How Does Social Media Affect Women’s Body Image and Mental Health? And What Can We Do About It?
Written by: Thrishala Gunathunga
Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Snapchat have changed the way we live our lives, don’t you think?
They have become such an integral part of our daily routines, whether we’re connecting with friends, sharing information, or just scrolling through endless content.
But you know, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows when it comes to social media.
As much as it has revolutionised the way we connect and consume media, it has also brought about some serious problems, especially when it comes to women’s body image and mental health.
Unrealistic Beauty Standards on Social Media
One of the biggest ways social media affects women’s body image is by creating unrealistic beauty standards. It’s everywhere you look, especially on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. They are just flooded with carefully curated images of bodies and faces that seem absolutely flawless.
Even the majority of celebrities and influencers show an idealised version of themselves, using filters, editing tools, and various poses. These kinds of unrealistic representations can make women feel inadequate and dissatisfied with their own bodies.
And let’s not forget about all those ads and sponsored content. Instagram, in particular, seems to have lots of information about beauty products, diets, and cosmetic procedures.
Sure, it can be helpful to promote a healthy and beautiful lifestyle.
But constantly being bombarded with these messages can really mess with our heads. It’s easy to start feeling dissatisfied with our own bodies because we’re comparing ourselves to these unrealistic standards.
How Social Media Contributes to Mental Health Issues
Recently, Cataldo et al. (2021) revealed in an eye-opening review that when young people are exposed to fitspiration trends, it can actually lead to some unsafe behaviours and negative mental health outcomes.
One thing they mentioned is self-objectification, which basically means that instead of focusing on our abilities and who we are as individuals, we start to see ourselves as objects to be judged based on our appearance. Further, they stated that it can also increase the risk of developing mental health conditions like eating disorders, mood and anxiety disturbances, substance misuse, and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).
BDD is a real mental health disorder, even though it’s often dismissed or downplayed. One of the main symptoms is the preoccupation with perceived flaws in one’s appearance, which can lead to significant distress and impair daily functioning.
It can then lead to the development of eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia. And it’s not just our mental health that takes a hit. Our overall satisfaction with life can reduce, and it can even affect our relationships and social activities.
Cataldo et al. (2021) even found that it can up the chances of something called Muscle Dysmorphia (MD). Basically, it’s when someone becomes super obsessed with getting really muscular, to the point where they spend way too much time lifting weights, become overly fixated on their diet, and might even misuse supplements.
It also revealed that young adults between 18 and 25 who consider themselves slightly overweight can end up feeling excluded like they don’t fit in, and even describe themselves as feeling hideous. It’s just heartbreaking to think that social media can make people feel this way about themselves.
The Impact of Constant Exposure to “Perfect” Lives
The impact of social media on mental health extends beyond body image concerns. One thing that comes up a lot is a phenomenon known as FOMO or the fear of missing out. It’s when we see other people having these amazing experiences online, and we start feeling inadequate, lonely, and anxious because we’re not doing the same things.
And you know what? It’s not just about experiences. Women especially can feel this pressure to show off a perfect, desirable life, even if it’s not true. This constant exposure to others’ seemingly perfect lives can also create unrealistic expectations and contribute to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Understanding the Impact of Cyberbullying and Body Shaming
Social media platforms can also amplify body shaming and cyberbullying. Anonymous users can easily make derogatory comments about someone’s appearance, perpetuating a toxic culture of body shaming.
Women are particularly vulnerable to these negative comments, which can significantly impact their self-esteem and mental health. Constant exposure to such negativity can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and even depression.
Taking Control: How to Navigate Social Media’s Effects on Body Image and Mental Health
So how can we take control of social media? One effective strategy is to limit our screen time. Engaging in activities that promote self-care, such as exercise, practising mindfulness, and connecting with loved ones offline, can also help combat the negative impact of social media on mental health.
Studies, like the one conducted by Hrafnkelsdottir et al. (2018), have also shown that reducing screen time (below 5.3 hours a day) and increasing vigorous physical activity (more than 4 times a week) can lead to fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and life dissatisfaction among adolescents.
So, by prioritising these activities, we can nurture our overall well-being because we deserve to feel good about ourselves, regardless of what those trends try to tell us.
And remember to always:
- Be kind to yourself and keep in mind that nobody is perfect.
- Follow social media accounts that celebrate body positivity, diversity, and self-acceptance.
- Set boundaries and allocate specific time slots for using social media.
And above all, know that what you see on social media often doesn’t reflect reality. You are amazing just as you are, and you deserve all the love and respect in the world.
- Cataldo, I., De Luca, I., Giorgetti, V., Cicconcelli, D., Bersani, F. S., Imperatori, C., … & Corazza, O. (2021). Fitspiration on social media: Body-image and other psychopathological risks among young adults. A narrative review. Emerging Trends in Drugs, Addictions, and Health, 1, 100010. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.etdah.2021.100010
- Hrafnkelsdottir, S. M., Brychta, R. J., Rognvaldsdottir, V., Gestsdottir, S., Chen, K. Y., Johannsson, E., Guðmundsdottir, S. L., & Arngrimsson, S. A. (2018). Less screen time and more frequent vigorous physical activity is associated with lower risk of reporting negative mental health symptoms among Icelandic adolescents. PloS one, 13(4), e0196286. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0196286
Social Media and the Fear of Missing Out
Written by Pansiluni Hasanjana Weerawansa
In our digitally connected society, social media has seamlessly integrated itself into our daily lives, offering a multitude of benefits while carrying its fair share of drawbacks. Among these concerns, the fear of missing out (FOMO) effect emerges as a prevalent issue. FOMO encompasses the anxiety and unease individuals feel when confronted with others’ exciting experiences on social media platforms.
As social media usage continues to surge, the adverse effects of FOMO on individuals’ mental well-being have become more pronounced than ever before. Social media platforms have cleverly harnessed FOMO as a powerful tool, not only enticing users to join their platforms but also compelling them to remain incessantly engaged. This is often at the expense of their other obligations and responsibilities.
The fear of missing out stems from the relentless exposure to meticulously curated and envy-inducing posts that inundate social media platforms. As we leisurely scroll through our feeds, we are bombarded with seemingly flawless depictions of friends as well as strangers, relishing their best lives, partaking in glamorous events, or embarking on exotic adventures. This visual comparison mentally manipulates you, sparking feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and a looming sense of exclusion.
Extensive research has shown that prolonged exposure to FOMO can inflict adverse consequences on mental health. Individuals plagued by FOMO may find themselves incessantly checking their social media feeds, fearing they might overlook something vital or significant. This insatiable craving for validation and connection can result in heightened stress levels, diminished self-esteem, and even symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Social media platforms, expertly crafted to captivate users, employ manipulative techniques that intensify the experience of FOMO. Algorithms meticulously prioritise content based on user engagement, ensuring a ceaseless stream of captivating posts that perpetuate the fear of missing out on current events or updates from friends. Moreover, influencers and brands adeptly exploit FOMO, skillfully creating an illusion of exclusivity and desirability. Limited-time offers, enticing influencer collaborations, exotic reels and sought-after event invitations fuel a sense of urgency, compelling individuals to partake or make purchases driven by the fear of missing out on extraordinary experiences or products.
The pervasive influence of FOMO on social media platforms carries profound implications for mental health. The perpetual cycle of comparison and exposure to unattainable standards portrayed across social networks can distort one’s self-perception. The pressure to present an impeccable image and maintain an unwavering online presence contributes to heightened anxiety and an insatiable need for validation. FOMO can impede genuine face-to-face social interactions. Individuals tend to get comfortable with online interactions as opposed to physical interactions, hindering their overall confidence when face-to-face interactions are a necessity. Excessive time spent scrolling through social media feeds diminishes opportunities for meaningful real-life connections, which are vital for overall well-being and mental health. This further exacerbates feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Even though self-comparison is an inherent aspect of human nature, youths tend to take this behaviour much further, leading to an incessant urge to meticulously scrutinise their appearance and lifestyle in relation to their peers. Regrettably, popular social media platforms such as Instagram actively foster an environment where users are driven to present themselves and their lives as flawlessly ideal, perpetuating the pressure to maintain a picture-perfect image.
Although social media has firmly established its presence in our lives, individuals can adopt various strategies to mitigate the detrimental effects of FOMO. It is imperative to practise mindful social media usage, setting boundaries and allocating specific time for engagement. Engaging in activities that foster personal well-being and self-care, such as pursuing hobbies or spending quality time with loved ones, can effectively alleviate the impact of FOMO.
Cultivating a healthy perspective on social media is vital. Recognizing that people often present extremely curated versions of their lives and realising that individuals choose to show the best moment in their life is key to understanding that the majority of social media is highly unrealistic. Limiting the impact social media has on us can be done through various ways such as controlling our mindset, limiting screen time, a dopamine detox from social media, working on self-esteem and self-improvement, surrounding ourselves with hobbies and managing our expectations are a few.
In our hyperconnected world, the vicious cycle of fear of missing out on social media significantly influences our mental health to a large extent hindering our overall well-being. The constant exposure to meticulously crafted posts and the manipulative tactics employed by social media platforms can contribute to anxiety, decreased self-esteem, and diminished well-being. It is essential to be aware of these effects and to develop healthy coping strategies to maintain a balanced relationship with social media.