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 deprecation 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 never ending self-deprecation unless they obtain said unrealistic body.
When viewing popular influencers, young girls can develop tunnel vision in regards to obtaining a certain body type and will neglect 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; even so, once they achieve this, their mental health is sacrificed, because in their minds it is never enough. An article from Child Mind Institute shared a story of 16-year-old Sasha who witnessed her friend go through this cycle.
“I knew a girl who had an eating disorder. We all knew it,” Sasha said to Child Mind Institute. “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.”
Further, Sasha revealed the damage of the process: “liking” images that in this case provided dangerous validation.
“It’s like we were saying, ‘Good job,'” Sasha said.
Sasha continued to admit that even though she was aware of the unhealthy reason her friend looked like that, she still felt jealous of her, revealing the psychological obsession that follows this phenomenon.
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.
Research by the Center on Gender Equity and Health reveals a study using data from Reddit from 2011 to 2018 that examined the “manosphere,” which the GEH describes as a “a term used to refer to a group of loosely incorporated websites and social media communities which typically involve men discussing their frustrations and desires along with a strong expression of hostility toward women and feminism.”
The study found alarmingly high and increasing patterns of misogynistic content as well as violent attitudes in these forums.” Another GEH study shows that 25% of women worldwide and 33% of women in the United States. have first hand experience with either abuse or harassment within social media. This dehumanizing attitude produces negative psychological consequences for women who will subsequently shy away from posting anything that could trigger such 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 objectification by confidently and unapologetically posting themselves in whatever they want, creating a media movement against this belittlement. 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 Burke is just one way the media has contributed to solidarity and support among women and their shared experiences. This feminist energy has subsequently produced results, one being Victoria Secret’s change to their “perfect body slogan” that glorified tall, thin, white models that contributed to the dim-sighted body image previously mentioned. 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 fight backlash.