Story by Michelle Rojano
Social media has become a daily hobby in many people’s lives. About 77 percent of the U.S. population was active on social media in 2018, according to Statista, and around 92 percent of teens access the internet daily. Although social media can be a useful tool for many, there is a risk of exposing young children and teens to content and attention they may not be mentally prepared for.
Similar to school experience, kids and teens strive to fit in and be liked on social media. Except now, there is a measurable amount of “likes” and attention.
“For younger people, likes are really important to the popular people because they have to have a certain number of likes or they aren’t good enough,” high school senior Tapangia Richardson said. Forty-three percent of teens ages 13-17 delete posts because they have not received enough likes and even feel negatively about themselves when no one likes or comments on the posts according to Common Sense Media.
Copying trends for likes and shares
People of all ages can quickly immerse themselves in viral trends. The Harlem Shake, Ice Bucket Challenge, Baby Shark, Kiki Challenge, Duck-face Photo, Tide Pod, California Reaper Challenge, Cinnamon Challenge are just a few examples of viral videos that influenced many. Some of these trends can be positive, like giving food and money to the less fortunate, but the majority are strictly for entertainment. “Social media is not healthy for young adults because one person does something stupid, like eating a tide pod, and it’s now the thing to do and is the latest challenge,” said Richardson.
Influenced content does not strictly stop at video challenges; it also includes fashion, makeup, photos and body trends. According to Shareablee, seven out of pthe top 10 social media influencers are female celebrities, including Kylie Jenner as number one, Kim Kardashian as number five and Nicki Minaj as number eight.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Boger, professor of psychology, research has proven consumers are in fact impacted by media. She also mentioned how younger audiences are more vulnerable to fads, diets and fasts endorsed by celebrities. “Adolescence is a period where a person's appearance becomes more important to them--for a variety of reasons. Given the increased importance of a person's perceived appearance and the ease of access to celebrity images, it's pretty easy to see why celebrities can have such an impact,” Boger said.
Social media influencer’s lips and bodies have been the cause of many girl’s photos, poses and purchases. From posting selfies almost identical to the influencer’s to overlining lips, it is obvious these celebrities have led and contributed to photo, makeup and body trends. “Celebrities do have an impact on young followers … a lot of celebrities are really skinny and almost so skinny it’s not healthy and they are considered beautiful. Also, celebrities help inspire young kids to become the next celebrity, or just like the celebrity,” Richardson said.
Body image is referring to how people view themselves. Body Dysmorphic Disorder is when someone has a consistent issue with an imagined or minor flaw, according to Mental Health America.
“Research varies on the percentage of the population with BDD, due to the potential for underreporting,”, Dr. Broger said. “It is a disorder where people seek to be less noticeable, as opposed to more noticeable, and how marked the disorder is changes over time and may be more or less intrusive at different points in a person’s life. The most recent statistics I've seen indicate around 2.4% of the population has it, but again there may be many more people who don't realize that's what they're suffering.”
Constantly comparing one’s body to others is a symptom of the disorder. Social media is an easy way for ordinary people to compare themselves to celebrities and people in their own lives. This explains the trend of portraying the body and look of popular people on social media.
Most women will use makeup to look better and hide flaws. Recently, the feature of plump lips and perfectly shaped eyebrows has overtaken the internet. Women have quickly fallen into the trend by showing off their makeup looks of dark, similarly shaped eyebrows and by viewing tutorials on how to overline lips to appear larger thousands of times.
Illusion of Social Media
Not only can social media be taxing for users comparing themselves to Instagram models, but it can also be exhausting for influencers. Many YouTubers and Instagram models have fallen off the map or begun to change their content to real life content. Evenlina, Youtuber and influencer, has recently shared a video describing her experience in keeping up the lifestyle she portrayed in social media and how the industry is full of people living double lives for likes and views.
“I spent a couple of hours getting ready, doing my makeup, doing my hair, setting up the lighting and everything and I look in the camera and it doesn’t look right... In my heart, I know that I am not ugly or a super insecure person but for [making content] I get so much anxiety, so much stress over how I look on camera as I am filming and I am doing it right now, I am already running all of the negative comments…”
According to Dr. Boger, it is easy for people to confuse a person’s looks with their expertise about a subject. If someone loses weight easily and is considered beautiful, it is easy for people to consider them experts on the subjects of beauty and health. People will be more likely to trust their advice. “A celebrity who lost a lot of weight after an illness, pregnancy, or other situation may mention their favorite fast/cleanse/diet… but they may not mention the personal trainer, the many hours each day spent working out, the expensive food prepared by someone else and many other factors that allow them to lose weight quickly,” said Dr. Boger.
Social media can make vulnerable people an easy target for bullying. It is widely known that young users have gone as far as taking their lives due to online bullying. Even adult users fall prey to wide scale ridicule; characters like Sweet Brown, Walmart yodeling boy and many others have turned into internet jokes. Although the attention can turn positive in many of cases, for others, it can push them to extreme actions.
Social media is not the sole cause for bulimia, depression or anorexia, but it can trigger those who are vulnerable.
“Of American elementary school girls who read magazines, 69 percent say that the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape, 47 percent say the pictures make them want to lose weight,” according to National Eating Disorders Association. Americans have now replaced written media with online websites and social media, meaning young people have the same content at higher volumes and readily available. Although less prominent, National Eating Disorders Association also linked photos and media to men’s body image.
Despite the risks, social media has begun to make a push into body positivity and natural beauty. Victoria Edmond, Owner of Burden Free Cosmetics, focuses her brand on not making people not only look beautiful, but also feel beautiful, “ [Our goals] are to encourage women to radiate their unique beauty from the inside out.” As a young woman herself, she is no stranger to the challenges social media poses to self-love. “When we try to be like each other we are missing that gold mine of diversity,” Edmond said.
Worldwide brands have also begun to support body positivity and diverse beauty. Aerie has recently launched a campaign featuring models of all weight,sizes and disabilities. Dove has also joined the movement, featuring women and children of all sizes and backgrounds into their advertisements. Brands like Fenty by Rihanna have added to the otherwise limited range of makeup for women of darker skin tones. From true nude lip shades for darker complexions to foundations that match a wider range of darker skin tones. Nike has even begun selling its first ever sports hijab.
The support of brands in diversity campaigns helps people embrace individuality.
Healthy Use of Social Media
It is important for adults to take steps to monitor children’s and teens social media use. Parents should have an idea of their children’s online activity without reading absolutely everything that is posted or read by their children. Boger recommends avoiding intrusive behavior since it could lead to hostility. She also recommended limiting social media use. The average teen uses social media eight hours a day. Limiting the use could help teach them time management skills.
It is also important to lead by example. “Children, including teens, are acutely aware of their parents’ behavior, including hypocrisy,” said Boger. She explained parents who use social media in a positive way are likely to have better results in how their kids use social media vs parents who are on social media eight hours a day and use their social media in a negative way.
Social media has proven to have the power to kick-start change. Activist movements like Black Lives Matter movement, Me Too movement and many fundraisers have began online. Besides political movements, people have been able to find true love, support groups, keep up with news or learn about cultures from around the world through social media. Thanks to the massive reach of social media, the world has had a chance to change for the better.