Most of us are now feeling as though we live to be on social media. From taking great photos of our meals out at fancy restaurants to getting the angle just right on a selfie on a “feelin’ good” day, it all factors into creating the “picture perfect” life for social media followers to be jealous of. However, all of that can create a larger issue: body dissatisfaction. When it comes to something as obviously linked as Instagram likes and body perception, both adolescent women and young women are impacted.
What is the relationship between body dissatisfaction and social media?
The world of social media is thought not to create body dissatisfaction, but it certainly does accelerate it. This happens in a series of ways, including those below:
- Teens and young women have hard-to-meet models: This age group is well-known for having expectations put on them that are ridiculous, even by those who are in the industry of being their best selves. Teens and young women see models in magazines that are underweight, malnourished, and airbrushed to perfection. This doesn’t include tailored clothing and professional make-up and hair, either. These models are not only bad role models physically speaking, but these women don’t represent the lifestyle that women actually hold (i.e., professional models versus students and young professionals).
- This target age group already struggles with their own self-image: Both teens and young women struggle with feeling the expectation that their best isn’t going enough. Literature and magazines zig-zag back and forth between talking about weight loss and how good it feels and then how to make the best chocolate cake. From there, that same literature tells women to be themselves but then tells them how to be “better.” It creates a struggle to understand what they should be going after, including their bodies. These sensitive age groups start to feel that they are always going to look inferior, and this creates a long-lasting belief.
- Everyone on social media seems to look so much better: Since other teens and young women are focusing on creating the best version of themselves through specific angles and more, everyone on social media looks perfect. So each teen and woman feel worse about themselves. The cycle continues.
- Social media comes into every other aspect of their lives: No longer is this integration just online occasionally. Social media is a constant expectation for checking in and keeping up to date. It is on computers, tablets, and phones, too, making it impossible to get away and/or stay away.
What platforms must play into that?
There are many in the field of studying social media and adolescents that feel Instagram is one of the most prominent platforms, specifically when talking about the so-called “right” kind of body to have in order to put it online in a post.
Instagram is an image-based social media platform that mainly focuses on the user uploading photos and tagging them with hashtags, etc. When other users search those hashtags, they’ll find a photo. If they decide that it doesn’t meet the criteria of the tag, they may not interact with it.
Of course, this then creates a concern with the user since they won’t get nearly as many Instagram likes as they think they should (compared to others using the same tags). As such, many will take the photos down and also feel ashamed of themselves for thinking they “could” have put them up in the first place.
This instantly creates body dissatisfaction. The more often this happens, the stronger it gets. Before too long, many users will hate their bodies because they don’t feel that they’re getting enough likes or interactions in order to be considered good-looking in the first place.
So…is social media inherently bad?
So, when you take a look at social media from this frame of reference, it sounds like a bad thing, right? In reality, it’s not nearly as simple as that. There are both good things and bad things about social media. For example:
- Social media connects people: Social media is how many people find their friends and family members and establish new connections. This is the whole purpose of it, and it’s a huge pro for those who live away from loved ones.
- Social media promotes sharing: Social media also promotes sharing of personal updates, photos, and more. It promotes engagement and connection and helps foster relationships among community members.
- Social media helps build self-confidence: In moderation, social media can build self-confidence. Teens and young women see others posting workout photos and food photos, and it makes them want to try those things too. The key phrase here, of course, is “moderation.”
What about likes?
So, if social media is good and even helps build self-confidence, where does it come with something like likes and other engagements? As you might be able to guess, “moderation” is what factors in here.
When teens and young women put too much pressure on themselves to look “perfect” on social media, they will get obsessed with likes and engagement. Not getting enough, especially compared to others, makes them feel dissatisfied with how they look.
On platforms like Instagram, where users are focused even more on photo-based sharing, teens are known to buy Instagram likes just to help boost their status and also their self-worth. Not only is this not going to help in the long run, but it’s also a sign that the teen or young woman relies on these numerous likes for her own satisfaction and validation.
The bottom line on social media and body dissatisfaction
Teens and young women are very susceptible to being unhappy with their bodies. Social media can often worsen this as they see themselves not being as likable — literally — as others online that seem otherwise identical.
While social media and even like and engagements are not the cause for this, they are a factor. Understanding this, and taking it seriously, helps keep everyone safe and healthy mentally and emotionally during this difficult developmental time!