How does social media affect users’ self esteem?

In an age of perpetual scrolling, where users are constantly refreshing their feeds to reveal trending topics or an influencer’s newest Instagram, social media can become overwhelming. But, just how much does this social-sharing app affect users?

By Lexi Hill
November 21, 2017

In an age of perpetual scrolling, where users are constantly refreshing their feeds to reveal trending topics or an influencer’s newest Instagram, social media can become overwhelming. Before they know it, users start comparing themselves to those influencers, some even taking extreme notions to look like them. In a world where beauty amounts to followers and followers amounts to a perceived perfect life, results can seem heartbreakingly elusive. But, just how far are women taking this obsession?

In a survey shared of University of South Carolina students, more than 90 students voiced their opinions on this enveloping social issue. The 10-question survey, which asked questions like, “How likely are you to check Instagram on a typical day?” and “Check all types of Instagram accounts that you follow” aimed to estimate the social climate on campus regarding students and Instagram. More than 70% of users reported that they were very likely to check Instagram daily, if not multiple times a day, in order to stay up to date with friends or family, social media influencers or local shops and brands.

Survey results for the question, “Do you think that following an influencer has affected your self-image?”

These results substantiate the leading statistics company Statistica.com’s findings that Instagram boasts over 700 million monthly users, which surpasses similar social media sharing sites like Twitter by about 400 million monthly users. However, despite being considered one of the most popular social media applications in the world, the picture sharing tool has received negative feedback because of the mental and physical effects it has on women.

When it came to questions regarding Instagram Influencers- or users paid to promote brands due to their massive followers of over 100,000 thousand users– most University of South Carolina students found their profiles to be a great source for fashion, fitness and health inspiration while simultaneously having a negative effect on their self esteem.

More than 70% of those surveyed agreed that social media might have an impact on their self-image, and 89% of users agreed that that effect is oftentimes negative. How could it not be with social trends like the thigh gap, or Kylie Jenner inspired lip injections swallowing users’ social feeds?

These, and other body-shaming, body-perfecting trends have led users to think twice about their bodies. Here’s what some users had to say in regards to how they perceive their body after refreshing their feeds:

Survey results for the question, “In what ways has following an Influencer affected your self-image?”

Dr. Todd Lefkowitz, a Columbia board certified plastic surgeon who specializes in body contouring and breast enhancement, among other services, has seen the effects social media has had on women. However, he isn’t sure if it has changed his practice much.

“People were asking for breast enhancements and lip injections before Kylie Jenner or Kim Kardashian– that’s not new,” he said. While social media might not be changing the types of the procedures patients are seeking, it is “galvanizing what that standard body type is across the board,” he said. Social media is making more people aware of hyper-fit bodies that are oftentimes unrealistic to attain.

This unrealistic standard isn’t central to the South either Dr. David Horvath, a board certified plastic surgeon from Philadelphia, has noted an increase in body contouring surgeries over the last few years. One surgery that has become more prevalent is the Brazilian butt lift, a procedure that uses patients pre-existing fat to lift and fill patient’s’ buttocks.

“Two years ago, my Brazilian buttlift procedure was not as popular as it is now, but now that it’s a trend, I do one every other week,” Horvath said.

Survey results to the question, “Are you more likely to get plastic surgery after seeing pictures of Instagram Influencers?”

Although it is possible that some trending procedures are becoming much more common, the survey distributed on the University of South Carolina campus showed that over 85% of students would not consider plastic surgery as a method to achieving their goals.

Lexi, I’m assuming you picked up this quotes from an interview these folks did? If so, you need to attribute, as in …said in an interview in Glamour magazine. What about the influencers themselves, though? Do they feel this immense body image problem as well? Addie Jonas, a fashion and style influencer, credits Instagram with starting her career.

“A pretty big fashion photographer in New York City found me and then did a test shoot with me and shortly after he sent my photos to an agency I got signed,” she said. Digging a little bit deeper, she does think that the social sharing application isn’t all great, “It does make me compare myself to others constantly, ‘why doesn’t my waist look as tiny as others or I have to be this size to model for this brand.’ I mean modeling is a hard business so it’s important to find balance.”

Fitness influencer Felicia Gelman, whose profile boasts over 50,000 followers feels this pressure as well.

“I have definitely had my own thoughts of wanting to look a different way because of people I see on social media, mostly in a fitness perspective.”

While this negative self doubt seems like it’s impossible to escape, Gelman, who is a body positivity advocate, does her best to reassure girls feeling this way.

“I definitely get a lot of people that reach out to me with low self esteem. The main thing I’ve noticed is people who reach out are asking how they can look like this influencer or that one,” she said.

This desire to look like other influencers, especially fitness or style bloggers, has even affected how certified trainers are working with their clients. Fit Columbia studio owner Angie Sellers notes that women are focused on sculpting their midsection, in particular their “love handles, back fat and bra fat,” said Sellers, oftentimes coming in for that one section only.

Sellers thinks social media has been a good thing for fitness in some ways though.

 “A lot of women are demonstrating exercises, of all walks showing their favorite ways to move. It’s empowering.” Instagram isn’t all bad, but the correlation between using the app and subsequently wanting similar body types as influencers is undeniable. Time will tell how Instagram will shape women’s body image perspectives- there might be a new business with a bigger affect on women than advertising.

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