Body Image and the Effects of Social Media
Body image: a subjective picture of one’s own physical appearance established both by self-observation and by noting the reactions of others. Well, what happens when the reactions of others become constant? When the reactions become negative? When the reactions become the basis of one’s physical appearance? What happens when the mirror becomes a toxic mirror?
How many of you here are on some form of social media, like snapchat, twitter, instagram, facebook? In september of 2017, over 800 million people were active users on Instagram. And 69% of girls say that pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape, and 47% say the pictures make them want to lose weight. Social media, apps, magazines, and television, are all causes of a distorted body image.
Now who here has a phone on them? I mean I do. Everywhere you look nowadays you can usually find a phone, a computer, a magazine, or a television. All of these are forms of social media. Social media provides a breeding ground for eating disorders and other negative body images. At an eating disorder treatment center in Chicago, 30-50% of the teen patients stated that they were using social media to support their eating disorders. When someone posts a distorted image of themselves, all of the “likes” subconsciencly promote a positive reinforcement of the body type they chose to publish and make them want to post more distorted images so that no matter how bad they feel about changing the image, the “likes” make up for the lack of self-esteem.
Apps like facetune have allowed kids to tamper with their images before posting them. While they know that their face has been airbrushed, their teeth have been whitened, their hair was made smoother, legs were thinned, and belly made smaller, everyone else sees the perfect person, the perfect body. Now the perfect person you have made is what everyone likes, you no longer see the untouched image as the one with the beautiful body, and you no longer see yourself with a beautiful body, unless it has been put into the app and distorted. The new apps have allowed us to enter our own beauty pageants; to create a prettier, thinner, version of yourself.
Another cause of the distorted body image are magazines and television. Did you know that Americans watch 250 billion hours of television every year? And what do we see between our favorite episode of grey’s anatomy? Commercials and ads. Ads are meant to portray people that are like us so that we could see ourselves using the products the ad is promoting and buy it. We have had an excessive amount of exposure to these images, so our perception on what we should consider “beautiful” has been altered. Additionally, commercials nowadays are more often related to dieting, fitness, or weight loss, and the constant exposure to these commercials can negatively affect someone subconsciously. While models are used in magazines to portray an “average” person, on average female models wear a size 2 or 4 and average americans wear a size 12 or 14. Sizes like size 14 are no longer considered acceptable these days and considered “overweight”, however Marilyn Monroe who was a model was also a size 14 and considered one of the most beautiful women. How did we allow the “ideal” body type to change so much, why did size become more than a number?
There are many consequences to this problem, because social media has exposed us to certain body standards causing many problems like lack of self-esteem, lack of confidence, eating disorders, and body dysmorphic disorder which can be defined as an “imagined ugliness”. Although it seems like this problem only affects girls, it can also affects boys. Nowadays girls are exposed to multiple images of models on instagram, and hashtags of things like “#thinspiration” which promotes the idea that eating disorders are acceptable. Furthermore, boys are also exposed to images of body builders and fit men showing off their six packs and muscles. The effect that social media has on boys is that approximately ? of teenage boys experience eating disorders like crash dieting, taking diet pills, and self-induced vomiting. Many of us hope that we won’t be affected by the unhealthy images that we see everyday. However, 53% of American girls are “unhappy with their bodies”, and this percent grows to 78% by the time girls reach the age of seventeen. To this day, only 2% of women in the world would consider describing themselves as “beautiful”. Also, in another survey of 9 and 10 year old girls, 40% of the girls have tried to lose weight. Now imagine your little sister, your niece, or family friend, looking in the mirror and thinking they should lose weight. No one should feel that way. So we must try to make a difference and lower these numbers.
There is no easy fix for this problem, but step by step we can make a change. The first step is to stop supporting apps like facetune. Feel confident about your post and don’t give in to the social pressures of editing your photo so that you can become the “perfect” person. Put your voice out there, help forms of social media like instagram and facebook work on limiting the amount of posts that promote thinspiration and other negative body images. Lastly, while it seems unreasonable, make a promise to love your body, note everything that you love about your body, and realize why your body is special and that everyone’s body is different.
If we can work on these solutions then we can learn to love and accept our own bodies and other peoples. We can succeed in creating a new atmosphere, one that separates self-esteem and body-esteem.
If we continue to compare ourselves to unreasonable standards and unhealthy images on social media then we will never achieve the level of self-esteem we deserve.