While it has long been studied that the body standards in magazines, on television and in cinema have contributed to young women’s thoughts about their own bodies, a relatively new tool for negative comparison has arrived over the past decade: social media.
According to Jasmine Fardouly, a professor at the School of Psychology in Australia, “Women rarely compare their appearance to others’ in magazines or on billboards and only sometimes compare their appearance to others’ on TV. We found social media comparisons better reflect the types of comparisons young women make every day.”
A significant number of young women attending Carmel High School agree that the constant feed of idealized photos of women feels like a trap with no escape, observing that it’s impossible to get away from the ever-flowing stream of idealized perceptions of beauty.
“It’s like everywhere you turn there is some girl with the perfect body and a seemingly perfect life,” sophomore Sarah Morgan says. “It feels like you can’t get out of it. It’s on your phone, the magazines you look at and all the TV shows you watch. You can’t help but look at yourself and feel kind of bad about yourself after being exposed to that.”
Numerous CHS girls say that the ability to feel good about one’s body and obtain the coveted “body confidence” seems to be nearly impossible in this day and age of PhotoShopped images and unrealistic proportions being shoved in young women’s faces.
With the rise in use of social media applications, there are more and more ways to access these doctored and unrealistic photos of women, only contributing to girls’ poor body images. According to the Members of Parliament’s report, cosmetic surgeries have increased by nearly 20 percent since 2008, the same year social media giant Facebook began becoming the global phenomenon that it is today.
The most accessible and common way to see people with supposedly “perfect” bodies is to look at celebrities, “fitness gurus” or the socially elite, most of whom have nutritionists, chefs and trainers.
“I can’t think of a specific time where social media has affected the way I think about myself,” a female sophomore says, “but I think it is always in the back of my head that our thighs should not touch, my hair needs to be really long, and I need to have perfect skin. I think that this thinking is because it is how all the celebrities look on social media: flawless with no imperfections.”
It is just as easy to see friends or acquaintances uploading photos and to feel inferior to them, in terms of physical attributes. This sensation may not occur as often in real life, as CHS students report constantly putting their best foot forward by only documenting their better, more attractive photos.
Despite voiced disapproval from respective social media administrations, pages and profiles dedicated to promoting and documenting eating disorders continue to exist.
According to the clinical study by Jett, Laporte and Wachisne in 2010, exposing college-aged women without eating disorders to this type of site for an hour and a half led to them decreasing their caloric intake and applying some of the techniques they had learned from that site less than a week later.
“I developed an eating disorder last year when I was 14,” a female freshman says. “After I became a vegan, I started to find less and less ways to fill the amount of calories I was supposed to have. I truly believe that originally the desire to become thin started with social media.”
She cites following vegan bloggers across the web and looking at their lives as a source of inspiration for all things regarding diet and appearance.
It is not as uncommon as one might think for teen girls to develop eating disorders, and some of those who have report looking to counselors, friends and teachers for help.
“I have had a few of my friends talk to me about how badly they felt about their bodies and how they wanted to lose weight,” junior Grace Lee tells. “It’s really sad because, looking at them, they don’t appear to be even the slightest bit overweight.”
This self-deprecation is actually heard all over among female friends, predominantly in real life, not via social media. Often, as CHS girls report, any girls involved in the conversation point out something about their bodies that they dislike, similar to the now infamous scene of body critiquing in “Mean Girls.”
According to Salk & Elgenn Maddox’s 2011 research, more than 93 percent of women engage in “fat talk” every day while offline, with fat talk being described as “disparaging or commiserative comments about one’s appearance and the need to lose weight.”
The “fat talk” is also found online, with over 5 million women posting “negative beauty tweets,” and four out of five of tweets from women were about themselves and essentially body-shaming themselves.
While the Internet has the potential to be a beneficial and uplifting source of connection, it also has the potential to be a breeding ground for comparison and can cause impressionable young women to begin to feel self-conscious of their own bodies.