The use of social media platforms showed to yield such benefits as interactions with other people, wide availability of information and its accessibility, peer and social support, public health surveillance, and the potential to impact policies (Moorhead et al. 1). However, according to Lewallen and Behm-Morawitz, there are connections between young women’s social media exposure and their self-care behaviors.
For example, the researchers mentioned that teenage girls and young women following Pinterest boards dedicated to fitness showed a higher likelihood of engaging in extreme behaviors to lose weight, including crash dieting and radical plans of exercises. Their continuous exposure to fitness content made the target group to reflect on their self-image and bodies, thus increasing the intention to lose weight to be similar to the photos of other women they see online. This points to the issue of social media platforms having the ability to impact the behaviors of females to participate in social comparison and subsequently develop feelings of self-loathing and low satisfaction with their bodies (Alperstein 5). Such findings point to the concerns of young women and girls internalizing their negative perceptions of their image and bodies (Bell 3).
Researchers have also determined links existing between females’ low satisfaction with their bodies and eating disorders in connection to the exposure to social media, news outlets, or television shows (Bell 4). It is essential to consider that the effect of social media use can be both direct and indirect. For example, Becker et al. found that social media played a role in contributing to eating pathologies among young girls who were exposed to various sources of information both directly and indirectly (43). The issue of negative self-reflection and dissatisfaction with one’s body image also stems from the widespread use of photo editing applications. Some women alter their bodies and faces to look more attractive and ‘perfect’ than they are. This subsequently creates a false perception of their appearance and unattainable standards of beauty. Adolescent girls and young women who want to be similar to the people they follow online can resort to destructive dietary behaviors, which represents a challenge to public health.
On the other hand, it is also important to account for studies that found little to no connection between social media use and self-perception among young females. Thus, Ferguson found that the target population felt better about their self-image when viewing images of overweight people online (20). This shows that social media can be used as a tool for increasing the acceptance of their self-image and bodies when engaging with the content that teaches them to have a positive outlook on their appearance. Nevertheless, paying attention to the potentially adverse impact of social media use for young women and adolescent girls because the male population is not affected by the problem to the extent that their female counterparts are.
Findings and Conclusions
The popularity of social media makes it more likely for young women to develop unrealistic standards of beauty based on the images they see online. Issues with self-image and the dissatisfaction with one’s body are the most challenging outcomes of the consistent social media use because they lead to destructive behaviors. Research suggests that such behaviors can include extreme exercising patterns and express dieting that has an adverse impact on health. However, much work is required to study the effect of social media use on both men and women because of the limited evidence available on the topic. Such potentially adverse outcomes as eating disorder pathology and body dissatisfaction should be studied further involving representative population sample to address previous research limitations. Overall, despite the existence of mixed findings of research on the effect of social media use on young female’s self-perception and body image, denying that any connections exist means to diminish the challenges that young women face when trying to adhere to the unattainable standards of beauty advertised on social media.
Alperstein, Neil. “Social Comparison of Idealized Female Images and the Curation of Self on Pinterest.” The Journal of Social Media in Society, vol. 4, no. 2, 2015, pp. 5-27.
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Becker, Anne, et al. “Social Network Media Exposure and Adolescent Eating Pathology in Fiji.” The British Journal of Psychiatry, no. 198, no. 1, 2011, pp. 43-50.
Bell, Kathryn. “Social Media and Female Body Image.” Virtual Common. 2016, Web.
Ferguson, Christopher. “In the Eye of the Beholder: Thin-ideal Media Affects Some, but not Most, Viewers in a Meta-analytic Review of Body Dissatisfaction in Women and Men.” Psychology of Popular Media Culture, vol. 2, no. 1, 2013, pp. 20-37.
Lewallen, Jennifer, and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz. “Pinterest or Thinterest?: Social Comparison and Body Image on Social Media.” Social Media + Society, vol. 4, no. 2, 2016, pp. 1-9.
Moorhead, Anne, et al. “A New Dimension of Health Care: Systematic Review of the Uses, Benefits, and Limitations of Social Media for Health Communication.” Journal of Medical Internet Research, no. 15, no. 4, 2013, pp. 85.
Pew Research Center. “Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018.” Pew Internet, 2018, Web.