Selfies and Self-Esteem

*It is claimed that females aged 16 to 25 spend five hours taking selfies per week

*On average, 93 million selfies (by males and females) are taken worldwide each day.

If you’ve been telling your daughter that she’s beautiful just the way she is, she’s getting a different message when she is on social media. Pictures used to be final. Now, we have lenses and filters and post-production.

Teens today are often referred to as the “selfie generation.” The act of taking and posting an image of yourself online is actually a highly studied phenomenon. Psychologists and researchers are intrigued by the question of whether or not self-imaging boosts confidence or lowers self-esteem. The answer thus far isn’t exactly clear.

In their own search for more facts and figures, Ilyssa Salomon, doctoral student, and Christia Spears Brown, professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky developed a cross-sectional study titled, “The Selfie Generation: Examining the Relationship Between Social Media Use and Early Adolescent Body Image.” Together, they explored the potentially damaging effects of social media exposure among teenagers.

“We were concerned that social media use, with its emphasis on evaluating how people look, might be associated with how early adolescents feel about their own bodies. Previous research has shown that the majority of girls in middle school are unhappy with their bodies. And yet, we also know that they spend every day looking at highly sexualized, highly curated pictures of other people on social media,” Brown said.

“It is really teens who are focused on others for approval and try to adapt their behavior to fit in, as well as adolescent girls, who seem to show the strongest links between social media and body image,” Salomon explained. “Second, our results found that boys and girls in our sample did not differ in attitudes about their body. A lot of previous research has shown that girls have negative body image, but boys don’t think much about their appearance. Our results suggest otherwise, that boys are also unhappy with their bodies.” What they found was that, those teens who were taking more selfies, spending more time choosing a photo or editing it, and posting them were more dissatisfied with their bodies.”

Alexandra Hamlet, PsyD, a psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, made an excellent point about selfies and the ability to edit them. “Some of the filters are fun and distort in amusing ways,” but there are “pretty filters” on Instagram and Snapchat. “Beautifying filters are used almost reflexively by many, which means that teens are getting used to seeing their peers effectively airbrushed every single day online. There are also image altering apps that teens can download for more substantial changes. Facetune is a popular one, but there are many, and they can be used to do everything from erase pimples to change the structure of your face or even make you look taller. One app called RetouchMe gives your photo a “professional retouch” using a photo editing team for under a dollar.”

Teens are comparing themselves to standards that are literally unattainable, because they aren’t real. In the recesses of their minds, they know that, because they are altering their photos, too. But the comparisons still remain. There is even a term for kids who are fixating on their appearance because of social media — selfie dysmorphia, which is also sometimes called Snapchat dysmorphia. While this isn’t a real diagnosis, it is a term that recognizes that more people are experiencing a dysmorphia, or idea that there is something fundamentally flawed in their appearance.

Salomon and Brown, the researchers referenced above, said their target audience for their study is anyone invested in the well-being and health of adolescents, but they hope the results will spark an important conversation between parents and their children.

“Parents should understand that social media is a very relevant social context for modern adolescents, and like anything else, it will have costs and benefits. One cost seems to be that posting a lot of pictures of yourself and using social media frequently is related to negative body image for some adolescents. Parents should have conversations with their teens about body image and the risks associated with certain types of social media use.”