Wednesday 26 July 2017

Forget supermodels - girls' self-esteem is being ruined by their social media 'friends'

Michelle Keegan
Michelle Keegan
Teenagers have always been self-absorbed, but this constant barrage of photos, messages and tweets seems to have brought the image-obsession to another level (Stock picture)
Sinead Moriarty

Sinead Moriarty

Young women today are more likely to compare their appearance with that of their peers' images on social media than with supermodels gracing the covers of glossy magazines or actresses endorsing beauty products.

While there is no disputing the damage caused by the media portrayal of 'perfect', it seems that women find it even worse comparing themselves to friends and acquaintances.

New research has found that it is when they compare themselves to girls they know that young women are at their most self-critical and vulnerable.

At least if they're looking at stunning photos of model Gigi Hadid on the cover of 'Vogue', they can comfort themselves with the fact that they're not going to bump into her on Saturday night and have to compare waist sizes.

Gigi Hadid presents a creation by Balmain during the women's Fall-Winter 2017-2018 ready-to-wear collection fashion show in Paris on March 2, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / bertrand GUAYBERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images
Gigi Hadid presents a creation by Balmain during the women's Fall-Winter 2017-2018 ready-to-wear collection fashion show in Paris on March 2, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / bertrand GUAYBERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images

Jasmine Fardouly, lead researcher at the centre for emotional health at Macquarie University, Sydney, said there are several reasons why social media may be more damaging than traditional media.

"Celebrities may seem more distanced and their appearance may seem less attainable than people you work with or see regularly," she said.

Since the beginning of time, people have been obsessed with putting their "best foot forward", but social media has taken this to a whole new level. With filters, Photoshop and image editing available to all, the pictures being posted on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are not true reflections of people's lives.

Social media is becoming a toxic mirror. Over 70pc of women aged 18 to 35 regularly edit their images before posting them. What people are now seeing everywhere is an edited and airbrushed 'reality'.

When a young person posts a photo, they can use an array of apps to alter the image so they look thinner, prettier and hotter. This makes them feel as if they are in control, when the opposite is happening. They are pretending to be something they're not and then the reality of looking in the mirror makes them feel bad about themselves.

With teenagers obsessively posting photos and checking their social media accounts, it has become a competition to see who has the most 'fun' life, who parties the most, who looks the best and who has the most 'friends'.

But are they actually enjoying themselves? Or is it all a ruse just to show off to their Facebook friends, half of whom they don't even know?

Teenagers have always been self-absorbed, but this constant barrage of photos, messages and tweets seems to have brought the image-obsession to another level.

Studies have found that, until the age of 11 or 12, girls and boys score similarly on self-esteem measures, but after the age of 12, girls' scores plummet, while boys remain relatively constant.

As early as the pre-teen years, girls start to withdraw from activities because they feel badly about how they look. In the Dáil na nÓg Body Image Survey, almost half of the 10-21-year-olds surveyed said that their body image interfered with their participation in activities like swimming, dating and putting up photos on Facebook.

A study from the University of Haifa found that the more time girls spent on Facebook, the more they suffered from poor body image, negative approach to eating and urges to be on a weight-loss diet. It also found that girls whose parents were involved in their media usage were more resilient to the negative impacts, compared to girls who parents were not involved in their media exposure.

Dina Borzekowski, professor at Johns Hopkins school of public health, notes: "Social media may have a stronger impact on children's body image than traditional media. Messages and images are more targeted: if the message comes from a friend it is perceived as more meaningful and credible."

Results of the 'Looking Glass Survey' by the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI) and Ignite Research showed that 41pc of Irish women reported to being unhappy or very unhappy with how they look. Social media was found to have the most negative influence on a young woman's body image.

In a society obsessed with the shape of women's bodies, the airbrushed image is a very powerful and toxic thing. Young women are comparing their bodies to those of Photoshopped friends, and finding themselves wanting. The results are crushing and it doesn't end in adolescence; the preoccupation with body image affects women throughout their whole lives.

It's up to us to teach our daughters to recognise that the majority of the images they are looking at on social media have been altered and modified. Emma from next door sure as hell doesn't look like a skinny, bronze goddess at 8am on a Monday.

Irish Independent

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