Oppression and subjugation against women has been present since the dawn of American society, but social media has provided another facet for it to exist and further belittle young women. Whether it’s unrealistic beauty standards causing self-deprecation or deliberate depreciation from other individuals, social media proves to be an intoxicating source that takes a toll on many women.
It is becoming increasingly unattainable for young girls to feel comfortable and confident in their own bodies, especially under the virulent effects of social media. Girls now face a beauty standard predicated on unrealistic and improbable expectations, much of which stems from social media. This creates an obstructive and unhealthy attitude toward self image, which can catalyze obsessive and endless self-deprecation in the effort to obtain an unrealistic body.
When viewing popular social media influencers, young girls can develop tunnel vision in regards to obtaining a certain body type. This leads to neglecting external factors that contribute to that brief snapshot that they see online. For example, it is hard for girls to comprehend if filters or photoshop are used, let alone, plastic surgery. All they see is something that fits into their concept of the ideal body type, and begin thinking to themselves, “Why don’t I look like that? I have to look like them to receive the attention I want.”
This obsessiveness can extend to psychological consequences and physically harm the health of young girls. Girls can become caught up in detrimental patterns to achieve a certain image, but even so, once they achieve this, their mental health is sacrificed, because in their minds it is never enough.
An article published in Child Mind Institute shared a story of 15-year-old Sasha who witnessed her friend go through this cycle of “Social Media and Self-Doubt.”
“I knew a girl who had an eating disorder. We all knew it. It got so bad that she ended up going to a treatment center, but when she put pictures up of herself on the beach looking super-thin everyone liked them anyway,” Sasha told Child Mind Institute.
She spoke of the damage of the process: “liking” images that in this case provided dangerous validation. “It’s like we were saying, ‘Good job,'” Sasha said to Child Mind Institute. She said that even though she was aware of the unhealthy reason her friend looked the way she did, she still felt jealous of her.
On top of body image, girls are consistently objectified and dehumanized by societal cues, much of which is reflected by social media. Whether it’s slut shaming toward women and what they choose to show in their posts, or inherent misogyny and disrespect of women, many girls feel this objectification.
A recent study explored misogyny across the Reddit “manosphere”, or online communities where men share their frustrations toward women and feminism. The study used Reddit data from 2011 to 2018 and found increasing patterns of misogyny, hostility and violent attitudes in the manosphere.
According to the Pew Research Center, 33% of women under age 35 in the U.S. have been sexually harassed online. 41% of U.S. adults have experienced online harassment and 25% have experienced more severe harassment.
Being harassed online produces negative psychological consequences for women who will subsequently shy away from posting anything that could trigger abuse or objectification. Women then become pawns of societal oppression and are unable to freely express themselves without fear of backlash.
They will be shamed for showing their bodies under the claim that they are asking to be objectified. However, the difference between someone else critiquing and exposing a woman’s body vs. a woman knowingly showing herself by her own choice, is a huge difference that gets lost in the media. The line between the two is starting to blend together, and women who decide to show their bodies or post certain things as self-expression are not perceived as empowerment, but rather asking to be sexualized.
Some women and popular influencers have joined forces on social media to combat such sexualization by confidently posting themselves in the way they want, creating a movement in the media against this belittlement. However, the battle is far from won, because women still have to fight for the right to express themselves, and even if they do so confidently, they still face backlash.
Although social media has proved to be a place for abuse to live, it also serves as a place to unite girls in a fight against this mistreatment. The #MeToo Movement founded by Tarana Buruke is just one way the media has contributed to solidarity and support among women and their shared experiences. This feminist energy has also produced results, an example being alteration to the Victoria Secret “perfect body” slogan that glorified thin, tall, white models, contributing to this toxic body image previously mentioned.