Social networking sites place disproportionate importance on outsider opinion, physical appearance, and pre-conceived ideals of body image, gender roles, and femininity and masculinity. This runs the risk of setting a conflicting precedent for teens and pre-teens and can be extremely difficult for them to navigate.
Today, conventionally attractive and obsessively thin women are celebrated and often overtly sexualised, while professional females are usually far less visible. As a result, young girls who are active on social media often end up having negative perceptions of their own gender and feel as if their self worth is intrinsically linked to their physical appearance and weight more so than their intelligence or abilities. In our published post It Is Just As Hard To Be Ken As It Is To Be Barbie, we discuss that this is not just a female issue but is increasingly one for boys.
We have a greater understanding of the role, social media is playing in how young people attribute value to themselves and their lives. Teens are measuring their self-worth based on the number of ‘likes’ they receive while attempting to consolidate the complexities of their everyday lives into mere captions and snapshots. Social media paints a picture of a world in which everything can be filtered, edited, and perfected; and until social media reflects the unfiltered, unedited, imperfect reality that we all live in, it’s quite possible that young people will continue in their pursuit of unattainable happiness.
Social Media & Self Esteem
Social media is a platform where people can brag about their accomplishments, showcase their best experiences, or flaunt their good looks. What this means for today’s young people is that they’re being constantly bombarded with images of other people’s perfect lives. Many of them perceive these greatly misrepresented social media lives as reality; a reality that demands perfection and is impossible to compete with.
This sets a conflicting precedent for young people and is extremely difficult for them to navigate. For young girls — whose self-esteem tends to drop in their pre-teen years — they often begin to focus their self-worth more on their appearance and weight rather than on their knowledge, skills, or abilities; whereas, for young boys culture plays an integral role in body image, as they are immersed in a culture that glorifies toned abs and bulging biceps, so it’s understandable that it too is impacting on their body satisfaction and self esteem. In fact, boys as young as 6-years-old are already developing insecurities about their bodies.
Further statistics show:
- 9 out of 10 girls throughout the world wish they could change the way that they look.
- 6 out of 10 girls actively avoid everyday activities because they feel insecure about their appearance
- 45% of teenage girls and 24% of teenage boys worry about other people posting ugly photos of them on social media
- 28% of teenage girls admit to editing photos of themselves prior to uploading them onto social media
This perception and evaluation of self-worth by looks, however, is now being perpetuated by apps that allow users to correct their images to ‘perfection’.
Correcting or Perfecting Apps
The “look good, feel good” effect of social media photos on teens has lead to the development of ‘selfie surgery’ apps that doctor more than just some retouching. They smooth out all the imperfections by providing users with functions that allow them to slim down, whiten their teeth, and perfect their selfies drastically — all in a matter of seconds.
Stylecaster lists some of these ‘perfecting’ apps and they include:
- Perfect 365
- Plastic Surgery Simulator
So why are kids…and some parents falling victim to apps that stretch, tweak, and slenderize self-portraits? Maybe it is a matter of shifting the conversation away from selfies and again more towards self-esteem.
According to the American Psychology Association, young people and adults are falling for these ‘perfecting’ apps because of the concept called the “looking-glass self”. This psychological concept says, “that how we see ourselves doesn’t come from who we really are, but rather from how we think others see us.” Therefore, now that selfies can be taken in mere moments and be shared with thousands of people online — anywhere and anytime — the impact of other people’s perceptions on our self-value intensifies.
But what can we do to stop this self-esteem spiral?
The fact is, not everyone is comfortable with the way they look, but it is when we go beyond simple blemish correcting that we need to be concerned.
For instance, if you find apps like SkinneePix, Perfect365, and Facetune — programs that smooth out all imperfections — on your teens’ smartphone, it is possibly a good time to have a conversation with them about how and why they are using them. You could ask: “Why do you feel like you need to be using these apps to change your photos?”, or “What do you feel when you change your photos like this?”.
Asking these questions can help you understand your child’s motives behind their behaviour. After all, striving to look ‘perfect’ can weigh heavily on someone — especially because most of us aren’t perfect. And if anything, we need to start embracing our imperfections and not ridicule ourselves for having them.
For more information and practical advice on the negative effects of social media and family discussion opportunities, get your copy of The Parents’ Survival Guide to Children, Technology & the Internet.