Social Media Propels Mental Illness and Elusive Body Standards

Mackenzie Pham, Staff Writer

Ding. Ding. Buzz. The sound of post notifications fills the lives of adolescents in America today, accounting for, on average, 8 hours of screen time per day. Popular social media apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok have become a norm throughout the teenage population, with 90 percent of teens have used social media, per AACAP, an informational site that provides statistics on adolescent mental health. 

The “that girl” trend, which promotes fitness and lifestyle, can be detrimental for young girls’ self-esteem. Photo illustration by Vy Nguyen.

Additionally, individuals aged 13-18 spend, on average, nine hours scrolling through social media pages, feeds, reels, and a variety of video genres that can account for the high beauty standards adolescents see, according to Stomp Out Bullying, a website that organizes statistics for social media platforms. The genres include fitness gurus and fashion models, which greatly impact the views teenagers have of their body image and self-perception.

Social media has become a platform where users share the glorified version of their life, body and happiness. Many of the celebrities and fitness models exhibited the “perfect body,” with flawless skin, an hourglass figure, and a put-together lifestyle. However, it is clear that the “perfect” Instagram pictures have been altered using editing apps and filters. Exposure to this has changed the way adolescents view their own bodies and the thoughts that run through their minds. According to the Child Crime Prevention and Safety Center, children from unstable environments are more apt to fall prey to unhealthy social media influence. 

Many teenagers feel the need to be a certain weight, have a certain body measurement or conform to “social norms.” However, this can be detrimental to their mental health, leading to mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, anorexia nerviosa, and bulimia. According to AACAP, there has been a significant difference in mental illness rates between those who use social media less than three hours per day and those who spend six or more hours per day. Unhealthy relationships with family and friends begin to develop, and individuals start to feel isolated, thus breaking down valuable relationships built over many years. 

Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are characterized not only by abnormal eating behaviors that include starvation, purging, lying to oneself and to others, and taking laxatives to rid themselves of excess foods, but also developing severe headaches, nausea, and other long-term diseases, according to Britannica, an online educational database. 

Percentage of teens who compare themselves to others. Graph by Vy Nguyen. Source: USA Today (2018)

Consequently, if teens do not live up to their expectations, they may indulge in self-harm, eventually leading to suicide. Additionally, competition between friends may rise due to the increasing pressure to look the “best,” and the urge to ruin each other’s reputation may result in life-long consequences. 

The ages during which teenagers get exposed to social media happens to also be the time period when education should be a top priority. Doing well in school not only prepares the student for their future, whether that be in college or the workforce, but it also develops life skills needed to succeed in any career path. If adolescents are prioritizing their efforts to look a certain way to impress others or just to conform to what they think is “the norm,” then less time will be spent towards academics, leading to failing grades and unhappiness. Additionally, if all of one’s motivation is into achieving this perfect figure, an unnecessarily large amount of money will be spent on cosmetics and fashion. 

According to Lexington Law, a site that compiles a variety of lifestyle statistics for men and women, the average amount that teenagers spend per year is $2,150. School also provides an environment in which students set and achieve their goals, thus allowing them to grow in confidence. It is this confidence that builds the foundation to having a strong mindset to combat social media influences.