In response to growing research on the increasing rates of stress, anxiety, and depression among today’s teens, driven in large part by constant connectivity through devices and social media, we wanted to hear how teenagers themselves are navigating these pressures and stressors. Thrive joined forces with Write the World to host an op-ed writing competition and give young people’s perspectives a global audience. The prompt? Unplugged; how social media and technology has impacted your well-being. Featured below is the runner-up entry of the competition, which was guest judged by Thrive’s Editorial Director, Marina Khidekel.
You’ve just aced your AP Physics exam, placed into the internship of your dreams, and scored an interview for a job that makes your heart leap. You’re practically on top of the world, life’s puzzle pieces are snapping into place all at once, and you’re just sitting back to enjoy the view.
In the midst of all of this glory, you take a moment to scroll through your Instagram feed, only to be instantly bombarded with images of impossibly thin celebrities and advertisements for weight loss teas and hair care supplements. And suddenly, your prestigious internship opportunity no longer feels like much of an accomplishment when social media makes it clear that the only things that truly matter are the size of your waist and how voluminous your hair is.
This is precisely the message that we receive upon logging onto social media, and the pervasive lies from diet culture and wealthy influencers flood our subconscious minds, despite how immune we may claim ourselves to be. The altered photos that we worship without a second thought are detrimental in the sense that they craft an impossible narrative that we expect ourselves to emulate. The impractical standards, as established by facetuned Instagrammers and money-making corporations, negatively impact our feelings of self-worth while perpetuating body image issues and a false sense of failure.
As social media has progressed, people have begun to utilize the various platforms as a source of financial income, writing off blatant photoshop and harmful supplement promotion as mere paychecks. The Kardashian sisters sell empty promises as they pose next to mugs of laxative tea and pretty pink pill bottles, suggesting that their surgically crafted bodies are actually the products of gummy vitamins and special “cleanses.” In turn, impressionable teenagers are left to compare themselves to these images of unattainable beauty. It is in this way that social media presents itself as a silent enemy, we are oblivious to the ways in which the media we consume rewires our brain.
Nearly every image that pops up on one’s Instagram feed has been digitally altered, and the use of photoshop has become so prevalent that even your average high school student likely makes use of image-enhancing applications. ProjectKnow presents studies revealing how the ultimate desire of females aged 11-17 is sustained weight loss. Unsurprisingly, these survey results directly coincided with the rampant release of media images portraying models and actresses of shrinking sizes in the 1990s. ProjectKnow states that these images contributed to “an increased discrepancy” between the ideal female weight and the reality of female bodies during this time.
The same reality rings true for today’s society as adolescents struggle with disordered eating and warped body image. I know from personal experience that time spent on Instagram is only time wasted as I compare myself to the godly portrayals of fitness influencers and other highly accomplished individuals. These portrayals, while illusory, have skewed my perception of what is truly important. I’ve noticed my values shift from academic success and lifelong fulfillment to petty weight loss and visible collarbones. This led me down a dark hole that I have yet to escape, a world in which my outward appearance trumps all other matters of importance. Since deleting my Instagram and taking time to observe “real world bodies,” I have been able to reconstruct my views of beauty and realign myself with life’s greatest pleasures. Shockingly, they don’t involve having a flat tummy or bowls of watery protein ice cream.
My battle with body image relates to an overarching theme of perceived failure that I’m sure many social media users can relate to. Stories told on social media present only the “highlight reel,” and it is widely known that these images only reveal a fraction of the truth. As a result, we are left to interpret these tales of perfection as the standards to which we must hold ourselves to. They set the bar and inform us of what is “acceptable.” Whether it be an acceptance letter to an Ivy League school or a tropical getaway to Hawaii, nothing that we do will ever seem to compare to the idealistic Instagram-worthy depictions. Social media harms us in this way as it diminishes our personal achievement and holds us back from embracing our individual journey. This causes feelings of failure and may wreak havoc on our mental health.
While social media may just seem like a fun way to kill time, it’s usage undoubtedly comes with serious consequences. From altering our perception of success to changing the ways that we feel about our bodies, social media has the ability to turn our lives upside down. In a world where photoshop is now abused by the typical teenager, it has never been more important to be conscious of the media that we consume.
Tackett, Brittany. “How Social Media Affects Body Image.” Project Know. 16 Nov. 2018. 27 May 2019 <http://www.projectknow.com/eating-disorders/and-social-media/>.
Spettigue, Wendy, and Katherine A Henderson. “Eating disorders and the role of the media.” The Canadian child and adolescent psychiatry review = La revue canadienne de psychiatrie de l’enfantet de l’adolescent. Feb. 2004. Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 27 May 2019 <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2533817/>.