Body talk: managing social media perceptions of teen girls


Josephine Brewer

Sophomore Kalynn Kaahanui-Kapu scrolls through Instagram during her free time.

By Jojo Brewer
Staff Writer

Staring in the mirror of the school bathroom, an adolescent girl wonders if she looks okay. The thought of being judged is enough to make her want to hide at home.

There are many factors that contribute to how women see themselves, such as exposure to idealized bodies through social media, glamor magazines or things said in personal relationships.

Social media has had many harmful and negative effects on everyone all over the world.

According to the National Organization for Women, 53% of 13-year-old American girls are “unhappy with their bodies.” By the time girls reach 17, that number has risen to 78%.

An article written by The New York Times about leaked Facebook documents shows that the company knows the negative effect it has on the body image of youth.

The article says “The documents detail that roughly a third of teenage girls in a survey who already felt bad about their bodies said Instagram made them feel worse.”

The research supports the idea that social media has an effect on the way people feel about themselves.

When people post a photo of themselves onto Instagram, Facebook or any other social media platform, people often leave comments. Friends, classmates and even strangers will leave various replies like ‘So pretty!’ or ‘Your outfit looks great!’

Sophomore Skye Choi talks about what kinds of feelings she has after reading through all the comments on her social media posts.

“It’s really validating and I feel better about myself. I always think it’s going to last but it doesn’t, it’s very temporary,” said Choi.

While someone may be having negative thoughts about themself, that doesn’t mean everyone around them is thinking that as well.

“You’re your own worst enemy. You are the most self-critical and think about how you look and how you’re presented to others way more than anyone else does,” said Choi.

Hawaii Center for Children & Families counselor Rachael Brewer says that one of the reasons teenage girls are more self-conscious is due to their frequent use of social media.

“Once they enter junior high school and high school, that’s when their mindset changes. I think it has a lot to do with the more access they have to social media, or that’s when they start going through changes. So then they’re self conscious, and they start comparing themselves to other people,” Brewer said.

Girls comparing themselves and their bodies to other young women online can be very harmful to their mental health.

Body neutrality is a philosophy to try and live without being abundantly positive or negative about your body.

Senior Gabi Turnbull believes body positivity is necessary and important, but chooses to practice body neutrality instead because it is better suited for her.

“Personally, I try to be more body neutral. I just think it’s healthier for me and my mental health, and I think it’s helpful, for others, too. When people aren’t pushing any specific agenda, it’s just like an understanding,” said Turnbull.

Body neutrality differs from body positivity because it doesn’t involve positive self-love talk. Practicing body neutrality is thinking about how someone’s legs let them walk from place to place instead of thinking about how nice their legs look in an outfit.

Remaining positive about oneself can be difficult for some, which is why learning to practice the philosophy of body neutrality, accepting your body as it is and owningin its capabilities, is a healthy alternative.

“Our bodies serve a purpose and that’s all they really have to do,” said Turnbull.

Brands like Brandy Melville can have an effect on the mindset of young girls. Brandy Melville is a “one size fits all” clothing brand. Most of their clothing fits a size small or extra small. Their clothing that would fit a size medium or large is labeled as “oversized”.

When brands label their clothing with this verbiage, it can lead youth to believe that all bodies should be a certain size and fit a certain standard to be worthy of others approval.

“I think a lot of people just see what’s on the surface. Everyone is shallow, as little as they’d like to admit it. You know, a lot of people, including myself, think what I look like and how people perceive me is equivalent to what I’m worth, and it’s unfortunate, but it’s something that can be changed,” Choi said.

Turnbull says how we look doesn’t matter as much as we think it does.

Saying that may not make a difference in some people’s thinking, but it is important to mention.

“It’s the least important thing about you,” said Turnbull.