Body image and self-esteem have long been thorny issues for young people, especially given the ubiquity of media exposure. Over the past decade and a half, social media seems to have taken this to an entirely new level.
Studies show that social media exposure has a negative impact on body image for both young women and men … and for their health and well-being, this needs to be addressed head-on.
Social Media: Causing More Harm Than Good?
Social media is billed as an extension of our everyday lives: an online portal through which we can share our experiences and engage with others as they live out their lives. As much as we consume social media and obsess over timelines and posts, however, it’s vital to recognize that social media is not real life.
It’s more of a repetitive “highlight reel” that largely shows only the exciting, sexy, adventurous moments in the lives of our friends and followers. When you’re stuck in the cycle of refreshing your news feed and swiping through post after post, it’s easy to become disillusioned, and presume your life, body, experiences, and so on don’t match up.
Data from Pew Research Center surveys indicate that 88 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds look at some form of social media on a regular basis. And though the numbers decline as people age, 78 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds and 64 percent of 50 to 64-year-olds also spend regular time on social networking apps and websites.
In addition to the rise in the number of people who use social media, there’s also been a steady jump in the amount of time folks are spending on these platforms. The average person now spends nearly two hours on social media every day.
Some teenagers spend as much as nine hours per day on social platforms: an astonishing and unsettling statistic that sheds some light on just how great of an impact apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat can have on current youth and young adults.
According to a study by Martin Graff, the head of psychology research at the University of South Wales, women are less likely to be happy with their bodies if they spend more than 60 minutes per day on social media. The study showed that excessive social media consumption leads to unrealistic comparison of oneself with others, which feeds an unhealthy sense of body image and exercise.
Instagram is perhaps the worst offender. Studies show that “fitspiration” images — pictures of healthy, fit, and scantily-clad individuals — have a negative impact on one’s mood, self-esteem, and body image.
College-age women are the most likely to feel progressively worse about themselves and their bodies. Unfortunately, other research also suggests that poor body image makes girls less assertive and at greater risk of developing health issues during their lifetime.
Thus, social media may seem innocent, but it could be creating major challenges and having side effects that will echo for decades to come.
Healthy Suggestions for Greater Body Confidence
The current social media landscape is broken. But don’t expect it to get better any time soon.
Instead, we need to teach users how to avoid the bad, find the good, and embrace greater body confidence. According to experts in the field, here are some practical ways to do that.
- Reduce Social Media Consumption
The first and most obvious suggestion is to reduce the amount of time you spend on social media. Individuals should strive to devote just a few minutes to online traffic and to be tactically wise about whom they follow.
The more you follow real people — that is, friends, family, and neighbors — the less you’ll feel pressured to live up to an unrealistic standard. For optimal results, aim for fewer than 30 minutes of daily social media usage.
You may also find it healthy to go through a social media detox, during which you log out of your accounts for an extended period of time.
- Take Small Steps to Boost Confidence
Obviously, people ought to address their body image and make changes to feel more confident about who they are. But instead of trying to take on significant or permanent changes — such as weight-loss procedures or plastic surgery — individuals should address body image in healthier and safer ways.
Shapewear is a great example of a product that enables individuals to improve body confidence without taking drastic measures that risk harm to themselves. Little steps like these can offer significant returns.
- Build Relationships Offline
Online relationships aren’t necessarily fake, but they’re not typically as authentic as an offline relationship that compels you to interact face to face. In order to combat the inauthentic image people create online, strive to build more in-person relationships.
Finding Freedom From Disillusion
Social media isn’t evil, but it can have a dramatically negative impact on the mental health and psychological well-being of its users, particularly young women. When we become aware of this, we can start to shift our focus and attain greater freedom.
This might look different for each person, but it’s crucial that we don’t sit back and try to ignore what’s happening.