Social media’s unique body image problem
Social media is a strange beast. Consider the app, Facetune, which makes the application of Valencia seem like child’s play. Facetune is the Photoshop of selfies; it allows you to retouch your skin, add make-up, whiten your teeth, widen your mouth, change your eye colour, change your hair and basically make you look like someone else.
Which is the point of social media right?! And while you’re at it, just to really mess with people, add in a few hashtags #natural #selflove #grateful #vegan #soulsearching.
It’s comical and yet social media, as we are learning, is seriously powerful.
Research by the Jean Hailes Foundation, earlier this month, found that 60 per cent of women compare their appearance with their friends’.
“Sometimes we think of media images as people living in a different world, whereas peers and friends are much more immediate points of comparison,” says Susan Paxton, a professor in psychology at La Trobe University.
The problem with this is that our friends and acquaintances used to be “real”, like us. Now, not only are we accustomed to seeing airbrushed, retouched images in traditional media, the “real” people in our lives are becoming fake too.
And it is cause for concern.
“We have been exploring the impact of social media and, other research, not just our own, shows that people who are more engaged with social media are more vulnerable to developing body image problems,” explains Paxton, who discussed her latest findings at the Australian Psychology Society congress last week.
Paxton, whose primary research is among adolescents, notes that the way we use and consume social media is unique.
It’s not just viewing images that have been manipulated and carefully curated to present a certain image, it’s the way people curate and manipulate photos of themselves in return that spawned a whole new way of keeping up with the Jones’ (although Kardashians might be the more apt comparison in this instance).
What is the answer when body image issues are so rife amongst adults (about 80 per cent of Australian women dislike their bodies) and teenagers (about 38 percent of teenage girls and 13 per cent of teenage boys in Australia are extremely concerned about their body image, according to the latest Mission Australia Survey)?
There is no need to eschew social media, burn the magazines and embrace technophobia. Social media, for all the distortion of reality, can also have a positive influence, allowing self and creative expression, bolster social connections and keep abreast of friends’ (superior) lives.
Rather, Paxton says that social media literacy can help to counter some of its pervasiveness.
“Social media literacy, that is, being more critical about what they are viewing … seems to help off-set some of the negative influences of being exposed to all of these idealised images that we have around us,” she says.
“I think it is helpful to think about why people are presenting themselves the way they do and what it is they’re trying to communicate and to think about it from the point of view that they’re creating an image of themselves that isn’t a realistic image … the more people come to understand that the less likely they are to make comparisons that are unfavourable to them.”
#selflove #selfielove to that.
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