Social Media and Self-Image

Like it or not, this is the selfie-generation. The obsession with, and addiction to, the small screen, snapping selfies, eyes permanently looking down and people interacting with others virtually seems to be a defining characteristic of our age. While it may seem fun and harmless, there is a negative impact on social bonds and on self-image, especially amongst those most vulnerable — young girls…

Body Image

Young girls are deeply affected by social media and are comparing themselves, their looks and their bodies with others, more than ever before. This is a phenomena that families have never had to deal with on such a scale. In a recent Mintel report, it was found that appearance-related stress amongst young women is skyrocketing: in 2018, more than 4 in 10 women (42 percent) between the ages of 16 and 24 reported experiencing stress around how they look, compared to 26 percent in 2016 – quite a shocking increase in just two years.

This damaging fixation with attaining the perfect image is fueled by social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, and by celebrities and models — not to mention reality TV shows, like Love Island, that make a causal link between physical perfection and finding love. This constant exposure to completely unrealistic beauty standards is making young people feel discontented and stressed. In fact, since Love Island captured viewers’ attention, with local versions of the show being made and shown around the world, there has been a worrying statistical spike in the number of people electing to have beauty treatments, such as breast augmentation and teeth whitening.

Body Dysmorphia

The outcome of all the above influences is often body dysmorphia, a mental disorder in which a person can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in their appearance. The ‘imagined’ flaw may be either minor or not noticeable by others, but it can cause such feelings of shame and anxiety that the person may avoid social situations.

Online Shaming

The shocking phenomena of online shaming has such a huge impact on vulnerable targets that it has even led to suicides. This is a form of Internet vigilantism, in which targets are publicly humiliated on social and new media. There are people who see online shaming as a way for hacktivists and cyber-dissidents to right perceived injustices. But it often not only ruins people’s reputations, but can be life and soul destroying.

Cosmetic Surgery

Social media aside, the world has become increasingly pro-cosmetic surgery, especially injectables (Botox etc.) and extreme dieting. Whereas once, women who had a body tuck or facelift would keep it a secret, today they are very open about their treatments, with many even taking to social media to boast about their augmentations and transformations.

Some young women have become obsessed with going under the knife trying to look exactly like a certain celeb (even Barbie and Ken — do a YouTube search for that one!) and posting selfies of the results. This undoubtedly normalizes the practise and sends a terrible message to their peers.

A New Message

So, how can you combat this phenomenon, especially if it’s affecting your own child? For starters, remind them that many of the images they see on social media are actually fake — they are likely to have been filtered or photoshopped. Explain to them that healthy body confidence and self-esteem are what’s really attractive. Stress that having an individual style and being unique is something they should be proud of. If they are feeling low due to a problem that can be safely treated in a conventional way, like acne, help them get professional care rather than letting them overload their faces with heavy makeup. If your child is really suffering, don’t be afraid to seek professional counseling. Overall, reinforce time and again that being beautiful on the inside is far more important than the image captured by a selfie.

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