Social media plays a major part in our lives. From catching up with friends to supporting small businesses, social media allows us to engage and simultaneously learn about other perspectives. But social media is also a façade. A façade in which one’s perception of themselves is rooted within the number of likes, comments, and shares they receive. One in which we are exposed to airbrushed and photoshopped photos. One where we subconsciously reinforce superficial ideals of beauty unknowingly, causing more harm than good.
A recent study stated that teenagers who used the platforms Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest showed increased symptoms of body dysmorphic disorders (BDD) in both males and females. Constantly viewing content that promotes unrealistic standards of beauty has a major impact on the way we see ourselves and our mental health. So what can we do to reduce the effects of toxic online environments?
Social media literacy is the act of being able to identify the messages that a post is conveying. We, as users, see a variety of content on social media, and in lieu of glancing past content and accepting the information at face value, social media literacy forces you to question the content and explore alternative meanings of the subliminal messages. Taking a minute to step back and review what a post or story is saying gives the opportunity to reflect on its intent, allowing the user to clearly understand the motive behind the content. When practicing social media literacy, begin by addressing four key questions:
Who made this post? An influencer? Business? Artist?
Why do you think they made it? To promote a product? To educate you? To make you laugh?
Whom is this post made for? Teenagers? Young adults? Kids?
How did this post make you feel? What emotions do you feel? Do you think others would feel the same way/ concur?
The second way we can work to protect ourselves from the messages of social media is through engaging in and fortifying the body positivity movement. The body positivity movement refers to promoting the acceptance of all bodies regardless of societies’ beauty standards. The body positivity movement promotes self-love while celebrating all bodies, empowering everyone while challenging stereotypes. Started by Tess Holiday, a model and feminist, the body positivity movement boasts numerous prominent figures that empower both men and women such as Michelle Elman, Kadeeja Sel Khan, Stephanie Yeboah, Zach Miko, and Tatyana McFadden.
However, the body positivity movement doesn’t just address fictitious views of shape and size but challenges judgments that involve sexuality, race, and disability. Following the body positivity movement allows for the exposure of positive content that helps users build confidence and acceptance of their own bodies.