How Social Media Can Affect Body Image and Self-Esteem in Adolescents
Katie Greasby, LMFT
From Facebook to Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter our world today is impacted by all types of social media. Over the years there has been a large increase in unattainable and unhealthy ideals in appearance for young adults and adolescents to reach. They learn to self-objectify and attend to physical appearances rather than inner qualities. The mass media portrayal of extremely thin figures-for women, and the muscular body type-for men unfortunately has contributed to the increase in body image concerns.
Factors that play a role in vulnerability include low self-esteem, depression, perfectionism, and thin-idealism. The parent-child relationship is vital in childhood development. When parents are not sufficiently emotionally available, children can grow into adulthood with an incomplete or damaged view of their sense of self. When this is damaged, adolescents are likely to turn to seek external validation and guidance regarding their sense of worth. This is where social media comes in. Many turn to social media for that validation to seek gratification, influence, and understanding, yet many fall into the trap of social comparison and unrealistic views.
As the internet and social media apps are used several times a day by millions of adolescents, it is a main source of validation and attention especially during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic where many were cut off from in-person relationships. Many focus their time on visually enticing forms such as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and TikTok. These outlets are a way for adolescents to engage with one another in an interactive and personalized way. The attention social media provides isn’t always positive. Many seek approval and validation through comments and “likes.” While it allows for engagement and communication, it can create compulsive thoughts and leave oneself more disappointed and hurt than affirmed. This is why we see girls taking down pictures that don’t receive “enough likes”. In that moment they believe the world is telling them “sorry you tried but you aren’t attractive enough, therefore you aren’t enough.” Placing self-worth in the hands of social media can be a dangerous.
It is important to know that what we see isn’t always what is accurate. One may compare their online pictures with peers, not knowing their peers have digitally altered the photographs. Research shows that those with a lower self-concept due to anxious attachment are more sensitive to these social comparisons. We see these effects in both males and females, but more prominently in females. Teenagers are more distraught when friends get more likes than them and they experience more negative affects when looking at the online photos of thinner, more attractive girls. Often times to combat this, young girls will validate their self-concepts by spending considerable time comparing their Instagram pictures to those of less attractive friends. In these ways, they will try to satisfy psychological appearance-gratifying needs and convince themselves they measure up to idealized others.
So, what can we do about it?
First, recognize and build awareness that social media does play a role and affect our self-image especially in adolescences.
Second, be aware of how much time you are spending on social media and what you are scrolling through. Many post pictures of their best self and the best moments rather than showing the raw reality of life.
Third, as parents we can work on our relationship with our child and help build a secure attachment through love, support, and communication. Past hurts and uncertainties in how to parent can be made easier through therapy and learning parenting skills and communication skills to develop our relationships with our growing children. As adolescents, we can receive support and work through past hurts and traumas in how we were raised and the lack of support we may have received.
Lastly, notice signs in yourself or your children. Do they seem withdrawn, depressed, constantly on their phones looking at social media? Although it is normal to be on social media and on our phones often now-a-days, we can bring up topics to discuss and normalize what is seen on social media. Let’s change what we see and post ourselves to be authentic, vulnerable, and real to show others it is okay to be themselves and not live up to fake ideologies and how we are “suppose” to look.
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