Social Media and Body Image (10/10)


Rachel Simmons, “How Social Media is a Toxic Mirror,” Time Magazine, Aug 19, 2016. Access here.

Simmons examines how a relatively-new kind of media effects and relays messages about women’s bodies. She points out that “we’ve long understood that movies, magazines, and television damage teens’ body image by enforcing a ‘thin ideal’” but that “less known is the impact of social media on body confidence.” While parents are concerned about social media for reasons like cyberbullying, and the danger of reckless anonymity, they should also be concerned about the ways in which social media has “become a toxic mirror.”

Earlier this year, psychologists found robust cross-cultural evidence linking social media use to body image concerns, dieting, body surveillance, a drive for thinness and self-objectification in adolescents. While that doesn’t necessarily mean social media causes these problems, there is a strong association between them.

Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are all visually oriented. They “allow teens to earn approval for their appearance and compare themselves to others.” By nature they are competitive and comparative as young women try to win “likes” through their images (which is more common than written or other content). In this way, social media is a reinforcer of the long-prevalent message that appearance is ultimately most important and that it is the key to success and “likes”. Through social media, teenagers also practice making quick, appearance-oriented judgments. They scroll quickly through the content and generally pay attention to the most visually-attractive content. They determine whether others’ images or content are worthy of their “likes,” and a quantitative number to symbolize social approval makes it easy to compare oneself with others. According to researchers, “the most vulnerable users…are the ones who spend most of their time posting, commenting on and comparing themselves to photos. One study found that female college students who did this on Facebook were more likely to link their self-worth to their looks.”

New technology makes photo editing available not just for advertisers, but for virtually everyone who wants to enhance their “selfie.” “Perhaps what social media has done is let anyone enter the beauty pageant. Teens can cover up pimples, whiten teeth and even airbrush with the swipe of a finger, curating their own image to become prettier, thinner and hotter.”

This again sends another body-image message of the twentieth century: “if I spend more time and really work at it, I can improve at being beautiful.” Women and girls embrace social media with this “illusion of control” that they will be more successful and more powerful if they can manipulate images of themselves. One woman said: “I don’t get to choose how I’m going to leave my apartment today. If I could, my body would look different. But I can choose which picture makes my arms look thinner.” Trends have arisen on social media that pointed out and popularized specific body traits (whether authentic or fabricated) such as the “thigh gap” and “thigh brows.”

However, according to Simmons, not much has changed in regards to what women view as “ideal” in terms of body-image. Therefore, social media by and large alters these ideals only minimally but it makes ideals seem even more prevalent. It is no longer just rich, famous, inaccessible celebrities who can take “flawless” pictures, but so can the girl across the street. “What teens share online is dwarfed by what they consumer.” Before the internet, “you had to hoof it to the grocery store to find a magazine with celebrity bodies…Now the pictures are as endless as they are available.”

Trends online influence perspectives of health and body-image on social media. The rise of the “wellness” trend online has created fitness celebrities on social media. Millions of followers idealize their diet and exercise, but “increasingly, the drive for ‘wellness’ and ‘clean eating’ has become stealthy cover for more dieting and deprivation.” According to the article, this year an analysis of 50 “fitspiration” websites were deemed “indistinguishable, at times, from pro-anorexia (pro-ana) or ‘thinspiration’ websites. Both contained strong language inducing guilt about weight or the body, and promoted dieting, restraint and fat and weight stigmatization.”

This video confirms the trends and statistics talked about in Simmons’ article, but embraces it to encourage viewers to conform to beauty standards portrayed in social media by getting cosmetic surgery. “People are more aware of how they’re being portrayed…and therefore taken greater measures to change that.”

Although it seems some mainstream media have made conscious efforts to be more “body positive,” it is evident that society is still trying to portray an “unreal” image via social media. This outlet gives evidence to previous claims that society has been preoccupied with female appearance and reinforces beauty expectations as the standard for social acceptance. While “many teens are media-literate about movies and magazines,” it is less clear is how social media literate they are. By emphasizing the desirability of a strong social-media presence and following, society continues to reinforce messages to women that suggest that they can only have as much success as they have beauty.


6 thoughts on “Social Media and Body Image (10/10)

  1. I find this information fascinating. Personally, I do not own a smart phone and I try to limit my social media (like only being on Facebook, my only social media platform, for 10-15 minutes a day). I have noticed on days where I break those rules, I am actually more self-critical and not nearly as positive. These studies on women, our body image and the ways that social media can impact our ideas really enlightens us to how serious these media platforms can be.


  2. This is article is very interesting and really makes you think. It is so true that a lot of personal trainer’s try to inspire people to get healthy, but it always seems to be taken overboard. Well, I like to think that I don’t fall into this kind of thinking, but, to be perfectly honest, I have still found myself wishing that I was thinner or that I could get more likes on a picture. What can society do to change this mindset?


  3. Comparing your own body to others is a big problem on social media. Also, though it is sad, there is a lot of comparison of your own partner or spouse to others. As the cyber world and the real world converge further (think augmented and virtual reality) I think we will see more and more comparison and the depression and stress that comes along with it.


  4. I think the practise of demeaning women who post selfies on social media is an interesting way society has developed to undermine young women’s self esteem and personal agency. It is remarkable to me that people see “millennials” as *so* self-absorbed because of their use of social media. I love the Image of Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, and Madame Lebrun that says “Never apologize for selfies.” A perfect sentiment. The selfie is not a new concept– it is just easier to do now. (Link to photo below)


  5. Lately there seems to have been a backlash against the false perfection portrayed in social media. There’s more awareness that it’s a platform where people only post the best, so you can’t believe everything you see there. Do you think that that has affected the way people feel about themselves when comparing their lives with others on social media? Or are we aware that it’s an unreal, biased comparison, but we still do it?


  6. Social media seems to be a big part of many young lives today. As humans we like to compare and contrast and social media allows us to do that with so many images. I am on facebook but use it more as a source of humor more than anything else. I have seen the effects of comparison on others who do use social media more and have read on how social media has slowly become more image based than text based. As that has happened I have notice myself moving to more text based social media and long form text media at that. I wonder if there are affects that have been studied of using long form text media on self image?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s