The Problem with Perception
In the age of online platforms where the number of followers, views, and likes is the currency, people are often compelled to share perfectly composed and filtered photos of themselves. Our newsfeed is filled with pictures of attractive models, celebrities, and influencers as well. With all these, we sometimes can’t help but feel insecure about how we look.
While there isn’t a lot of hard data available on the effects of social media on body image and beauty perception, initial studies have pointed out that there is a clear connection between them. Because we see a lot of professionally-created content with edited pictures of people, social platforms shape “ideal” beauty standards that might not only prompt self-image issues but also provoke unhealthy behaviors.
Effects on Men
The frequent exposure to what’s deemed as the “ideal male body”—sculpted jawline, rock-hard abs—can cause muscle dysmorphia, a body image disorder that causes men to think that they are weaker than they actually are. This might induce men to take unhealthy supplements or to push themselves work out beyond their body’s capacity.
Muscle dysmorphia can possibly lead to an unhealthy obsession with putting on muscle mass, with the notion that more muscle means more strength. And while a leaner and more muscular physique can be more attractive, there are certain physical risks that comes with the process of achieving it, such as frequent dehydration and starvation.
This body image problem is further accentuated by commercial ventures that use the ideal body type to promote their brands. It’s not uncommon to see muscular male models endorsing protein powder or gym equipment. This link between the ideal body type and core male values, such as confidence, strength, and sex appeal can all contribute to lower self-esteem.
Effects on Women
People in social media tend to fawn over thin or curvy women—a behavior that’s deeply connected to cultural upbringing. In the United States, for example, women are most commonly judged and praised for their appearance before anything else. This inflates the value of having good looks and diminishes important attributes, such as intelligence, humor, and kindness, and social media has furthered the problem.
Several women do their best to appear young and attractive on social platforms, with some even exerting extra effort into editing photos of themselves to appear thinner or to remove skin flaws. This can set a dangerous precedent for what an “attractive woman” is, and a number of other female social media users can also develop warped ideas of beauty along with damaging behaviors.
Effects on Teenagers
Since they are on their developmental years, teenagers are even more vulnerable to the impact of idealistic images. A study conducted over the past few years pointed out that social media sites caused feelings of depression, loneliness, and poor body positivity among people between the ages of 14-24.
This phenomenon has been dubbed “social media dysmorphia”, and it has moved people to take drastic actions to how they look. A report by ASPS showed over 40% of plastic surgeons said that people of all ages have been getting nonsurgical enhancements just to be able to take better selfies.
Teens are already exposed to environments where they have to deal with peer pressure and the risk of being bullied. The danger brought by social media dysmorphia further inhibits them from forming a strong self-image.