How social media harms teen girls’ self-esteem

Facebook and Snapchat encourage an idealized of women, experts say.

Credit: Steven Pisano via Creative Commons. A woman who is upset as her companion uses his smartphone.
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Six Degrees, was one of the first social media sites and took its name after the six degrees of separation theory. The theory holds that each person is six introductions away from any other person on the planet.

The site, which lasted from 1997 to 2001, allowed users to create a profile and generate a following. In the two decades since, the social media landscape has grown to include blogging, instant messaging and apps that allow people to communicate at all hours.

The use of social media has been linked to higher levels of loneliness, anxiety, depression and a decrease in social skills among people of all ages. But those feelings are felt especially strongly by teenage girls.

Social Media and self-esteem

Social media sites such as Instagram and Snapchat have become a forum where people reinvent themselves by highlighting or altering facial features.

Researchers found that 35 percent of teenagers are worried about people tagging them in unattractive photos, according to a 2015 survey from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that helps children navigate social media.

Another 27 percent feel stressed about how they look in photos that are posted, and 22 percent felt negatively about themselves if their photos were ignored.

Margot Susca, a lecturer at American University, said American society has emphasized female beauty and weight. Social media has furthered that, she said.

“Instagram and Facebook further this culture by showing idealized versions of young women in settings that are either contrived, altered or filtered.”

“Instagram and Facebook further this culture by showing idealized versions of young women in settings that are either contrived, altered or filtered,” Susca said.

Social media has a powerful effect on girls and young women who take stock in those images.

Susca said sites that offer “thinspiration” further the trend of young girls having negative body image issues and feeling ashamed about their shape or size if it doesn’t fit an idealized image.

“Social media makes it immediate and ubiquitous. It’s hard to escape the perfect images that surround social media sites.”

Susca said, “It’s not as if those trends or pressures haven’t, to some degree, always been on girls. But, social media makes it immediate and ubiquitous. It’s hard to escape the perfect images that surround social media sites.”

Impact of social media on body image

Brooklyn resident Melissa Smith is 19-teen years-old and suffers from depression.

As a high school student in New York City, students from her school bullied her on Facebook. With each photo she posted, students from her school wrote rude comments that, eventually, prompted her to deactivate her account. The comments included:

  • “You’re so ugly.”
  • “Why you look so skinny.”
  • “You’re so ugly.”
  • “Just delete your account, no one wants to see you.”

“I know they seem harmless but reading that every day started to affect how I saw myself,” Smith said.

Despite her mom’s support, the words still hurt.

Smith said she didn’t want school administration involved because she was embarrassed. But she noticed other girls were targeted online, too.

“I’m not a part of the popular kids because I’m not pretty or have fancy clothes,” said Smith.

Each day, Smith wakes up and takes anti-depression medication, she said. They give her a boost of energy to get through the day. She’ll continue to regain her confidence, she said, she but has no intentions of reactivating her Facebook account.

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