Portrait of a cheerful young woman using her smartphoneIn recent years, we’ve been placing a lot of blame on popular culture and the media for setting impossible beauty standards causing a marked increase in society’s body dissatisfaction. It is clear that the standards that have been placed upon the “average” person by celebrities and models are real, but what if this blame is being misdirected? What if it is actually those who we come in contact with regularly, or even those closest to us that are causing us to feel the most insecure about our bodies?

Last week, one of Walden’s clinicians and I went to speak with a group of court-mandated adolescent females about body image and social media. When shown a picture of a well-known celebrity that had been quite obviously Photoshopped, the girls were not only able to recognize that this person had been manipulated and altered, but were even able to express frustration that the magazine editor deemed this necessary.  The girls expressed admiration for the bodies of multiple magazine cover girls, but understood that these people were the minority and that because of their status, may have more incentive and the means to achieve a certain body shape or look.

That was a pleasant surprise for me until I heard that these girls have shifted from comparing their bodies to celebrities that have clearly been Photoshopped to comparing their bodies to those of their peers whom they know have not been. These in-person body comparisons can have a negative impact on their self-esteem, especially since the rise in social media and the accessibility of smart phones and internet has made it almost impossible for kids to get away from peer comparisons.

One girl described how difficult it was to constantly see photos of one of her best friends on Instagram. “I don’t want to be jealous because she is such a great person, but it’s so unfair that she has that body and I don’t…we eat the same things!”  Our youth seem to think that attaining the bodies of their friends and peers should be much easier than those of celebrities. “If she can do it, why can’t I?”

To gauge the impact of social media on body image, The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt conducted a public survey by asking Facebook users age 15 -40 the question –

Have you ever thought about how Facebook use is affecting your relationship with your body?

In response to the survey they found:

  • 51% of people said that seeing photos of themselves on Facebook makes them more conscious about their own body and their weight
  • 32% of people said they feel sad when comparing photos of themselves to their friends’
  • 44% of people wish they had the same body or weight as a friend when looking at photos on Facebook
  • 37% of people feel they need to change specific parts of their body when comparing to friends’ photos

It’s not just kids that fall prey to social media comparisons. It happens to all of us.  Have you looked on Instagram lately and thought, “They are the most beautiful couple,” or “She is the most photogenic person ever.”

A survey conducted by Glamour Magazine found that 64% of 1000 women surveyed reported that looking at photos on social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram left them feeling badly about their bodies.

Not only are kids comparing their bodies to those of their peers, they are extremely conscious of possible photo opportunities.

According to a national survey done by The Center for Eating Disorders at Shepard Pratt, Facebook fuels a “camera ready” mentality among the general public.

The survey found that:

  • 44% of respondents said they are always conscious when attending social events that photos of them might get posted on Facebook
  • 43% of respondents said they will avoid having people photograph them at a social event if they don’t feel they look their best

With all of the scary statistics and horror stories out there about the effects of social media, it can feel really overwhelming. But social media isn’t all bad! There are a lot of ways that social media can have a positive influence in our lives. Below are some helpful suggestions that Erika Vargas, Walden’s Lead Adolescent Clinician in Braintree wrote to help us use social media to make us feel good!

Reflection:

Use photo and timeline apps like Instagram and Facebook to look back on your own memories with friends and/or family.

Inspiration:

Sites like Pinterest can give great ideas for crafts, recipes, decorations, nails etc.

Be Active:

Join groups about things or causes you care about or want to learn more about such as charity groups, pet adoption agencies, etc.

Find Pick-Me-Ups:

Visit websites that make you smile – videos of small animals on YouTube, blogs that share funny or inspirational stories, or create your own ‘Happiness’ board on Pinterest!

Showcase Your Talent:

Make a fun video using YouTube or photo collage using Flipagram, post a poem or short story you wrote, Instagram a picture of your latest artwork, or create a Spotify playlist you love.

NatalieAbout the author: Natalie Cohen is the Senior Marketing and Community Relations Associate for Walden Behavioral Care.  She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Maine in Orono. Her favorite part of working at Walden is being able to act as an advocate for clients suffering with mental illnesses and interacting with other eating disorder professionals in the community.  Ms. Cohen’s passions include writing, social media and event planning. In her spare time, Natalie enjoys spending time with her dog Bella, family and friends.