- Social media is used by 72% of Americans—but women may be more positively and negatively affected by social media usage than other groups.
- This is primarily because women often have larger social followings and networks, which translates toward more time and interactions with online users and content.
- The negatives of how social media affects women’s mental health can include young women using social apps as an unhealthy way to cope with anxiety or depression, and Instagram in particular can increase the chances of women developing body-image issues.
- Women of all shades may be hit with targeted ads that encourage them to darken or lighten their skin, and social media has also been shown to increase feelings of social isolation.
- However, it does seem like the positives outweigh the negatives—female professionals are more likely to report social media as helping them advocate for workplace equality, and to network.
- Social media is also a powerful tool for female entrepreneurs, female-only support groups, and for creating access to female-specific body-positive content.
It seems like nearly everyone with a smartphone has at least one social app that they dedicate a little time to. Around 72% of us pick up our phones and tap on those familiar icons daily, but the effects of using social media don’t affect everyone with the same intensity. In fact, more so than other groups, women may be more positively and negatively affected by social media usage. However, the reasons why (for both) might actually surprise you.
How (and Why) Social Media Affects Women’s Mental Health More Than Others
Compared to men, women typically have larger social followings and networks, which usually means that more people are engaging with their posts and with their accounts. But with more engagement comes more time spent on social apps. In turn, this may naturally increase both positive and negative interactions with other users and the content that others are posting.
The negatives of how social media affects women’s mental health tend to be highlighted more than the positives—possibly because our brains are biased toward negative information. But even though there are definitely some positives to how social media affects women, the positive effects could outweigh them. Take a look at the cons, plus how to make the most out of the positive effects of social media for women.
The negative effects of social media on women
Most of the cons of social media that pertain specifically to women have to do with issues related to body image, or feelings of social isolation. Some of the most notable cons of social media for women include the following:
- Younger women, in particular, are more likely to try (unsuccessfully) coping with painful emotions or existing mental health conditions by posting humor-related content, or browsing pseudo-mental health pages instead of seeking treatment from a professional.
- Instagram use increases the likelihood of women developing body image issues, mostly due to unrealistic or photoshopped content created by influencers they follow, or their peers. Long-term Instagram use in women is associated with lower body satisfaction.
- Women with darker skin tones may start to be steered toward skin-whitening solutions, thanks to targetted ads, whereas women with lighter skin tones may be encouraged through a similar process to seek out potentially dangerous tanning solutions that increase their risk of cancer.
- Regular social media use is likely to increase feelings of social isolation in women, despite users typically attempting to connect with other people. In a study of over 900 people (around 75% of whom were women) ages 26-35, users who spent more of their time on social media reported increased feelings of loneliness and also showed symptoms of smartphone addiction.
The Positive Effects of Social Media Use for Women
Despite a long list of negatives, there’s an equally large bundle of positive effects of social media. As long as women maintain a stable, grounded sense of self while using their favorite apps—it’s possible to skip over many of the cons and bask in the positive effects instead. Some of these positive effects of social media include:
- Functioning as an incredibly helpful (and powerful) tool for professional women, particularly in the field of medicine and other disciplines to network and advocate for workplace equality. One study found that social media is likely playing a role in the advancement of female representation in post-graduate medical programs, where over 50% of graduate students are now women.
- Offering women a chance to advertise for their startup or entrepreneurial ventures. Another study conducted in Egypt found that among young entrepreneurs, particularly women, 95% of them reported that social media helped them to start their businesses. Without the ability to network and publicize their services, they would have lost out on business opportunities and ventures.
- Creating the opportunity to join female-only support groups, can help them to process gender-specific struggles such as infertility, certain types of trauma, or body image-related issues. A review conducted in Sweden confirmed that women-only support groups decreased participants’ perceived stress, anxiety, muscle tension, impaired sleep, and fatigue.
- Creating access to body-positive content, which appears to improve women’s perceived body image. An Australian experiment that involved 233 women found that creating a scrollable, news feed of body-positive posts and content helped improve the way that the women in the study felt about themselves and their appearance.
The positive effects of social media do depend on the way in which women use their social apps—but the potential is there. For female professionals, entrepreneurs, or those seeking support groups and body-positive content, social media definitely offers outlets. The negative effects are somewhat of a tradeoff, but avoiding the negatives of how social media affects women may boil down to remaining emotionally conscious of how social media use is making someone feel. If it leaves you feeling hollow, it’s time to redirect your energies toward the accounts, posts, and digital spaces that help you feel empowered; you might even find your own entrepreneurial spirit.