Social media and body image issues

During the conversation with the girl, along with other information, she revealed, “I feel I am ugly, and all my friends and cousins look so nice.
Social media and body image issues

A 14-year-old girl’s mother reported that her daughter, who was cheerful and friendly as a kid, has begun staying by herself with her phone and using social media for around two years. She avoids participating in get-togethers and social functions and mostly doesn’t want to go out of the house.

During the conversation with the girl, along with other information, she revealed, “I feel I am ugly, and all my friends and cousins look so nice. I don’t feel comfortable around them, as I am not presentable and so different. I feel unworthy.”

Here are two significant pieces of information related to the topic we will be discussing today. First, she is mostly on her phone using social media, and she has a sense of low self-worth that mostly revolves around her physical appearance. So today, through this write-up, I will attempt to share information about the effect of social media on the body image of adolescents.

Before understanding the influence of social media on body image issues, let’s understand the science of body image. Neurologically, the concept of your body is made up of many different parts, such as the visual image of yourself perceived through your eyes, the feeling of your body even when you can’t see it (proprioception), and the brain map on your head that has sections devoted to receiving and processing sensations and commands from different body parts. These constitute an individualistic view of your body. But there is also the collectivist view, which represents how you think your body should look based on your social groups and other social factors like social media. In this component of viewing our bodies, we tend to compare our bodies with those around us (in the real and virtual worlds), leading to body dissatisfaction.

In a survey where students’ opinions were considered about social media and body image, many students reported the detrimental effects of social media on their body image. They reported that it was difficult not to compare themselves with the perfect bodies portrayed on social media, even though they knew that they were not shown the full, real, and unedited picture. This could be because of visual adaptation. Visual adaptation is the phenomenon where the more we see or hear anything, our sensitivity towards the stimulus changes. Constant exposure to perfectly portrayed and edited faces and bodies in social media makes our minds consider them as normal and ourselves as outliers, leading to feelings of inferiority. Also fundamental is the basic human need to fit in and belong, for which we try to mould ourselves in any way that would lead to acceptance. Repeated exposure to photoshopped bodies and unblemished faces with filters in combination with a developing adolescent brain and a heightened desire for peer approval is a dangerous combination. This could lead to much more than just not liking one’s body but to disorders such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), eating disorders, anxiety, and depression. It could also contribute to feeling hopeless and worthless, leading to thoughts of suicide.

In addition, many times a person’s sense of self-worth is judged only by his or her physical appearance. This is an irrational way to view oneself for many reasons, of which I would like to mention two significant ones. First, every human being is a complex and dynamic mixture of many attributes. So deciding a person’s worth or using absolute labels based on one attribute, which is again subject to change, is not rational. Secondly, physical appearance is a subjective benchmark, as there is no standard measure to decide between pleasant, likeable, and unpleasant or unlikeable physical appearance. There is no one specific form of the human body that is universally perfect. So, judging one’s worth on the basis of physical appearance and conclusions made by comparing unrealistically perfect images and the number of likes received on social media is not only harmful but irrational.

Some ways to deal with this undesirable impact of social media on body image issues, which I would like to invite you to try, are:

Limit the time spent on social media. Research says reducing the time spent on social media to 60 minutes per day has led to a significant decrease in anxiety and increased acceptance of one’s own body type.

Stay away from content that makes you feel distressed. Unfollow influencers, individuals, or media that portray unrealistic body types. Instead, follow pages or shows that portray diverse body types.

You can also explore Photoshop and understand how perfect and unblemished photos are uploaded after hours of editing, which is so far from real.

Turn on notifications only during your scheduled screen time and not otherwise.

Take a one-day break every week from devices.

Utilise the time you invest in social media by engaging in real-life activities.

Be mindful of the way you talk to yourself. Everything you tell yourself might not be a fact.

Connect with people who share your interests and values.

Bringing about drastic changes in gadget habits at once might be difficult, but don’t forget to educate yourself about the effects of social media, make achievable goals and plans, and start taking action accordingly.

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