Self-Image in the Selfie Age

Social media is an inextricable part of adolescence, but time spent scrolling through filtered or edited photos—or altering their own images—can distort teenagers’ views of their appearance and harm their self-esteem.

Increasingly, researchers are finding evidence of a link between self-edited photos on social media platforms and negative body image among adolescents, according to Allison Schneider, MD, FAAP, a Pediatrician at Prevea Health. Photos posted online may contain unrealistic depictions of beauty—it can be difficult or impossible for young viewers to determine whether such images have been altered—that can make teens fixate on parts of their bodies they feel are less attractive by comparison.

“Online platforms have made it much easier to participate in body shaming because they remove the barrier of making negative statements face-to-face,” Dr. Schneider says. “Most commonly, we see negative comments posted about photos or users sharing these photos on their own sites to promote further shaming.”

Body shaming online may lead to depression, anxiety, or eating disorders that can affect teens for years.

Promoting Body Positivity

You can play an important role in helping your child develop a positive body image by:

  • Allowing experimentation with different clothes, accessories, or hair styles
  • Encouraging your child to adopt healthy behaviors rather than commenting on weight or appearance
  • Intervening if your child is being bullied
  • Keeping track of your child’s social media use (see “Signs of Social (Media) Unrest”) and watching for signs of body shaming online
  • Listening to and taking your child’s concerns seriously
  • Talking positively about and caring for your body to model a healthy self-image

Signs of Social (Media) Unrest

It is important to stay plugged into your children’s digital life by knowing what programs and apps they use and who they interact with online, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). One way to encourage healthy behavior is to develop a family media use plan, which the AAP recommends as a way to set ground rules for and place limits on electronics use.

How can you tell when your child’s interactions with social media morph into unhealthy use? Look for comments or actions that seem out of character.

“A child who starts to use social media with increased frequency, becomes upset when unable to access social media, or seems to show emotions closely tied to social media posts or interactions may be developing unhealthy use,” says Allison Schneider, MD,

FAAP, a Pediatrician at Prevea Health. “Other indications of potential body shaming or body dissatisfaction include focusing on aspects of personal appearance, voicing self-criticisms, or making negative comparisons to others.”

To find a pediatrician who can help your child deal with body shaming or other issues stemming from unhealthy social media use, visit HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital or HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital.

You may also be interested in “Keep Social Media a Safe Place for Your Child.”