With around 95 billion photos and videos shared per day, Instagram stands as one of the most popular and widely used social media platforms. Twitter comes in next with 500 million tweets sent each day, and Facebook comes in close with 350 million posts each day. Keeping these numbers in mind, think about just how many posts the average person lays eyes on every time they open one of these apps and scroll through their feed: a lot. Being that a whopping 88% of 18-29 year olds admit to being social media users, it is important to dwell on the fact that this means a large number of young adults, and therefore impressionable minds, are part of the media world. With endless social media stars posting seemingly "perfect" photos, many users of this platform find themselves feeling discouraged and lesser than their apparently flawless Instagram idols. The result is an overwhelming number of teens and young adults experiencing issues with self-esteem and body image, both of which could potentially lead to even more heightened mental health issues in the future.
With filters and editing apps such as VSCO, Facetune, and Photoshop, it is easy to manipulate and play around with the portrayal of yourself that a photo depicts. The end result, depending on the extent of the editing done by the photo's owner, may be a very falsified, inaccurate image of the subject. In a world where so many of these types of photos already exist, thanks to, for example, programs used to edit images of stars in magazines and advertisements, people are sucked into a cycle of comparison and self-reflection. When someone sees a seemingly perfect image and then comes back to reflect on their own, "imperfect" self, there are several things that can occur. In more extreme cases, people may be drawn towards having procedures done which may improve their physical appearance. Some may use images as motivation to get to the gym each day and break a sweat. Some simply turn to the many editing options available at the tips of their fingers and work away at their photos before sharing them with the world. While the latter may seem like the most harmless result of the three, this may not necessarily be the case.
There are so many readily available editing tools that a person can, really, change anything they want about the way they look. Facetune, what I believe to be the most compelling option, allows users to adjust face shape, size and shape of facial features, and size and shape of other physical features such as shoulders, hips, and legs. The program also gives users the ability to smooth imperfections and whiten teeth, even offering a "patch" feature, which allows you to choose a portion of the photo and use it to cover up another portion of the photo. Clearly, anyone wishing to adjust a photo can really go to town, and considering the ease with which this can be done, why wouldn't someone make these changes? It may seem like all fun and games, but within the editing process lies an issue: upon editing image after image, it becomes simple for someone to build a social media profile filled with photos of their edited self… not their true self. Interactions that a person's followers or friends make with the edited pictures posted come in response to… exactly that: the edited pictures. The user's audience is simply responding to the content that the user is choosing to provide. When someone builds their entire social profile off of an edited portrayal of themselves, it can very negatively affect the way that they view themselves outside of the Facetune and Photoshop. After spending hours creating a false image, and potentially receiving positive feedback, this person is eventually forced to return to reality and deal with the way that they actually look, and it is possible that this may no longer be a reality that they enjoy. Because they have been able to create their "perfect", ideal self online, having to exist in the real world as their "imperfect" self becomes much more unpleasant, and can thus trigger issues with self-love, self-esteem, and self-acceptance.
Going along with this, a person who is already struggling with self-acceptance may be driven even farther into a corner upon opening one of the various social media platforms and being bombarded with a flood of images showing toned and tan models posing on beaches, their hair falling perfectly. Images of this type leave many wondering how someone manages to still look effortless and flawless on a hot beach in the sticky, salt-filled air.
Here's your answer: they don't.
Many of these images are edited just as much as anyone else's, and most, if not all, of them are extensively posed, taken, and retaken until the "perfect" shot is obtained. The image you are looking at could be the only one out of hundreds taken that turned out the way the photo's subject wished.
In other cases, people drive themselves crazy trying to achieve the same taut, toned appearance of their favorite social media influencer, when this might actually be unachievable. While some people who fit this description really may have achieved this through hard work, in reality, much of the tiny-waisted, flat-tummied look is left up to genetics. No matter how hard someone tries, this body type might just not be obtainable, and the sooner we come to realize this, the sooner we start accepting ourselves as we are. There is only so much a person can achieve through a healthy and active lifestyle, and anything someone does achieve as a result of this is something to be proud of! If you are healthy and happy, that is all that matters. It does not matter whether or not you were able to make yourself look just like Brandy Melville model and social media star Alexis Ren. All that matters is that you are taking good care of your body and mind and treating yourself right.
Unfortunately, though, some have a harder time accepting this than others, and may be driven to undertake unhealthy methods in hopes of achieving results, such as restrictive dieting, eating disorders, compulsive exercise, or misuse of supplements or medications. The fact that so many people feel the need to go to such extremes in hopes of achieving unrealistic body shapes should send a serious message about the dangerous impact social media is having on impressionable minds.
What is even more sad is that many companies feed into the negative effects of social media, running campaigns for products that they guarantee will improve your appearance. For example, Maybelline's brand boasts the all-too-familiar slogan "Maybe she's born with it, maybe it's Maybelline". In doing this, the brand brags about makeup that appears to be so natural, you won't be able to tell if the wearer or the products naturally looks the way they do or not. Running commercials with smooth-skinned, high-cheekboned models, Maybelline seems to send the message that their products are what produced these results, but the fact of the matter is that the models used by the brand are literally born with it. I can't stress this enough. It is not the products that created the eye shape or face shape of the model. The products are not the cause of her long eyelashes. The products did not give her blue eyes, or brown eyes, or green eyes. They didn't carve out her cheekbones, or her defined jawline. It wasn't Maybelline. SHE WAS LITERALLY BORN WITH IT.
Most people are able to identify this and recognize the cleverness of the brand's slogan while still separating fact from fiction. Some, though, may be blinded by the beauty of the faces that appear on ads and commercials, thus falling for the catch phrase and feeding into the products, only to be disappointed when they find that their purchase did not yield the anticipated results. This is how they sell.
On the whole, social media, though a great outlet for sharing memories and moments, has its downsides, and can be the cause or a contributing factor of mental health issues and problems with body image. The more we feed into the world of editing an altering our online appearance, the worse the issue gets, and the more companies will continue to reinforce the messages we are already receiving regarding image. In order for a change to occur, we need to create a more open and widespread dialogue about the falsity of the majority of what we see online, as well as spread a positive message regarding self-acceptance.
In order to see a change, we need to be it.
It starts with you.