Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat have more in common than just social outreach—they harm young girls’ self-perceived body image.
Studies show the more adolescent females see unrealistic body types and filters, the more likely they will suffer from low self-esteem or poor self-confidence.
Toronto, Canada’s York University Professor of Psychology Jennifer Mills and Ph.D. student Jacqueline Hogue recently released their study which found “actively engaging with attractive peers’ social media causes worsened body image in young adult women.”
Canada isn’t the only place to see these results. Ginny Ramseyer-Winter, assistant professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Missouri, is also the director of the Center for Body Image Research and Policy. The center opened last year and aims to improve overall wellness, including body image and mental health.
“I would say for the majority of adolescents, social media really is just inundating this youth with images of the thin ideal,” Ramseyer-Winter said.
There is a group pushing back the negative influences of social media though. Desire to Aspire, a mentoring program in Columbia, focuses on uplifting and providing role models for underprivileged girls in local elementary schools and middle schools.
“They’re encountering a lot of images on a daily basis. Images of women that they're aspiring to be. Women that they might look up to,” Jennifer Fowler, president of Desire to Aspire, said. “That can be really difficult for them to deal with. Subsequently, they're creating this image of what they think they should be as a woman. So we're really working to fight back.”
Fowler said she has personally seen students’ views of themselves improve from thinking they’re ugly to thinking they can take on the world.
Ameesha Marteen, a mentee in the Desire to Aspire program, said her own views of herself have improved despite the lack of change in social media posts. Marteen is mostly active on YouTube where she listens to music and learns new dance moves.
“[Desire to Inspire mentors] tell us that we should be comfortable in our skin because we can’t really change it,” Marteen said.
Mentors are always a good start to changing youth’s outlook on life, but Ramseyer-Winter said social media users need to be more responsible with what they post.
She strongly advised against what she calls “diet culture,” in which social media users will post pictures of unhealthy diets or tips for counting calories.
“Surround yourself on social media with people who are really positive and make you feel good about yourself,” Ramseyer-Winter said.
Ramseyer-Winter said social media may have an alternative effect on young people’s self-esteem if more positive posts begin to circulate as well as weight neutral messages.
Exam is hosted by Molly Dove