Social media is a topic that is spoken about worldwide; there are many differing opinions surrounding the use of social media and if it is a positive or a negative influence in society. One thing that cannot be argued is that social media is well and truly alive and thriving in today’s society and it is here to stay, whether people like it or not. Although there are many pros and cons surrounding social media, in this text, I will argue the point that social media is harmful for the body image and identity formation of young women.
If you want to look for silver linings, you can pretty much find them in anything, and the same can be said for social media. There have, of course, been good things to come out of social media, such as being able to connect with family and friends all over the world, spreading awareness for many different diseases and causes, and raising money for these causes. These reasons and more are why social media is the 21st century’s most accessible convenience; but there are too many reasons for why social media is our heaviest burden, one of these reasons is the harmful affect it can have on young woman.
Teenagers, especially young girls, have a hard enough time growing up trying to discover themselves and navigating with relationships, bullying, and comparing themselves to other girls; and social media has made this process of going from a girl to a woman ten times harder. Social media sites such as Instagram contain photos only, and there are so many filters and apps that can edit a photo to make you look flawless. These apps can remove blemishes, can make you look slimmer, and can basically make you look like you have zero imperfections. The issue with this is that is creates an unattainable standard of beauty that girls try to live up to. In (Carah & Dobson, 2016) it is discussed how Instagram uses an ‘Algorithmic Hotness’. Instagram highlights and displays images of attractive girls in their search function, showing only the ‘perfect’ body type and most attractive faces (Carah & Dobson, 2016). Girls then scroll through their Instagram and see these ‘perfect’ girls and want to try and be like them, which in turn can lead to eating disorders, lip fillers, plastic surgery, depression and a low self-esteem (Carah & Dobson, 2016).
There are luckily people out there who post real photos of their imperfections in the hope to make social media more real and to show young girls that they should feel comfortable in the skin they are in. These people include influencers such as Sarah Nicole Landry, who advocates for girls to be happy in the skin they are in and to not compare themselves to others (“Sarah Nicole Landry (@thebirdspapaya) • Instagram photos and videos”, 2020). Although this is a positive light on the situation, the people posting these real photos would probably amount to 5% of social media pages, whereas the edited, ‘perfect’ photos flood social media and have much more of an overwhelming presence, due to Instagram’s ‘Algorithmic Hotness’ (Carah & Dobson, 2016).
These unattainable photos would not be as much of an issue if young people did not spend as much time on social media; but unfortunately, they do. Over the past 5 years young people have increased the amount of time they spend consuming media by an hour and seventeen minutes daily, from 6 hours 21 minutes to 7 hours 38 minutes, almost the amount of time most adults spend at work each day, except that young people use media seven days a week instead of five (Berger, 2012). Not only do young people spend this much time engulfed in social media, they can also use several devices at once. They can be watching tv and be on their phone checking several different social media apps, leaving little time for them to be in reality, therefore they are not giving their mind a break from the critical online world (Berger, 2012).
Social media is not only an issue for young women, though there are a lot of studies to suggest that young women have the most issues stemming from social media (O’Keefee & Clarke-Pearson). The reason for this was investigated in a journal article by O’Keefee & Clarke-Pearson. The article explains how children and adolescents have limited capacity for self-regulations and they are very susceptible to peer pressure, which is why they struggle the most with social media. They do not have the ability to just close their account or not get invested in it, as they do not want to be the only one not online out of their peers (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011). This article also explains how recent research has shown that there are a lot of online expressions of offline behaviours, such as bullying, clique-forming, cyberbullying, and ‘sexting’. These issues can have a profound affect on young women who are trying to form their identity and may be constantly questioning themselves due to bullying or pressure. (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011).
The implications of these offline behaviours showing up online, is that young people do not have the ability to self-regulate like adults do (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011). Adults and older people still have been affected by online bullying and trolling, especially famous people, though young teenagers are going through puberty and have hormones raging through their bodies, so their responses to bullying and trolling are heightened (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011).
Cyberbullying and peer-pressure to look a certain way can take a huge tole on a young impressionable women’s life; and because of social media, bullying and peer-pressure doesn’t stop when you are in the comfort of your own home away from school or work. Cyberbullying and trolling are a much more intense form of bullying as you do not get a break from the bullying. Being online means you can be bullied via social media apps day and night without getting a break from it, which can take a toll on one’s mental health. It is not as easy as just blocking and deleting the bully, as they can make a fake account in approximately 20 seconds and can continue to harass you from many different accounts. It has been reported that nearly half of all teenagers have at some point, been the victim of cyberbullying, with a large number being young girls (Morales, 2011).
Social media platforms, Instagram and Facebook, have listened to the outcry from the public about the effects social media is having on the body image of young girls, and have responded with banning any ads on the social media sites that are promoting miracle diets and supplements to lose weight (Rosenbloom, 2020). Although this is a great step in the right direction in protecting our young women; the article shows that we still have a long way to go with a lot of similar ads still being shown and Instagram’s Algorithm of showing only attractive women still being in effect (Carah & Dobson, 2016).
The effects of social media on young women has had devastating effects over the years. One of the worst cases being a young Canadian girl Amanda Todd. Todd posted a YouTube video explaining that she was blackmailed into exposing her breasts via webcam, and that she has been intensely bullied online and that she was in a bad way. Todd unfortunately hung herself on October 10,2012 as a result of the bullying, leaving shockwaves around the world (“Suicide of Amanda Todd”, 2020). This is how serious the effects of social media can be. The pressure on young women to fit in can sway their identity formation into a different direction where they can do things, they are not proud of, which can lead to guilt and embarrassment (Cargill, 2019).
Cargill discusses how a survey discovered that social media creates a large sense of FOMO (Fear of Missing out) and interpersonal issues, especially in young women (Cargill, 2019). These interpersonal issues and FOMO can lead young women to make questionable choices, such as meeting up with men they have spoken to online, who they know nothing about, because their friends might be doing it, or the man has pressured them into it. When you sit behind a keyboard you can be anybody you want to be, you can make up lies about your personality, your lifestyle, things you enjoy, and you can pretend to be someone and say things you would never say in person. This can create a false sense of security between people who talk online and can lead to disaster for some young women (Cargill, 2019).
An example of this is a young woman who went on a tinder date with a man she had been talking to online. He had pretended to be someone she really clicked with and he said all the right things, which led to the date going well. This woman was later strangled to death by this man, he then did unspeakable things after that and was later jailed for her murder. Without social media, you would have to meet someone in person and build a repour based on that, rather than getting to know someone online who is pretending to be one person but is in fact a completely different person, ending in this tragedy (Hicks,2020). The added pressures and interpersonal issues that can affect the formation of a young women’s identity also contribute to some of these tragedies (Cargill, 2019). Without these issues, women might not choose to make certain decisions that perhaps they would not make without these factors influencing them.
These issues for young women are serious and crippling issues, ones that may never of arose without the evolution of social media sites. There is no way to abolish social media, it is a constant in our society and is used by billions of people, that is not changing. There are special teams within the police and online world to try and stop cyberbullying, online predators, peer-pressure and unhealthy Instagram algorithms; though the reality is, if you are on social media you are at risk of all of these things and there is no way to completely stop them happening. The more positive influencers we have on social media promoting healthy body images and self-love, the better. The more Instagram and Facebook continue to ban ads that promote miracle weight loss and diet supplements, the better. All these things will have a positive influence on the world of Social Media, though as of right now, Social Media is proven by the above articles to be harmful for the body image and formation of young women.
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Berger, A. A., & Asa, B. A. (2012). Media and society : A critical perspective. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Carah, N., & Dobson, A. (2016). Algorithmic Hotness: Young Women’s “Promotion” and “Reconnaissance” Work via Social Media Body Images. Social Media + Society, 2(4), 205630511667288. doi: 10.1177/2056305116672885
Cargill, M. (2019). The relationship between social media addiction, anxiety, the fear of missing out, and interpersonal problems (Order No. 27525187). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (2268994527). Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/docview/2268994527?accountid=10382
Hicks, A. (2020). How Brit’s dream trip turned to tragedy after Tinder date with sick killer. Retrieved 5 April 2020, from https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/grace-millanes-tinder-date-death-20926706
Morales, M. (2011). Cyberbullying. Journal Of Consumer Health On The Internet, 15(4), 406-419. doi: 10.1080/15398285.2011.623593
O’Keeffe, G., & Clarke-Pearson, K. (2011). The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families. PEDIATRICS, 127(4), 800-804. doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-0054
Rosenbloom, C. (2020). Instagram and Facebook ban ‘miracle’ diet posts, but there’s much more work to do. Retrieved 25 April 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/instagram-and-facebook-ban-miracle-diet-posts-but-theres-much-more-work-to-do/2019/09/23/0829a872-de26-11e9-b199-f638bf2c340f_story.html
Suicide of Amanda Todd. (2020). Retrieved 5 April 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_of_Amanda_Todd
Sarah Nicole Landry (@thebirdspapaya) • Instagram photos and videos. (2020). Retrieved 25 April 2020, from https://www.instagram.com/thebirdspapaya/