Picture Perfect

Unrealistic ideals of social media perpetuate a negative body image

Madeline Lee, Copy Editor

With spring break coming up, people begin to stress about what they are going to do, where they are going to go, having a beach body, and getting in shape for spring break. Social media does not help these thoughts, and can cause a variety of issues having to do with body insecurity and people comparing themselves to others.

“People always show the cool stuff that they’re doing, and a lot of times just seeing a lot of that can make you feel like you’re the only one who may be sitting at home,” senior Thomas Gibson said. “What can be a problem too is just comparing yourself to other people who may have edited photos.”

People often showcase the highlights of their life on social media- such as parties, achievements, and doing cool things with friends. By seeing not only celebrities, but fellow students, living what appears to be a perfect life, it can be detrimental to a person’s self esteem.

“Sometimes you see the celebrities, and they kind of create a fake life,” sophomore Raven Barrett said. “People who are less fortunate see that, and they compare themselves. Then they try to impress others and try to live the lifestyle that celebrities and influencers do.”

Along with comparing lives, people often compare their bodies to others’ as well. All of these comparisons can negatively impact a person’s mentality.

“I used to be insecure about my body, but now that I’ve been working out and I stopped caring what people think. Now, I have a positive body image about myself,” junior Lana Cristiani said. “I used to use filters when I was younger, because I used to care what other people thought about my pictures and how many likes it will get. But now I just share with my friends and I don’t really care what other people think.”

One app that has become popular due to its photoshopping abilities is FaceTune, which allows users to edit everything from their waistline to their complexion, to creating muscles that aren’t there to blurring muscle lines.

“I definitely think that editing a photo of them can make a teen have a misperception of what they look like,” Licensed Professional Counselor, MA, Stephanie Robertson said. “Especially with girls, we know our angles, lighting that is needed for the perfect shot and just how to adjust the hue of the photo to make them pop.”

The use of filters has also become more common, with many social media platforms and apps having their own unique filters that users can apply. Snapchat has filters that can make people look like animals and enlarge or shrink features, while Instagram and other apps have filters that can alter colors, as well as photoshop images.

“When [people] do not see that same face in the mirror or when a picture is taken of them instead of a selfie, it does not look the same,” Robertson said. “The lighting is wrong, our colors are out of whack, the angle makes us look ‘fat.’ It’s a lack of control that you have when you cannot edit the picture and achieve the look that is your online persona. The perception of self is tampered with because the infinite possibilities one possesses to chisel the picture makes the person feel unsatisfied in real life.”

Robertson stresses that teens are not the only age group to experience this, but that the hope is that as teens age, they begin to care about physical things less.

“You should be proud of yourself,” Cristiani said. “People need to accept themselves, you are the way that you are.”

Robertson has observed an increase in the amount of teens who suffer from anxiety and depression, which she attributes to a need for instant gratification and an inability to separate fantasy from reality.

“I think editing pictures can definitely be harmful, because when you do it once and you start getting a bunch of likes you think you have to keep up this facade,” senior Samantha Seigel said. “I think there’s a lot of subconscious pressure people are afraid to address within themselves.”

Robertson also attributes an increase in depression to social media, and how it provides constant exposure to the lives of others and the “perfection” that they try to portray.

“People work for an image that isn’t all natural,” sophomore Lauren Farr said. “If people see other people working for [something they want], they feel left out or try to focus on that. Then they gain bad habits, like eating disorders and using filters, and they aren’t really being them.”

Profiles on social media are not the only things that people can compare themselves to. Advertisements on T.V., or the personal ads that populate Instagram and Facebook, can begin to target insecurities as well.

“Our society has taught us for years that a particular look, weight and height is necessary to be considered acceptable,” Robertson said. “If teens are inundated with this ‘acceptable’ look thousands of times a day, it only continues the expectation. It’s more than just the pictures on profiles themselves, but even the ads that are specifically chosen for each teen’s page are most likely geared toward how they are supposed to look.”

By seeing ads for products such as FitTea, or other products that claim to be the miracle of fat-loss, gives people the notion that they need to be twig thin in order to be liked. Celebrity endorsements for these products, including Cardi B and the Kardashians, have come under fire for promoting unhealthy and detrimental products such as these teas.

“Social media influencers get paid to look a certain way,” Robertson said. “Part of their job is to work out at times or maintain a certain beauty regimen that takes time that most people don’t have. Our bodies will be changing shape, size and weight until the day we die, this is inevitable, and these “mentors” are not always being healthy. Chasing goals of ‘likes’ due to how one looks becomes their measuring stick of worth and their unworthiness is then directly correlated to a lack of attention on a picture etc.”

In addition to eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, and mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, there has also been a heightened awareness for body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD.

“People with BDD see a flaw in themselves or a flaw in symmetry, and they think that by fixing this it will change their life drastically, such as getting a job or a boyfriend,” plastic surgeon and multi-time Top Surgeon in Baltimore, Jeffrey Schreiber said. “I can spot these people and turn them down and caution them in pursuing surgery. It’s important to recognize the group of patients who have realistic expectations and they do have a part of their body that can be altered to feel better, and then there’s this group that has body dysmorphic disorder.”

This mental disorder can develop due to a number of reasons, and can get worse as people compare themselves to others via social media. People that suffer from this disorder often seek plastic surgery or other options that they feel will fix this flaw.

“It definitely is becoming more popular for younger women to come in and do things,” Schreiber said. “I am seeing more teenagers come in, but they’re coming in with their parents and the teens that come in with their parents are educated enough to know that what they’re asking for is realistic and there’s something that can be done.”

One instance of this is a story Schreiber recanted about a teen girl who had come in to get liposuction. The girl had been afraid to change in the locker room, go to gym class, and felt incredibly insecure. She came in with her parents, and after she had recovered from surgery she was able to happily participate in gym class and even joined a sports team.

Plastic surgery can help people gain confidence, but there are other options as well. One option is therapy, which is not only for those who suffer from a diagnosed mental disorder. Another is just spending less time on social media.

“Spend less time using social media and more time in person with your friends who love you and see you for who you really are,” Robertson said. “Be cautious to believe what you see online and maybe even take a class in photoshop to understand just how edited a picture can be. Build yourself up through positive self-talk, therapy if necessary and personal relationships with trusted people.”

Self care is incredibly important, especially as rates of anxiety and depression have increased. Examples of self care include doing something that makes you happy, finding time to unplug and unwind, and doing anything that helps you relax.

“When you are online, remind yourself that it is the best version of everyone you are seeing, and remember the real life conversations you had that day with those same people, they are not perfect,” Robertson said. “If you care about yourself, your lens through which you view social media posts will change the way the information is saved in your memory.”