Imagine that you had to re-live your teenage years today. Just like the teens of earlier decades, you have insecurities about your appearance.
You have an idea of what it means to be beautiful based on input you receive from television, movies, and magazines, but now your perceptions are supercharged by a new tool—social media.
Now you spend hours scrolling through Instagram posts of impossibly beautiful (and likely filtered or air-brushed) people; you watch countless makeup tutorials on YouTube or TikTok; you try dozens of Snapchat filters to see what you’d look like if this or thatwere different.
Before you leave for school, you take a handful of selfies until you find one that has just the right angle, lighting, and filters to showcase your outfit, then post it to your stories and head out the door.
When you get to the bus stop, you open your phone to discover you already have over 500 likes and dozens of “You look so cute! Love you!” comments.
On the other hand, maybe you get to the bus stop and find you’ve only had twenty-five people like the photo. So you immediately delete the post and feel bad about yourself all day.
You might even experience the worst case scenario and have trolls hating on the outfit and posting nasty comments about how ugly you are.
Social media has multiplied, by many thousandfold, the number of voices we let shape our perception of beauty. As a result, the personal dissatisfaction that we feel with regard to our own beauty has skyrocketed.
The Social Data
According to a 2021 Pew Research Study, 70% of Americans now use social media. That number was only 5% in 2005. It increased to 50% in 2011. The statistics speak clearly: social media has an enormous shaping impact on our mindset.
Even if you don’t think you’re affected by social media, you are, because everyone around you is being influenced by social media, and you are influenced by those people.
One such example of how social media can affect us without knowing is scrolling through our Instagram or Facebook feeds. Researchers have identified this motion of scrolling through social media feeds as the “dopamine loop.”
Dopamine is a chemical in our brains that is released after pleasure and reward-seeking behaviors—and it causes us to want them all over again. Understand that social media has a similar effect on our brains as some drugs.
We have a physical, neurological compulsion to keep logging in and scrolling.
No matter the platform on which you scroll, you are likely exposed to so-called beautiful people. That has an effect on your perception of beauty whether you are aware of it at the time or not.
Social Media Overexposure
Both men and women struggle with self-image issues thanks to the unrealistic beauty standards set by what they see on social media. Influencers and even friends are trying to promote an image of perfection that only exists online.
In the images that appear in your feed, you see toned women with flat stomachs, long, cellulite-free legs, and perky breasts and butts. You see men with six-pack abs, bulging biceps and quads etc.
More often than not you are seeing a combination of intense exercise, plastic surgery, and a significant amount of filtering. Meanwhile, your subconscious is shaping the perfect beauty standard by which you measure yourself.
And then the likes come into play. Likes on social media allow us to signal our validation and approval with a single click. When someone posts a “beautiful” photo of themself that garners hundreds of likes, it signals to everyone else who sees the post that this person represents a standard of beauty to which they should also aspire.
We’ve been allowing social media to tell us we need to be a beautiful person if we want to be “likable”, which could not be further from the truth.
And so the mental and physical health problems begin.
Studies have clearly shown a positive correlation between the rise of social media and the rise in eating disorders affecting people of all ages. It’s easy to see that many are desperately trying to emulate the types of bodies they see receiving all of the likes on social media platforms.
The Best Defense
You need to be able to rely on yourself to be your social media filter. It’s really up to you to protect yourself.
First, I would really encourage you to manage how much time you spend on social media sites. Make liberal use of your ability to hide or block people who make you feel worse about yourself, either directly or indirectly. Do not hesitate to block someone who comes at you with unkind comments. Seriously think about whether you should follow someone who only posts selfies that show himself or herself in an impossibly beautiful image.
Generally, your best defense is simply to assume that the image of a perfectly beautiful person you are seeing is not real…so why would you let a fake image of someone else make you feel less beautiful yourself?