Claire Mysko, an award-winning author and expert on body image, leadership and media literacy, explains: “While social media is not the cause of low self-esteem, it has all the right elements to contribute to it. Social media creates an environment where disordered thoughts and behaviours really thrive.”
For young people who have a tendency towards perfectionism, anxiety or disordered eating, the (often digitally enhanced) images of thin girls or women they see online can lead them to equate slimness with happiness. Validation of their own photos from other social media users (“you look great!” “have you lost weight?”) may falsely fulfil their need for acceptance – further distorting their body image.
Mysko warns that, while social media gives young people– especially girls – the feedback and validation they crave, it can also “serve as a catalyst for more insecurity.”
How can parents help with young people's body image issues
It’s important that parents understand and embrace how social media affects young people, because it is young people's accepted currency of communication today (see Why is social media important to young people?).
Johanna Kandel, founder of The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, stresses the value of having two-way discussions with your child about social media use. “Having these types of conversations is an opportunity to teach your daughter how to build her self-worth from the inside out,” she says.
Her advice is not to judge your child but instead ask questions about the impact social media has on them. How does it feel when someone approves of your picture? Why does it feel important to stay connected to your friends online? How many times a day do you compare yourself to someone else? Have you ever felt worse about yourself after scrolling through a social media site? This kind of empowered awareness can help inform a young person's choices.
Learn more about how social media affects young people by reading How does social media affect teens?
The social media impact on young people needn’t be negative. While acknowledging its downsides, Kandel believes social media can also be positive and inspiring for young people. “You can help your daughter harness that perspective, too, by encouraging her to post inspirational quotes or uplifting messages,” she suggests. “This may not only feel empowering for her, but it can also help inspire her friends.”
Author: Jess Weiner, Dove Global Self-Esteem Expert
Action checklist Starting conversations about body image and social media