By now, we’re all aware of the harmful effects that the media can have on our self-esteem—especially women: every magazine has a slender woman on the cover and a story in its pages about how she lost the weight and how you can too; and TV shows and movies cast female leads that pressure every woman watching to be just as desirable, to meet those demanding (yet unrealistic) beauty standards. Media beats it into the minds of women that they need to be skinnier or prettier and that they’re just not good enough. And while certain individuals and companies are working to challenge these beauty standards, like Aerie with their Real campaign, women are still being negatively affected by media—social networking sites in particular. A new study conducted at the University of South Australia found a link between increased use of social networking sites and women adopting and acting on the thin ideal.
This study involved analyzing just over 1800 females, between the ages of 10 and 46, in six different independent studies. It ultimately found that those who used social networking sites mainly for posting or viewing photographs (e.g., women who use Instagram and snapchat as opposed to more text-based sites like Facebook) were at a higher risk of becoming dissatisfied with their bodies. “And despite the fact that social media lets users create, upload and control content themselves, the same unattainable body ideals we see in traditional media are also reflected in the online environment,” said John Mingoia, PhD student at the University of South Australia’s School of Psychology, Social Work and Social Policy.
While we’ve been aware of these negative effects, this new study raises concern, as does the progression of social media. The following are social media facts and statistics that prove the power of social media today:
- There are 2.46 billion social media users worldwide today.
- Over 75% of Internet users use social media.
- Close to 1.7 billion people have active social media accounts.
- Instagram is estimated to reach 100 million users by 2018.
- Younger users prefer Instagram to Facebook and Twitter.
- 23% of Facebook users check their account at least 5 times a day.
- There are 684,478 pieces of content shared on Facebook and 3,600 new photos uploaded on Instagram every minute of every day.
- 3.2 billion new pictures are uploaded to social networking sites every day.
Considering these astounding statistics, it’s no surprise that social media has such a direct effect on women’s body ideals. “The number of photos that are uploaded to social networking sites per day is astounding. And given the relationship between photos on social networking sites and the perceptions of body image, this should raise significant red flags for the well-being and self-esteem of its users,” said Mingoia. “As a society, we must be aware of the role social networking sites can play in women’s internalization of poor body image and we must seek interventions to help reduce the risk of body dissatisfaction.”
It can do us all some good to reflect on the overall role that social media plays in our lives, not just how it affects our self-esteem or body ideals. Take a minute to ask yourself a few questions: Are my social media habits unhealthy? Is social media negatively affecting my life? And then make a few changes accordingly. I’m not saying you have to or you should quit using social media cold turkey—but it might be smart to cut back or change your current habits to improve your wellbeing. It’s also important—as it always has been and always will be—to do your part in respecting others on social media and building them up instead of tearing them down.