The aim of this paper is to explore and discuss social media and the mental health of adolescents. The adverse effects of social media have been found to be more detrimental to females as opposed to the male population. In particular, it will look at the various ways that the internet, through social media has been a force that perpetuates inequalities. Current research highlights that there is a connection between increased use of social media and poor mental health among users. Adolescents or young adults are the most active users of social media and have a high risk of developing mental health complications. This paper will apply an array of different sources to determine the connection and the role of the internet in perpetuating the inequalities across gender and sexuality.
Social media platforms have evolved over time and become essential aspects of our current society. The use of social media has heightened over the past years and is now regarded as a regular aspect of modern human interaction. Among the common and most used networking social networking sites include; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Facebook is the most used platform and has an incredibly engaged and active audience, with about 63% of its users visiting the site at least once each day and about 40% making multiple visits within a single day (Gjylbegaj & Jararaa, 2018). While social media is open to everyone, young people are the most active of the total users with a growing online demographic over the past years. Human beings are social creatures, and thus, we require companionship from others to push on in life. Further, our connections have a significant impact on our interpersonal communication, happiness, and mental health, which can be positive or negative. Being socially connected may reduce our anxiety, stress, depression, enhance self-worth, and provide joy and comfort but social media’s use also present detrimental effects (Hou et al., 2019).
Gender and Sexuality
The impact of social or mass media on the perceptions of women regarding their appearance is a topic that has received extensive research in sociological and psychological literature over the past years (Bessenoff, 2006). In this regard, social media entails communication channels or technologies through which messages can be sent to a large number of people. Through the internet, it often entails various forms such as online magazines, radio, film, newspapers, and television. However, social media is the most popular among young people. In a majority of industrialized societies, the reception of social media messages is almost unavoidable especially because people spend about 11 hours daily consuming the various forms of social media (Short, 2013). The statistic shows that a majority of people stay online using social media for prolonged periods.
As explained by the sociocultural theory, social media is among the sources through which women and girls learn about idealized standards of beauty including ideals for body shape, weight and general physical attractiveness (Thompson, 2004). Another theoretical approach posited by communication theorists asserts that continued exposure to social media content leads to the acceptance of media depictions as reality and ideal. Thus, a majority of women will aim to conform whereby unsuccessful attempts make them dissatisfied of their bodies leading to stress, depression and low self-esteem. Further, according to empirical literature, messages spread on social media regarding the appearance of females have a strong influence on their dissatisfaction often leading to depression and low self-esteem (Groesz et al, 2002). The aspect of body image and its pervasiveness is derived from a form of appearance culture, which upholds and values cultural standards of models as the ideal standards of beauty. On social media platforms, movie stars, celebrities as well as supermodels dominate ads or commercials and often highlight ideals of weight and beauty, which are unrealistic.
Consequently, the depictions are normalized and considered desirable by women and girls which results to the perpetuation of inequalities. Also, the continuous exposure to these images pressures females to conform to them as ideal. Also, a meta-analytic review done by Grabe et al (2008) found out that data from various sources correlating to the sociocultural view suggests that social media adversely impacts the body image as well as appearance of women. The result is body dissatisfaction, which presents a critical problem on the mental as well as physical health of women and girls (Chou & Edge, 2012). Additionally, the aspect of body dissatisfaction due to the influence of social media is linked to higher depression levels and low self-esteem (Jones et al., 2004). A much recent study provided results with proved consistent with the other research findings on media by revealing that the internet represented an internalization of the thin body ideal.
In addition, the internet proved as a source for weight dissatisfaction as well as motivation for females to regard thinness. The two researchers assessed different forms of online activities and found significant results in relation to the social media sites. For example, adolescent girls that spent more time on Facebook reported dissatisfaction with their bodies and higher internalization of the thin body ideal as compared to their peers who spent less time online on the site as well as other social media platforms. Since young women have been identified as being significantly more vulnerable to the social media effects especially on body image, it is important to consider the potential adverse effects of exposure to social networking platforms (Jones, 2004). The internalization of the thin body as seen on social media platforms presents an important factor that can be applied to understand how social media exposure leads to self-directed consequences that affect female’s negatively. However, the research followed a cross-sectional design and the overall studies within this area are in an infancy stage. Thus, there was no information regarding a potential cause-effect relationship on the adverse outcomes and use of social media. However, the data discussed suggests that there is a tendency of making social comparisons in terms of appearance and attraction ideals by individuals who participate on forms of social media. Also, the impact is experienced most by females as compared to males.
The inequalities and adverse outcomes that the internet poses on the users has led to numerous efforts to ensure forms of regulation and control of the platforms. Ensuring the well-being of children and vulnerable individuals is a fundamental principle that policy makers have aimed to achieve (Picard & Pickard, 2017). In particular, the major points of concern include the depiction of sexual content, violence, disturbing topics, use of drugs and profanity (Picard & Pickard, 2017). The various mechanisms of protection vary depending on the online platform, efforts by families to control consumption and the willingness of the government to ensure regulation. The issues involved in media use that associate with vulnerable groups such as adolescent girls and women focus on their well-being and how they may be disturbed by the content. In relation to our topic, young girls and women are unduly manipulated by the marketing and advertising messages (Picard & Pickard, 2017). Protection and regulation can also be done to curb incitement to racial violence or hatred, which protects individuals against inflammatory forms of expression such as hate speech, harassment, discrimination, persecution and hostility online.
In conclusion, this research shows how the potential harmful effects of social media present profound impacts on adolescents, girls and women. Some of the mental health issues are long-term and can potentially affect an individual throughout the course of their lifespan. The reviews, studies and theories presented offer an insight into the significant associations between the internet, social media, mental health, gender and sexuality. Thus, given the complex nature of this connection, it is important to ensure that effective forms of regulation and control on the use of the internet are implemented.
Bessenoff, G. R. (2006). Can the Media Affect Us? Social Comparison, Self-Discrepancy, and the Thin Ideal. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30(3), 239–251. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.2006.00292.x
Gjylbegaj, V., & Jararaa, O. (2018). The effects of social media on youth’s interpersonal communication in UAE. International E-Journal of Advances in Social Sciences, 4(10), 23-29. doi: 10.15655/mw/2019/v10i2/49632
Grabe, S., Hyde, J. S., & Ward, M. L. (2008). The role of the media in body image concerns among women: A meta-analysis of experimental and correlational studies. Psychological Bulletin, 134(4), 460-476.
Groesz, L. M., Levine, M. P., & Murnen, S. K. (2002). The effect of experimental presentation of thin media images on body satisfaction: A meta-analytic review. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 31, 1-16.
Hou, Y., Xiong, D., Jiang, T., Song, L., & Wang, Q. (2019). Social Media Addiction: Its Impact, Mediation, and Intervention. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 13(1). doi: 10.5817/CP2019-1-4.
Jones, Diane. (2001). Social Comparison and Body Image: Attractiveness Comparisons to Models and Peers among Adolescent Girls and Boys. Sex Roles. 45. 645-664. doi: 10.1023/A:1014815725852.
Ono, E., Nozawa, T., Ogata, T., Motohashi, M., Higo, N., Kobayashi, T., … & Miyake, Y. (2011, December). Relationship between Social Interaction and Mental Health. In 2011 IEEE/SICE International Symposium on System Integration (SII) (pp. 246-249). IEEE. doi: 10.1109/SII.2011.6147454.
Picard, R., & Pickard, V. (2017). Essential principles for contemporary media and communications policymaking.
Short, J. E. (2013). How much media? 2013 report on American consumers. Retrieved from http://classic.marshall.usc.edu/assets/161/25995.pdf
Thompson, J. K. (2004). The (mis)measurement of body image. Body Image: An International Journal of Research, 1, 7-14.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.