“There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.”
BODY IMAGE – OUR PRIDE AND/OR OUR BURIAL
Not too long ago, actually just a decade ago, we were able to see kids playing outside in the playgrounds, no matter if the sun were shining or rain was falling. Teenagers were hanging around corners, gossiping on the stairs of the monument in the centre of the city and young adults having conversations in the coffee shops. Today´s picture is upside down. Everywhere you turn there are people with earphones in their ears, playing games on the phones or tablets, reading emails, spending time on Facebook or taking today´s so popular selfies. Verbal communication among teenagers and young adults, that is by Oxford Dictionary defined as “the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking…” has been reduced to abnormal measurements. Furthermore, what is worrying is not just lack of verbal communication but also the fact that young people are becoming more obsessed with their appearance and tend to compare themselves with peers and unrealistic images of celebrities. Digitization might have made our daily life easier, we have the access to more information, however, the alarming consequence is the impact, of especially social media, on people´s mental health, particularly on most vulnerable groups that are teenagers and young adolescent.
The purpose of these two blog posts is to present the impact of social media on body image of teenage girls and young adolescent women. Both groups are psychologically most vulnerable and are consequently most acceptable to develop one of eating disorders, which are on the rise, anxiety or depression (Pai & Schryver, 2015).
The Illusional Mirror Reflection
WHAT IS BODY IMAGE?
In order to understand how social media affects someone’s body image we have to explain what the later actually is. Plato once said that ˝we are bound to our bodies like an oyster is to its shell˝, insightfully explaining how strong affect the physical appearance has on our mental state. Cash (2004) defines ˝body image as body images. It encompasses one’s body-related self-perceptions and self-attitudes, including thoughts, beliefs, feelings and behaviours.˝
At Brown University (2015) they describe it more generally as:
- ˝How we perceive our bodies visually?
- How we feel about our physical appearance (how we think and talk to ourselves about our bodies?
- Our sensitivity of how other people view our bodies.
- Our sensitivity of our bodies in physical space.
- Our level of connectedness to our bodies.˝
Body image is not innate to us, on contrary, we develop it through the influence from society. As children we start learning and absorbing the information about how other perceive us, about ourselves. At that point our parents and caregivers play a significant role as they act as a mirror, manifesting back to us an image of who we are. According to reflection we develop our own body image, which can be clear or blurry (The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, 2013). Continuing to teenage years and later on to early adulthood, we are bombarded with opinions on our external image by not just close family but also from distant personas and social tools, such as media personalities and social media. At the same time hormonal changes and greater awareness of surroundings make us more acceptable for comments that may hurt or lift us up. The mixture of all the factors sums up in either positive or negative body image (Weinshenker, 2002).
POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE BODY IMAGE
Our body image affects our psychological vulnerability and strength, vibrancy and despair, competence and incompetence (Youngs, 1992). People with positive body image accept their bodies. They are optimistic and acknowledge who they really are as a person. Furthermore, they accept their imperfections and weaknesses, and recognize and own assets and potentials. Their achievements are satisfying and leading them onwards on their happy life path.
On the other hand, people with negative body image don’t accept themselves. Their own body is their worst enemy. Every time they look into the mirror, they see a different person. Dissatisfaction, sadness, shame and awkwardness are constantly present in their everyday life. Negative body image can in long-term lead to distorted perception of size and shape, which in many cases results in eating disorders, depression or anxiety.
Recent researches show that teenage girls and young women are more and more dissatisfacted with how they look. In 2004 BBC News posted an article ˝Teenage girls ’hate their bodies’ ˝ about body dissatisfaction among teenage girls, stating that six out of 10 girls would be happier if they lost weight, among 2000 girls conducted in survey. One out of five is so unhappy with her body that she suffers from anorexia or bulimia. Most concerning is the fact that only 19% of questioned girls were actually overweight, but 67% of them wanted to lose weight. In 2013 The Guardian released similar article, relaying on the results of survey showing that year after year dissatisfaction with their own bodies among teenage girls and young adolescent women is steadily rising. Furthermore, seven out of 10 of surveyed persons aged 11 to 21 said that they feel anxious and insecure about the way they look because of perfect celebrity pictures on the social media, according to Meikle (2013).
The above stated numbers are very concerning, as they are showing that young girls and women are more and more concerned about their bodies and therefore have lower self-esteem. Lower self-esteem consequently leads to isolation from peers and in the depression. Sad facts, when they are in years that are meant to be dedicated to having fun, exploring the world and enjoying every given minute as time can never be turned backwards.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND FASHION INDUSTRY – DEADLY COMBINATION
“You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.”
Social media is surrounding us everywhere today. On computers, tablets, phones, we are continuously checking new information as soon as time allows us to do so. But how social media actually affects us psychologically?
Festinger, with the theory of social comparison explains that we evaluate important characteristics of ourselves against others (Festinger, 1954, McNeill & Firman, 2014). Blond (2008) agrees that this theory implements a link between images of models and famous personalities in the media and body dissatisfaction in teenage girls and young adult women. We all consciously or unconsciously compare ourselves to people, for whom we believe are very successful and want to be better than they are. Marketers are very well aware of the psychological effect of photos and videos on customers, especially ones in fashion industry. One of them is also a company called Victoria’s Secret.
VICTORIA’S SECRET – FASHION SHOW
American largest retailer of lingerie Victoria’s Secret is worldwide known by its special Fashion show on which models, so called Victoria’s Angels. This special event, which takes place every December and it also includes music concert from one of the year’s biggest music stars, has become an obsession among teenage girls and young women. The show is very popular among them, as on the evening when the show takes place, they organize parties and watch it together. They use social media to Tweet, post photos on Instagram and Facebook. They say it ˝makes them feel girly and love to get in the spirit of the show˝ (Wilson, 2013). Some of the worrying posts on Twitter were:
“Time to starve because VS Fashion Show is the 10th!”
“Victoria secret fashion show is coming… Time to regret everything we ate during thanks giving!”
“Like I don’t even feel upset that I don’t look like a VS Model, I feel suicidal.”
Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show 2013
The day after the show, social media is flooded by images of models with perfect skin and bodies in underwear or swim suits. Teenage girls and young women become even more obsessed with their body image as even the brand is promoting their models as healthy and sporty beautiful women, even though every model is a size zero.
The bottom line of how Victoria’s Secret uses social media during their peak event Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is that they are bombarding followers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube with Photos, Notes and Videos of the models, their preparation before the show, their fitness regime and diet plan. Everything is surreal, mostly sexualised and not applicable to the real world. Therefore teenage girls and young women strive for a body that is unreal, consequently leading them towards eating disorders and depression. And all this is done just with the intention to increase sales, no matter what are the stakes.
Companies are using social media to promote their products and services. They are aware of how information in photos, videos and notes can easily spread word about them and get viral online. Therefore they are posting photoshoped and surreal images of their products making people believe that they need it because it will make their life prettier and better.
Young girls and young women are now more than ever under pressure to look thin and beautiful. But being beautiful is just an imaginary picture. For the sake of these young girls and women, who need the support of parents and friends, teach them to accept themselves with all imperfections they have. As cliché as it may sound, we are all unique and beautiful in our own way. The size is just the number, what is important is who we are inside. Time is running by fast, don’t waste it on looks. As Marilyn Monroe once said:
Marilyn Monroe Quote
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Blond A. (2008). Impacts of exposure to images of ideal bodies on male body dissatisfaction: a review, Elsevier, Body Image, vol. 5, pp. 244–250.
Bloom A. (n.d.). Quotes About Body Image. Goodreads. Available online: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/body-image [Accessed 28 January 2015]
Brown University. (2015). Nutrition and Eating Disorders: Body Image, Brown University, Health Promotion. Available Online: http://www.brown.edu/Student_Services/Health_Services/Health_Education/nutrition_&_eating_concerns/body_image.php [Accessed 2 February 2015]
Cash T. (2004). Body image: past, present, and future, Elsevier, Body Image, vol. 1, pp. 1 – 5.
Festinger L. (1954). A Theory of Social Comparison Processes, Sage Publications. Available Online: http://kslab.kaist.ac.kr/kse612/Festinger1954.pdf [Accessed 2 February 2015]
Maraboli S. (n.d.). Quotes About Body Image. Goodreads. Available online: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/body-image [Accessed 5 February 2015]
McNeill L. S. & Firman J. L. (2014). Ideal body image: A male perspective on self, Australasian Marketing Journal, vol. 22, pp. 136 – 143.
Meikle J. (2013). Growing number of girls suffer low self-esteem, says report. The Guardian. Available online: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/29/girls-low-self-esteem-rising-girlguiding-report [Accessed 2 February 2015]
Pai S. and Schryver K. (2015). Children, Teens, Media, and Body Image A Common Sense Media Research Brief. Available Online: file:///C:/Users/Sa%C5%A1a/Downloads/csm-body-image-report-012615-interactive.pdf [Accessed 28 January 2015]
The Clevland Clinic Foundation. (2013). Fostering a Positive Self-Image. Available Online: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/healthy_living/hic_Stress_Management_and_Emotional_Health/hic_Fostering_a_Positive_Self-Image [Accessed 28 January 2015]
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Weinshenker N., MD. (2002). Adolescents and body image: What’s typical and what’s not. Child Study Center, vol. 6, no. 4. Available online: http://www.aboutourkids.org/files/articles/mar_apr_2.pdf [Accessed 28 January 2015]
Wilson E. (2013). On The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. [Weblog] Emily Wilson. 5th December. Available online: http://emwilsonmusic.com/blog/2013/12/5/on-the-victorias-secret-fashion-show [Accessed 5 February 2015]
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Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show (2013). [Online image] Available Online: http://www.theclosetfeminist.ca/tag/victorias-secret-fashion-show-2013/ [Accessed 13 February 2015]
Marilyn Monroe Quote (n.d.). [Online image] Available Online: http://quotes-kid.com/marilyn-monroe-quotes-about-beauty-being-imperfect.htm [Accessed 13 February 2015]