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Social Media and The Perception of Our Bodies

I used to think the worst thing that I could be was fat. 

I’m not going to blame my bad habits that are dying hard on growing up in the digital age, thrust into the world of social media that ripped up the preexisting tracks of societal beauty standards, and forged the tan, skinny-waisted, curvy ideals, but it certainly didn’t help. Social media and influencer culture had all provided me with a plethora of unattainable beauty and that ate me up inside and sparked a chain reaction of negative thinking and destructive habits within me. Again, I’m not going to point fingers as if insecurity isn’t the only natural for my young female brain, but I’ll acknowledge how they fanned the flames of my body dysmorphia.

In a way, it almost seemed like my lack of internet culture as I entered high school ended up being one of the hardest blows. There I was, acne-faced, flat chested, awkward, and hyperconscious of how the current teenage trends seemed to have left me in the dust. It’s an unspoken truth that such a heavy social-digital presence makes children grow up faster, and highschool realized that principle for me. I felt sheltered and insecure not only about what I looked like, but who I was. I simply felt ages behind my classmates who seemed to have it all figured out. 

So, I tried to catch up. I spent hours a day on Instagram searching for exactly what to look like, and consequently, I was searching for problems. It seemed like everything I saw was precisely what I wasn’t: perfectly dressed, perfectly wealthy, thin, tan, white teeth, curvy in all the right places, and nowhere else. I felt like something was wrong with my body because I looked at the girls on the screen, I looked at myself, and they weren’t the same. It meant that somewhere in the time leading up to that point, I had gone wrong. And, looking retrospectively, I can’t even imagine what the experience was like for teens of color who saw almost exclusively white creators being amplified by these platforms as the idea of beauty— and when they weren’t white, they were light-skinned with eurocentric features.

This continued with increasing intensity for the rest of my freshman year. The idea I was fat hit me like a truck and my coping mechanism was projecting onto girls from the Internet. I won’t go into great detail, but I began to hate myself. I was emotional and vulnerable and failed to see things analytically, but now that I can, two things I failed to question at that time are: Why did I let stupid feelings from the internet affect me like that? I wasn’t even fat, but even if I was, why did it matter? It’s hard to tell now, but I think I just desperately wanted to fit in somewhere, and in my head, my body was making that hard. I let my insecurities decide what I thought, so subconsciously, fat was a bad thing to be.

Growing up in this generation, we experience a new sense of self-consciousness brought by the importance of an online presence. It’s hard to acknowledge the problems that social media bring us because we are loyal to it out of necessity. Without it, it’s hard to stay in contact with friends in ways that aren’t outdated, and it’s hard to feel like you aren’t missing out. But it’s even harder to stay on social media while healing from the pain it brought you.

 Overcoming negative, overcritical self-perception and poor body image takes separation from its root cause. While that may not be social media as a whole, it was the corner of the Internet in which my self-hatred had found a home. Following thinspiration ‘thinspo’ accounts to influencers that made me feel bad about myself; I created an environment that was hostile to my mental health. As it began to change the way I thought about myself, I noticed it also changed the way I thought about others. Crippling insecurity manifested itself in degrading thoughts of other girls because I was frantically searching for the worth. Years later, I can understand how judgemental and negative this kind of mass media consumption made me. 

While there’s no linear, foolproof solution to change the way it makes us think, what’s first critical to understand is that social media isn’t real life. In no way is my Instagram— or anyone’s for that matter— an accurate reflection of the ups and downs, problems, and struggles of my life. Everything is posed, filtered, set up to give everyone the very best impression of ourselves, consciously or subconsciously. The same goes not only for our lives but with our personalities and bodies. I didn’t know that then, and it made me feel too different to be beautiful. 

I took myself too seriously, made myself grow up too fast, and faced the consequences. I’m still learning how to embrace everything that I thought made me stick out like a sore thumb, un-learning to be quick to criticize and distancing myself from people and things that never served me. I’m also still realizing how little social media matters in the grand scheme of things, how to truly detach from the stress it gives me, and how unlimited access to the Internet has the potential to be destructive.

The perspective my experiences have granted me also forced me to realize that growth comes with time in a natural course. I’ve learned to be patient with myself and allow the changes to happen as they come. But for now, I can support others in the way I wish I was, create boundaries in my relationship with the internet, and acknowledge that social media isn’t evil, but the ways we use it can be. It’s easy to get caught up in wishing you were someone else. - Caroline Goodsell

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