Social Media Makes You Feel Worse about Your Body than the Swimsuit Issue

February 5th 2015

Jessica Glassberg

As I watched this recent Buzzfeed video, “Women’s Ideal Body Types Throughout History,” my brain went through a whole mess of emotions and reactions:

After wondering how they set the lighting for those white bathing suits to avoid seeing *ahem* anything, then, acknowledging the great diversity of the women in the video, I internalized it all, “Well, looks like I’ve never been the 'ideal' shape in any time period.” 

Why would I do this to myself?

The video presents a situation where we are made to compare women's bodies, literally, one right after the other. By using the word "ideal" in the title, it is setting up a dangerous situation about the unattainable quest for perfection throughout time.

Why this video is dangerous.

Does this mean we shouldn’t showcase different body types for fear of body shaming?


The video’s co-creator, Eugene Lee Yang, mentioned in an email to The Huffington Post that some of the video’s viewers "focused solely on the way the models look and missed the point entirely. Case in point: there are some people who can't get past a woman's image, and there are others who are able to see and think beyond that."

Isn’t a “women’s image” precisely what you are showcasing when you are LITERALLY putting each one on a pedestal?

And unfortunately, it turns out that printing “Women regularly get plastic surgery to achieve their desired look” by the post-modern example actually plants a seed that women SHOULD get plastic surgery so that they CAN achieve this look.

Social media and images of non-celebrity women like the ones out on display in the video, have a profound effect on women according to a recent Glamour Magazine article. Thirty years ago, Glamour asked its readers, “How Do You Feel About Your Body?” and found that over 40 percent were just plain, “unhappy.” The magazine recently surveyed 1,000 women, ages 18 to 40, about their bodies and found that, overall, women feel worse. And the researchers believe social media is heavily to blame.

Social media time up = Self-esteem down.

Sixty-four percent of the women surveyed said that they felt bad about their bodies after looking at pictures on sites like Instagram or Facebook. While a large majority of women understand that the images of celebrities are fairly unattainable and often enhanced/altered, they do judge themselves against people they know and other women who aren’t famous. 

The women recently surveyed divulged that they spend more than two hours a day on social media sites. The data revealed that the women who spent more time online tended to be more self-conscious about their body and felt worse about themselves overall.

Now, are they spending more time online because they are self-conscious or are they self-conscious because they are spending more time online?

As Lara Pence, Psy.D., a body image specialist at the Renfrew Center, explains, we have a tendency to turn our focus onto data that reaffirm our beliefs.

"So if you believe—falsely—that you look worse than everyone else," Pence said. "You could scroll through 100 photos of women, 99 of whom have a body you don't find that attractive. But when you see one with a body you'd die to have, that's the image you're going to zero in on and compare yourself to."

How do we stop body shaming ourselves?

Keep the time you spend online in check. If you find yourself pouring over album upon album of people whose bodies you covet (not like in a creepy, “I’m going to wear it as a suit,” kind of way), try setting a timer and move on. 

To feel better about yourself, Los Angeles clinical psychologist Jessica Zucker, Ph.D. suggests faking it. When you think about your body or look at yourself in the mirror, instead of pointing out your imperfections and letting out a guttural, “ugh,” say something positive. It actually rewires your brain with a new kind of thinking. 

Think about the great qualities you do have that have nothing to do with your body. This may sound like a “but she has a great personality,” cop-out, but Pence swears that it works. 

So, instead of thinking, “Wow, I wish I had the funds to buy myself a thigh gap like the post-modern girl from the Buzzfeed video,” I may think, “Wow, I did some great research for this article that I hope empowers women.”