The majority of teenagers exist within social media. Finding a high schooler who doesn’t have some form of social media downloaded—Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, or Tumblr, if you’re old school—would be difficult. It’s not an inherently bad thing; social media isn’t some great, looming evil. For many teenagers, it’s a way to communicate with friends or keep in touch with current events.
However, it’s impossible to ignore the negative impacts it has on its users—particularly in terms of mental health. Though social media wasn’t designed to eat away at the confidence and self-esteem of its users, there is no way to erase the fact that it does so to an alarming degree. Whether it be through Snapchat filters that change the structure of a person’s face, or streams of edited Instagram photos, social media has a way of eating away at its users’ body image that most teenagers don’t recognize until it’s too late.
“Invariably, the line between a ‘like’ and feeling ranked becomes blurred,” writes Rachel Simmons for Time Magazine, adding that,
“What teens share online is dwarfed by what they consume…Pictures are as endless as they are available.”
Teens can spend hours online, subconsciously comparing themselves to celebrities or influencers. This behavior has been linked to an alarming rise in depression and low-self esteem amongst high-school age social media users. According to Simmons, “psychologists found robust cross-cultural evidence linking social media use to body-image concerns, dieting, body surveillance, a drive for thinness and self-objectification in adolescents.”
Both influencer and celebrity culture online has allowed for sites like Instagram and Twitter to become what Time describes as a “toxic mirror,”—a way for users to constantly compare themselves to people they don’t even know, picking themselves apart and creating an idea of self-worth based around likes. Not only is this trend grossly prevalent, but it’s dangerous; many teenagers find themselves gazing into the “toxic mirror” of social media, unable to look away.
Wellness culture on social media, glaringly prevalent on Instagram, has also been incredibly harmful to teenage users over the past few years. Influencers promote wellness brands and products, marketing toxic ideas to an often-vulnerable audience. Social media’s “wellness culture,” has a tendency to leave users feeling unsatisfied with their own lifestyles and looks. According to The Guardian, a Facebook study revealed that “…more than 40% of Instagram users who said they felt ‘unattractive’ said the feeling began while using the app.”
There is genuine danger in this, as unhappiness from social media often leaves teenage users at a higher risk for anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Social media’s habit of promoting and glorifying influencers that perfectly mirror beauty standards has a hand in this trend, leaving users constantly criticizing and comparing themselves.
It’s vital to be aware of toxic comparisons on social media, given that a large part of its users are high-schoolers. Though deleting all forms of social media is an extreme demand, separation from it in any form is healthy, and can lead to healing from the subconscious unhappiness it causes. The reality is that social media is superficial, and awareness of that is crucial to enjoying it without being eaten away by it.