By Brooke Tucker, Virtual Youth Ambassador for Berks Teens Matter

You’re on social media right now. You’ve probably just scrolled a celebrity posing precariously to hide their insecurities and what society would call flaws. Maybe they even photoshopped their body to look a certain way. That certain way looks really familiar right? The way everyone wants to look, the way society says you should look. You didn’t notice that though, right? You just saw a gorgeous woman.

It didn’t cross your mind that she spent hours getting ready for the photoshoot. In the “on trend” outfit, flattering pose, in full makeup, perfect lighting, and professional editing; you assumed that she always looks like that. You probably compared yourself to her. This is how social media, specifically Instagram, is damaging young girls’ self esteem and body image.

Unrealistic “Reality”

A study conducted by Florida House Experience, a healthcare institution, found that 87% of women and 65% of men compare their bodies to images they consume on social media. Images shared on social media have the potential to lead to unattainable goals regarding body shape and weight loss. For example, a thigh gap isn’t attainable if a young woman has slim hips that don’t allow her thighs to be far enough apart to create that space. Some bone structures/body types prevent many young females from reaching their social media-influenced goals in a healthy way.

In 2019, the Allergan 360 Report found that 50% of social media users look to celebrities most often when asked to define beauty. Celebrities promoting special drinks, or new workouts are making young impressionable teens believe that celebrities get their body from a couple workouts and green smoothies. Social media accounts like this often are also promoting unhealthy habits in eating and exercise patterns.

The Trap For Teen Girls

A study from Israeli researchers found that the more time teen girls spent using social media, the higher their chances for developing a negative body image and an eating disorder. Social media trends heavily focused on being skinny and having the “Ideal body type”, is commonly known as “thinspiration”. Unrealistic body goals promoted on social media such as thigh gaps, bikini bridges, an hourglass shape, and impossibly tiny waists are all contributing to negative body image. The correlation between eating disorders and thinspiration has become so alarming that Pinterest has started posting a warning about eating disorders. When a user searches terms such as ‘’thinspiration”, the search results are headed by a banner reading “Eating disorders are…disorders that if left untreated can cause serious health problems or could even be life-threatening.”

How can the people around teen girls help? Social media use is only one potential contributing factor to eating disorders. The researchers in the Israeli Facebook study made an interesting development. Teen girls with parents who knew what their daughter was doing online seemed to have a lower risk of eating disorders. Girls with parents who were uninvolved with their social media exposure were more likely to have negative body images and eating disorders.

Finding The Balance And The Reality

It’s not like we’re all going to stop using social media. I know that. However, there are still things we can do to prevent social media from damaging our body image. If you’re a parent reading this, have an open conversation with your teen regarding their social media habits and the kind of content they’re consuming. If you’re a teen reading this, remember everything you see on social media is fake. If you notice yourself falling into unhealthy habits because of the images you’re seeing on social media, and the desire to look a certain way, talk to someone. Social media isn’t all bad, it’s just important to consume it in moderation. 

Brooke is a virtual Youth Ambassador for Berks Teens Matter, a teen peer education program focusing on educating youth through comprehensive sex education. She is a high school student in Berks County, PA.

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