By Kendall Mosher
Modern social media (such as Instagram or Snapchat) was just starting to gain its traction when I was starting my first year of middle school. Being a part of one of the first generations to really begin to see the impacts of being influenced by creators and peers online is a strange experience. Social media is a collection of perfectly crafted posts that only show what we want others to see. The influences of social media have ebbed and flowed from its creation, from harsh negative impacts on self-perception to the development of the body positivity movement.
There has been much discourse in the past decade on the adverse effects of social media on youth body images. Influencers flaunting the ‘ideal body type’ flood the timelines of impressionable teens and reinforce the notion of how you should strive to look–but that isn’t attainable for everyone. The Eurocentric beauty standards that occupy the media can hinder body acceptance and worsen mental health outcomes. This body standard has long been showcased and glorified on social media accounts, leaving young individuals susceptible to body comparison and negative body image. Evidence shows that “with an increased frequency of comparing one’s own physical appearance to that of people followed on social media, there was a positive association with body dissatisfaction and drive for thinness.” Body dissatisfaction can spiral into serious problems, including disordered eating.
Less discussed in terms of mental health are the ways that social media has been utilized to promote body positivity. Expressions of self-love and comfort in one’s own skin have become much more prevalent in recent years on social media, and creators have uplifted other voices on their body-positivity journey. Early research into the effects of the body positivity movement on youth mental health and self-perception has indicated that “body appreciation increases significantly after viewing images depicting models who do not conform to the societal standards of thinness.” Not only does the representation of all body types in the media matter, but the discourse on body acceptance also influences positive self-perception.
Social media walks a fine line between being uplifting and harmful, and it all really boils down to the content creators and peers that you choose to follow. The body-positivity movement still places a significant emphasis on one’s appearance, just in a different way. While a positive shift towards body acceptance through this movement is a great step forward and much needed, there is also a necessity for a new movement centered on self-confidence that does not focus on the way that one looks. From my own personal experience with social media, taking breaks, unfollowing accounts that make you feel self-conscious, and following accounts that support all body shapes and sizes are just a few ways to reduce the impact that social media can have on body satisfaction and mental health.
Kendall Mosher is a fourth year undergraduate public health student at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. In her free time, Kendall enjoys spending time with friends and family, baking sourdough bread, and playing with her cat Bitty.