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90% of young women use photo editing to improve appearance on Instagram - Breakthrough
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90% of young women use photo editing to improve appearance on Instagram

A new report published to mark International Women's Day highlights the damaging effects of social media on young women's self-esteem.

Social media has changed the way we interact with each other, and it has had a significant impact on how we perceive ourselves. A new report published to mark International Women’s Day highlights the damaging effects of social media on young women’s self-esteem. The report, “Changing the Perfect Picture: Smartphones, Social Media and Appearance Pressures,” is based on research with 175 young women and nonbinary people in the UK. The report was led by Professor Rosalind Gill, from City University of London’s Gender and Sexualities Research Centre.

Appearance standards and the pressure to conform

The report highlights how appearance standards are narrowing, and social media is contributing to a society where young people feel under constant forensic scrutiny by their peers. The study found that 90% of women reported using filters or editing their photos before posting them on social media. They use these tools to even out their skin tone, reshape their jaw or nose, shave off weight, brighten or bronze their skin, or whiten their teeth.

Young women in the study also described regularly seeing advertisements or push notifications for cosmetic procedures, particularly for teeth whitening, lip fillers, and surgery to enhance face and body features. Social media algorithms mean that once you look, you will never be allowed to forget. This constant bombardment of images and adverts contributes to the pressure to conform to narrow and often unrealistic beauty standards. 

The critique of perfection

The report also highlights how young people feel overwhelmed by images that are “too perfect.” Women of colour, disabled women, and gender nonconforming individuals told the researchers that they rarely see anyone like them in the media. The study found that young people are persistently angry with a mass media that they deem “too white,” “too heterosexual,” and too focused on very narrow definitions of beauty.

Social media has made it easier than ever to share images, and with nearly 100 million photos posted every single day on Instagram alone, we have never been such a visually dominated society. Posting on social media can produce the intense pleasure of “getting likes” and appreciative attention, but it is also a source of huge anxiety for most young women. They feel judged, under constant scrutiny, and unable to meet unrealistic expectations.

The unique context of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown

The report highlights the unique context of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, which has had a significant impact on young people’s mental health. Reports have highlighted the devastating effects of the pandemic on young people’s education, freedom, and finances. The pandemic has also brought psychological and health services, work, and social lives online. The report notes that young people’s familiarity with online tools and platforms better prepared them for the lockdown period than older groups. Still, they also experienced heightened pressure and distress.

The impact of social media on body image

The report is part of the Government Equalities Office’s Inquiry into Body Image, and it sheds light on the impact of social media on young people’s body image. The report calls for more support for young people to navigate social media, including education, guidance, and regulation. The report also highlights the need for more diverse and inclusive representations in the media.

Social media companies like Instagram have a responsibility to create a safe and inclusive environment for their users. One way they can do this is by monitoring and regulating the content that appears on their platforms. Instagram has introduced new features to combat harmful content, including the ability to hide likes and to filter out abusive messages. However, they can also do more to regulate the advertising that appears on their platform. One company leading the way in responsible Instagram advertising is Primal. Primal is a digital marketing agency that focuses on promoting body positivity and inclusivity. 

Conclusion

Social media has changed the way we interact with each other, and it has had a significant impact on how we perceive ourselves. The pressure to conform to narrow and unrealistic beauty standards has never been higher, and social media plays a significant role in perpetuating these standards. Young people are under constant scrutiny, and they feel judged and unable to meet expectations.

The report highlights the need for more support for young people to navigate social media, including education, guidance, and regulation. Social media companies need to do more to ensure that their platforms are safe and inclusive spaces for all. The report also highlights the need for more diverse and inclusive representations in the media.

Vey Law

Vey Law is a reporter at Breakthrough.

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