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Social media beauty standards lead to dangerous body image consequences


Social media runs our lives. With its limitless networks, there are multiple methods of communicating ideas and information effortlessly. This has a transgenerational effect, as all ages are found actively on media outlets such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and more. With such access, one can gain access to the latest news, keep up to date on trends, follow an idol or celebrity icon and communicate with family and friends across the globe. Considering the breadth of information along with its large audience, it is safe to say social media has taken over the world.

Yet, there is a downside to the reach of social media. At my fingertips, I could spend countless hours fixating and gawking at society’s elites. My Tik Tok “For You Page” is swarmed with the hottest beauty trends that overtake the silly memes that I would prefer to see. Appetite-suppressing lollipops, painful lip plumpers, super-tight corsets and a buffet of unhealthy fads are promoted by big-name celebrities and corporations. The false promise of “do this, buy that and you will look like me” emphasizes that the only way to look “perfect” is to modify their overall physical appearance.

Messages of perfection come in the form of alterations to images, which may seem harmless to one user but could be detrimental and hazardous to another. Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and Ariana Grande are some of the major celebrities caught using these types of physical modification softwares. Viewing false perfections and unrealistic beauty standards that engulf a user’s feed establishes a stigma to different body types. 

In one particular study, the fact that women are objectified in the media was put into question. Elementary students were given photos of thin models and asked what would be needed in order to look similar to the models seen. In response, the young girls were reported wanting to look like the models, despite expressing that they feel they “either eat and throw up the food or don’t eat at all.” Some said they required nicer clothing and plastic surgery. 

These artificial alterations will be found anywhere. Magazines, newspapers and other outlets are known to modify appearances –  sometimes without the person’s permission – exhibited by Zendaya’s 2015 shoot with Modeliste magazine, Megan Trainor’s original “Me Too” music video, and Kerry Washington’s 2016 shoot with Adweek. With the significant amount of altered images that are put online billions of viewers are gaining a false sense of reality. Users can alter their appearance with filters and subtle body sculpting features to keep up with societal norms. This can be seen with trends that mimic Cher’s sleeky, shiny hair of the 70s, Avril Lavigne’s thick, smoky eyeliner of the early 2010s and more presently, the Kardashian-Jenner family’s body shapes and curves.

Before posting on Instagram, I am instantly directed to the smoothing and sculpting filters to assist me in altering my image. Blurring out what society has taught me to consider as my imperfections, such as my acne or cellulite, in hopes to fit in amongst my peers. Subtle changes can be made as it can make a jawline more defined or slimming someone’s waist. Photo editing is known to alter images to make them more appealing. With this users feel obligated to use these user-friendly effects to delete acne, bronze skin, blur backgrounds, and understate flaws.

With a few taps of my screen, I have the power to smooth out my curves or brighten my blue eyes.

TIME magazine coined the term “toxic mirror” to explain social media’s effect which rings true when consulting the literature. It has been shown that popular “fitspiration” and “thinspiration” trends promote misleading information on health, wellness and natural beauty where, in actuality, it is camouflaging disordered eating and harmful beauty tactics. 

The use of social media is linked to body image issues. Body dysmorphic disorder  (BDD) is a mental health disorder in which one has an obsession with a perceived flaw in their appearance. BDD shares characteristics with eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders and often leads to dangerously severe dieting and fitness regimens fueled by intense insecurities. This warped perspective of one’s appearance hinders their day-to-day life.

Teens and young adult minds are malleable and are being taught to adhere to unattainable physical ideals by media exposure, even in terms of some immutable characteristics such as height and bone structure. Teens are particularly prone to developing this disorder. 94 percent of those with BDD feel embarrassed and shamed of their natural appearance. According to the International OCD Foundation, BDD affects one out of every 50 people in the U.S. The link between teen body image and self-esteem shows that boosting confidence is more effective in reducing anxiety and sadness than modifying their diet.

Due to the guilt individuals feel about their looks, this condition frequently becomes incapacitating, causing them to be unable to function properly in society. Symptoms of this disorder may include avoiding reflections, attempting to hide one’s body, excessive personal grooming or exercising, unnecessary cosmetic surgeries, feelings of anxiousness and suicidal thoughts. BDD is a serious condition that, if left untreated, could potentially lead to a life-long condition.

With constant exposure to the extravagant daily lives of athletes, supermodels and other social media influencers, being seen as “what you should look like” now has a negative connotation. Not understanding that these people’s careers allow them to be portrayed as perfect, social media users miss out on genuine life experiences as they fight to compete with what they think is perfection. Comparing oneself to these idealized images leads to repeated fixation and results in people cautiously staging, taking and selecting the perfect photo for their feed. It is not unusual for young adults to focus on lighting and angles to achieve the standard or more. Younger users of social media platforms believe that influencers are the standard of what their body should look like and how they should treat it, leading social expectations to overwhelm user’s confidence and instincts.

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