How the pandemic has affected teens’ body image

| Adobe Stock photo

| YOUTH BEAT

By Alyssa Piñon Villanueva

COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders have had many effects on all of us, but for many teens stuck at home, their increased viewing of social media has negatively impacted their self-esteem.

During the pandemic, teens look to social media for entertainment and social media apps like Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram to pass the time.

Influencers on these apps often set unrealistically high beauty standards for their audience. Viewers are led to believe that these influencers are “perfect” and compare themselves to them. This could lead to users developing a negative body image.

This is what Salinas resident Jasmine Wallia, 15, struggles with when she uses social media like Instagram and TikTok.

“On TikTok, when I see these super pretty girls who are super skinny, it makes me feel bad about myself because I don’t look like them,” Jasmine said.

She admitted that “I didn’t have high self-esteem to start off with so it kinda got a little worse.” Also contributing to the problem is that Jasmine has been using her phone more over the course of being at home, and that her confidence in herself has fallen due to what she sees on social media platforms.

Social media users often see statements from other users who put themselves down, saying they’re not thin enough or attractive enough.

For instance, Victoria Jimenez, 15, noted that “I’ll be scrolling and see a girl with a perfect body and see that they say they are ‘fat’ and wished they had a different body when in reality they meet the beauty standards for girls, and I’ll get sad because I know I don’t have the perfect body.”

Victoria, also a Salinas resident, often sees people on social media speak negatively about themselves and this makes her believe if they do not meet the beauty standard, she does not meet the beauty standard. These images distort the way teens see themselves.

As their time on social media increases, teens are becoming more likely to develop a negative body image. According to an article from phys.org on young peoples’ body image and social media, “Visual platforms deliver the tools that allow teens to earn approval for their appearance and compare themselves to others.”

Developing a negative body image can lead to being self-conscious and having low self-esteem, as well as depression, and “in the worst-case scenario, subsequently eating disorders,” Christia Spears Brown, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, told phys.org.

The increase in the use of social media has raised questions over its impact on body image and self-esteem. Experts say social media is distorting the confidence of many younger people. People who constantly check social media are more prone to become unhappy with their appearance. With everyone being ordered to shelter in place, teens have more of an opportunity to check social media on a daily basis.

Teens who excessively use social media are putting themselves at higher risk of developing a negative body image. A person who has low self-esteem may find that it is difficult to be in social situations because they are afraid of being judged and embarrassed. In some cases, a person who has a negative body image may try to change their eating patterns and may over worry about what they eat, in an attempt to make their body fit into the “ideal” beauty standards.

How can teens avoid falling into this trap? One way is to spend less time looking at images on social media.

Victoria Jimenez said she tries her best to keep off social media in an attempt to avoid “girls degrading girls, boys telling us that if we’re over 110 (pounds) to go on a diet, and that we shouldn’t wear makeup.” She believes that being on social media does make her more prone to developing a negative body image.

Experts say teens should try to decrease the amount of time they use social media, and remind themselves that the images they see there are often completely unrealistic.

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Young Voices

About Young Voices

Young Voices Media Project teaches Monterey Bay area teens multimedia skills to report the news from their communities. This project was generously supported in 2019 by the Clare Giannini Fund.