As social media’s presence in society has increased in the last decade or so, scientists and parents worry about the repercussions this technological influence may have on their children, as no other generation has yet experienced this. According to the Pew Research Center in 2018, 95% of 13 to 17 year-olds either own or have access to a smartphone, 72% use Instagram, and 41% use Snapchat. Many studies have shown that this accessibility can have serious effects on the mental health of children, and body image in young girls especially. When scrolling through various social media platforms such as Instagram, young girls and teens are subconsciously comparing themselves to the seemingly perfect bodies and lives of influencers and other celebrities.
In fact, a 2018 study found that interacting with attractive influencers’ social media accounts led to worsened body image in young women, but the pictures of family members did not have an effect on body image. Even more concerning, a study performed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute found that “approximately 40% of 9 and 10 year-old girls are already trying to lose weight.” This is largely a consequence of how the media in general has painted a picture of the “ideal” body type: tall, stick-thin women who have very few curves. In reality, this physique is unrealistic and potentially unhealthy for the vast majority, but one that many young girls chase after, as demonstrated by the rising presence of eating disorders in women and the usage of photo editing apps to alter one’s body to his or her satisfaction. Additionally, while the effect of social media is more pronounced in young girls and women, boys and young men are not immune either. Western views on the “ideal” body type for men has become a stronger, more muscular body, with an increased emphasis on fitness and working out.
Media portrayal of the “ideal” body type has led to a rise in eating disorders, especially in young girls and women. In fact, NHS Digital released data in 2018 that showed the number of hospital admissions due to eating disorders had doubled in six years, with 16,000 people admitted for some type of eating disorder in the United Kingdom over that time period. Additionally, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, hospital stays due to eating disorders in the United States increased 18% from 2000-2006, with 28,155 patients being treated. This increase coincides with the initial emergence of social media in the early 2000s.
This body dissatisfaction can affect other areas of your mental health as well, leading to lower self-esteem and even depression. A 2016 study conducted by Woods and Scott found that young adults with increased use of social media, experienced poorer sleep quality, lower self-esteem and higher levels of anxiety and depression. Furthermore, the Royal Society for Public Health found that in addition to these effects of social media, loneliness and feelings of isolation were also consequences of cyberbullying. Young adults are not making real connections anymore, comparing themselves to strangers who are posting only the best parts of their lives, and their mental health is paying the price. Many of these effects are signs of social media addiction, which has become more widely recognized since the early 2000s. In fact, various treatment centers, such as Paradigm Malibu, have been established to help young adults battle their addictions. They provide them with various coping methods and both individual and family therapy to help them form a better relationship with social media and develop higher self esteem. These discoveries are extremely important and should demonstrate to society that it is time to start disconnecting from their phones and reconnecting with other people in order to regain feelings of self-worth, happiness, and attain an overall better quality of life.