The Power of “Perfection”: Is Social Media Destroying Our Teens?

Texas Legislature passes social media “censorship” bill | The Texas Tribune

Beauty Throughout the Years

Evolution of Female Beauty Throughout History | HERS Magazine

Throughout the last century, a rise in media influence has undoubtedly taken over the lives of teens throughout the world. From radio shows in the 30s, to ads in the 50s, to magazines in the 70s, commercials in the 90s, and now a plethora of social media outlets, young women have been constantly bombarded with media claiming to hold the “standard” of beauty. But how “standard” are these expectations really? Let’s explore the impact of these impositions on the teenage girls of America.

How do we figure this out?

Many articles are purely anti-beauty standards, claiming that the impact on young girls has been nothing but negative. But, there are lots of articles exposing the new positive effects of inclusivity in the media on teens. Most related to disordered eating and a dwindling sense of self worth.

What is Gen-Z Thinking?

Generation Z's Mental Health Issues - The Annie E. Casey Foundation

There is a lot to learn about these effects. Have they caused a new generation of women to be filled with insecurities and self-doubt about their own body image? Or, have we created a body-positive movement, making this generation the one to change everything in terms of beauty standards? That is, erase the concept of “standards” altogether?

So, how’d this start?

1950s - The "Ideal" Woman

In the 1950s, some major examples of unrealistic beauty standards in the media began to emerge. Concepts like “The Mask Effect” (encouraging young girls to disguise themselves in order to conform to the modern day standards) emerged, and almost every young girl was working towards the, in some cases extremely unattainable, hourglass body. There was one problem, though. In lots of cases, genetics prevented these girls from attaining the presented standard completely. Self esteem began to falter, as so many girls became insecure when unable to match the “beauty trends” presented in their forms of modern day media. And, as media forms like magazines and television became more popular, more and more girls were exposed to the new standards.

Why does this matter?

Over the years, body types have become more classified as trends rather than most of the time uncontrollable things. Girls began developing eating disorders as they tried to achieve the bodies they saw plastered everywhere. The rise of eating disorders began, as some girls were starving themselves to become skinnier, and some began to binge eat to gain a little bit of weight. Sometimes, they were even working towards uncontrollable standards, like the long legs in the 80s. Girls became insecure about things they had absolutely no power over. And, as media became more accessible, things were only getting worse.

So, what’s happening now?

Nowadays, girls have an unimaginable amount of access to media. With new apps like Instagram and TikTok, they are constantly exposed to these beauty standards. There’s a new problem arising, though. Many of the images girls see on the screen are altered. New apps like photoshop and FaceTune allow media stars to alter their appearances entirely if they wish, making them appear totally different than they do in real life. Features like skin clearing, body shaping, teeth whitening, and many many more make these standards even more unattainable than before. This is because they aren’t even real! 

Okay, social media is playing a part. What about the professional world?

But, it’s not just influencers and everyday teens causing this issue. Major industries like that of modelling and makeup are also advertising these standards to young girls. With airbrushed perfect skin on mascara models, girls are buying products to make changes they can’t even achieve. Even the packaging spreads lies to them, as the models are photoshopped often. The modelling industry also provides a totally unrealistic standard. Most companies only hire girls of a certain height and weight: very tall and skinny. Seeing clothes meant for all shapes and sizes only displayed on one body type causes teens everywhere to feel uncomfortable and unfit for their clothing. This is because the only people they see wearing it usually look totally different than them!

Okay, teens are insecure. But is this really affecting their physical health?

As girls struggle to feel confident in their clothing and makeup products, many girls are beginning to develop eating disorders as well. According to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, 1 in 100 women today suffer from bulimia. 8 million women across America suffer from some sort of eating disorder. And, almost everyone knows someone who is struggling nowadays! Social media does a great deal of harm to these women every day, many of which are totally starving themselves or overeating to try and conform to the fake photos they see everywhere they look! 

This is terrible! Is it at least getting better?

In the last few years, there’s been a lot of movement towards inclusivity in social media to try and prevent these dangerous disorders from affecting young girls. The inclusivity movement has recently become popular. Gaining popularity on the newly famous app for teens, TikTok, influencers and celebrities are beginning to embrace their insecurities and share the process on social media, causing some young girls to do the same and feel a bit more confident in their own skin. This has become so big that big companies and industries are starting to catch on as well. Modeling companies are starting to hire a more varied group of women to model their clothes. We now see a much more broad group of body types and ethnicities in the media, as displayed in a SAGE article written by Rachel Cohen.

 So, is the problem solved?

Although we’re making strides towards fixing this issue, there’s still lots of work to be done. Much of the body positive movement has become extremely backhanded, making some girls feel even worse than before. We’re also not seeing a major lack of disordered eating across America. There is lots to be done before American teens are totally confident in themselves, and are all represented on the social media apps they access daily.

So, they’re influenced, right?

Of course. It’s obvious that the self-esteem of young girls is greatly influenced by social media. But, the inclusivity movement has proven that social media does both harm and good to young girls. Self-esteem is seemingly going to continue rising if social media outlets continue to represent more body types rather than just the “standard”. This is only the beginning.

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