• Clarke Kennedy

Body Dysmorphia and How Social Media Can Affect a Teen’s Self-Image

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

Taking a look at the distorted lens of “reality” fueled by social media.

There is no doubting the fact that social media has had a major impact on the mindset of today’s generation. It can often feel like we spend more of our life on the internet than we do in the “real world.”

Teens in particular put a great deal of importance on their social media presence. TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram provide us with a way to express ourselves and connect with people around the world. However, they also can make us self-conscious about our own lives. Comparing our everyday lives to someone else’s highlight reel will cause us to feel like we don’t measure up. Teens are being overwhelmed with the unrealistic standards of beauty and success they see portrayed in the media. This can have serious detrimental effects on the development of one’s identity and self-esteem.

Body dysmorphia (BDD) can be characterized by many things – repeatedly seeking validation from others, excessive exercise, pursuing unnecessary cosmetic surgery, and having constant negative thoughts surrounding one’s own body. BDD can lead to compulsive behaviours which cause an individual to spend hours everyday obsessing over perceived “flaws” they believe to have.

Having BDD is debilitating as it impacts nearly every aspect of a person’s day-to-day functioning. Believing that our self-worth is determined by external appearance will inevitably lead to intense insecurity. This is an issue which isn’t just limited to one gender – the media’s unrealistic portrayal of “perfection” has an impact on everyone.

Research by the American Psychiatric Association shows that the average onset age of BDD is 12-13.[1] During this stage, adolescences have a fragile image of themselves as they place a great deal of importance on the opinion of their peers. Cyberbullying can cause long-lasting detrimental affects to an adolescence’s self-worth. Additionally, not receiving enough likes and comments on a social media post can make young people feel inferior to their more popular friends.

Finding a Healthy Balance

So how can teens suffering from BDD endure our social media obsessed culture? Setting limits around our social media use can really help. Regularly take note of your screen time on your phone – is social media taking up all your free time? Finding healthy alternative ways to spend our free time can give us a renewed sense of self-confidence. Make a list of new hobbies (preferably not involving social media) you might want to spend more time investing in.

Another important question to ask yourself is – how do I seek validation? Is it through the way I look and dress? Today’s media unfortunately places way too much importance on outward beauty and brings little attention to inward beauty. What really matters is how we treat others. Being focused on giving back to your community and being a productive member of society will help us become less concerned with looking picture-perfect. Vulnerability, kindness, and compassion are all virtues we should be striving for each day.

Lastly, there is help out there for young people suffering from BDD. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a common treatment used to help people with BDD change their distorted view of themselves. CBT works to correct a person’s incorrect beliefs about their bodies and can give them practical coping skills to deal with their compulsions. Look for a trained therapist who has experience working with BDD when seeking therapy. Here is a link with more resources for those suffering from BDD - https://www.ementalhealth.ca/Ontario/Body-Dysmorphic-Disorder/index.php?m=article&ID=8903 .

[1] https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/body-dysmorphic-disorder

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