Eating disorders and low self-esteem are just two of the problems that have been linked to media exposure for adolescent girls. We often see ourselves not in light of our own strengths and attributes, but in light of the perceived strengths and attributes of others. While counselors and psychotherapists do treat a number of males and younger children for eating disorders, it’s still true that adolescent females are particularly vulnerable to low self-image based on perceived appearance expectations.
Much of the focus around mental health, body image, and self-esteem for young females places blame on the media. Airbrushed photos, dangerously underweight models, and celebrities who brazenly participate in harmful behavior create an environment that glorifies dangerous and unhealthy choices, so the understanding goes. But researchers from the University of Haifa in Israel have identified a media-age influence that may be even more harmful to girls’ psyche than the media itself: Facebook. The more time adolescent girls spend on Facebook, the greater their chances of developing various eating disorders and negative body image. Researchers found similar trends in television, movies, and fashion media, but none as pronounced as Facebook.
This isn’t the first study to find that generous Facebook use corresponds with lower sense of life-satisfaction, but it is the first to focus specifically on body image issues severe enough to require therapy. Social networking has also been found to exacerbate depression and anxiety in teens.
However, it’s not just comparing ourselves to others that influences how we measure self-worth. How others look at us—literally—can actually influence how we perform on tests. In a recently-published study, women who were subjected to “the objectifying gaze” from men did worse on math tests after being ogled. Being singled out for good looks may actually trigger girls to place more value on their looks and underperform academically as a result, the researchers say.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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