Traditional media outlets such as magazines and TV shows have come under fire in recent years for the misleading images they present and how they could affect a person's — particularly a young girl's — body image. Some advances have been made such as the promises from top outlets like Seventeen and Self magazines to show more realistic images of young women. But what about media that's not regulated by public opinion? Experts say that the images found on social media may be far more damaging to a user's body image. And unlike magazine ads, social media images are harder to avoid.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and messaging apps such as SnapChat and WhatsApp have become the main means of communication for teenagers. In 2013, two-thirds of teenagers had signed up for Facebook, where images are posted and shared millions of times a day. And while teens have been lectured to over and over again about the powers of Photoshop and why they shouldn't trust the images they see in magazines and on TV commercials, they are less likely to grasp that even the most innocuous selfie from a Facebook friend may also have been altered before upload.
Teens who are aware of the pitfalls of body image issues caused by the media might choose to ignore certain magazines or laugh at ads showing obviously Photoshopped models. But these same teens can't avoid the posts that show up in their social media feeds. As a result, they are seeing the world — including their friends and family — through a filter of cut and cropped images. In an appearance-based world, teens — and many adults — need to understand that unless it's meant for a laugh, most people won't post an image to social media unless it shows them in a good light. Even if they have to add the lighting and make other alterations before uploading.
So what's a teen — or a parent — to do? In an ideal world, the answer would be for consumers to spend more time looking at real people and less time looking at altered images, whether the source is a social media "friend," or a company trying to sell you something. Boycotting social media is not going to happen. But it is important for all users to understand that they should be as wary of the images on these sites and apps as they would be of photos in a magazine. And to be equally wary about posting selfies that encourage people to comment on their looks because all it takes is one negative comment in a pile of positive ones to bottom-out one's self esteem.
Have you noticed any effects of social media on body image with your kids — or even from the images you see in your own feed?
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