Social Media and Its Effects on Body Image

Moms, can we talk for a minute, mom to mom, about social media and teenage body image and how our teenagers are impacted by the messages they hear and see on social media? I was going to say our teenage daughters, but then I corrected myself because I think male body image and social media is just as much of an issue as female body image. As maddening as it may be, social media negatively impacts our kids’ body image, self-esteem, and overall mental health. Thanks to the toxic—and incorrect—messages they are bombarded with daily on their social media feeds, our kids don’t recognize and rejoice in their own unique beauty and awesomeness. And we need to do something about it. But exactly how does social media affect body image and self-esteem? Let’s look at a few ways. 

Negative Body Image and Social Media

It isn’t surprising that body image issues and social media are so intertwined with all the negative propaganda you can find on social platforms. However, as I scrolled through my social media feed a couple weeks ago, I came across a video that startled and resonated with me. It came on the heels of a Khloe Kardashian controversy, which, incidentally, I had missed because I blinked for a second. But I’m glad I didn’t miss the message of this video. Because it’s one we all need to hear.

Here are some of the lessons I learned.

  • Social media says to our teenagers, “You are not pretty enough,” but SOCIAL MEDIA IS WRONG. Our kids are beautiful.
  • The more our sons and daughters obsess over the imperfections in their bodies, the sadder they will feel.
  • Social media marketers work hard at lowering our kid’s self-esteem and body image so they can sell the “fix” for all the things that appear wrong.
  • If we’re not careful, the messages on social media can creep in and convince our kids that they are not enough.
  • Our daughters don’t need perfect eyebrows or thigh gaps, and our sons don’t need to be shredded and toned to be beautiful. They already are. Just by being themselves. Because true beauty is so much more than outward appearance.

How You See Yourself Matters

But I don’t think we can blame all our kids’ self-esteem issues on social media and its effects on body image. We, as parents, play an important role in how they see and feel about themselves. So, we need to show them, by our actions and our attitudes, that we understand beauty in a way that isn’t defined by the messages on social media.

And I’m talking to myself too. Because it’s a tough thing to do, especially in a world dominated by the airbrushed, over-exaggerated images of “perfection” we see at every turn. Literally every turn. And we want to feel good and look good in our own skin.

We just might need to reevaluate what that image looks like.

A few weeks ago, my son took a couple portraits of me and my husband to practice some photography techniques. And let me tell you, I’m sticking with the story that the lighting wasn’t great. Of course, my husband looked distinguished and mature. Me, not so much.

I’m not overly sensitive about pictures of myself. After all, I’m pushing 50; I’ve given birth to and raised four kids and I’ve seen a lot of life. I’m well aware of the effects those things have on a body.

But I got a good laugh about that pic—mostly because I looked shockingly old in it.

Here’s the thing, though. I want my kids to know that I’m okay with looking less than perfect. Sure, I take physical health seriously. I enjoy a good workout multiple times a week. And I try to eat smart. But I hope I don’t obsess about how I look. Instead, I hope my kids see me focusing on how I feel because I understand what true beauty looks like.

Changing Our Mindset

The way we see and respond to the messages about body image and self-esteem on social media impacts our kids. If we are dissatisfied with how we look, our kids will feel the same. If our definition of beauty mirrors the version peddled on social media, our kids will embrace that message loud and clear.

It all begins with our mindset.

So how do you feel about beauty? It’s a question to consider seriously. How you feel about beauty colors the dialog your children will hear.

Listen to this insightful message from someone on social media who, ironically, looks Instagram “beautiful” on her posts. It sounds like she might be trying to figure it out too.

“I had a moment the other day that really changed my perspective on how I view my physical appearance,” she said. “I was thinking no one has ever impacted me by being beautiful or having a perfect body. It might get my initial attention or even [be] inspiring, but it’s never been the reason I remembered them. I’m impacted by people for their kindness, their loyalty, their patience, their generosity, their vulnerability, etc. I’ve never said, ‘she changed my life because she was pretty and skinny.’ We spend so much time worrying about the things that means the least to people.”

These are words our teenagers need to hear—frequently. We need to let them know that their greatest impact will be on the beauty that shines from within them.

Body Image and Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As moms, we want our kids to be mentally healthy. We want them to feel good about themselves. We want them to do the things that make them happy. But we don’t want to enforce the agenda that feeling good and being happy only come to those who are “beautiful” according to social media. Rather, we should help them see their true beauty, beauty that shines through their smiles, their confidence, and their actions. And then how they see themselves will be a true reflection of how beautiful they really are.