Social media’s effects on body image and mental health


Oziel Valdez

Silhouette of a body surrounded by constant pressures that social media makes.

Kids have started getting social media earlier than ever. This raises the question if social media is actually detrimental to their mental and physical health due to starting at a very early age. Sophomore Ellie Peeks reported making her first social media accounts around the age of 11 and sophomore Toby Corriston, around the age of 13. 

Having access to apps such as Instagram and TikTok at early ages can cause kids to form habits such as endless scrolling and comparing themselves to the unrealistic expectations that social media has burned into each of our brains. 

Peeks has struggled with being sucked into the world of social media fairly often.

 “[For me, being sucked into social media is] a real problem. I think it’s really easy to get lost in, just scrolling and it really, really hurts when you get in [to that mode] and you can’t get out. A lot of the times I have to delete my apps, because it gets to the point where it’s addicting, it’s like a car crash and I can’t look away. I have to put away my phone and try to take care of myself instead,” Peeks said. 

Corriston has struggled with spending long periods of time scrolling as well. 

“I’m just on it a little too much,” Corriston said. 

Breaking the cycle of scrolling and focusing her time on self care has become one of Peek’s priorities. Over time she has learned to accept the way she is which has helped her break unhealthy habits. 

“Sometimes I take a bath and do some self care, especially when I feel really bad about myself. I just try to do stuff that isn’t directly related to my phone so I’m not tempted to go back. I’m getting better at not obsessing over it because [I know] I’m a healthy person. I think it comes from a place where you have to be okay with yourself and those things are always going to be there, so it really just depends on your perception of yourself and how you deal with those things,” Peeks said. 

For Corriston, he tries to find distractions, such as sports, to keep him from getting back on his phone. 

“[As far as] being on it too much, [I] just try and find other things to do, it’s hard during COVID to go out and do stuff, but sports coming back will definitely allow me to not be on it so much, especially not checking it as often,” Corriston said. 

Social media is not only addicting, it also has set incredibly high expectations for how people should look. This can especially affect teens who consume much of their information online every day. 

“It’s definitely increased my expectations because there’s so much information out there. It’s certainly upped my expectations of others [as well],” Corriston said. 

In contrast, the body positivity movement that has occurred in recent years has also had a major effect on people including Peeks. 

“[Social media has] helped me change my perception about health and how that relates to somebody’s body and it doesn’t look the same for everybody. Some people are completely healthy and are fat and that’s okay and some people are really skinny and not healthy. It just depends. I think that’s helped me learn that I’m okay and I’m valid and I’m allowed to struggle, but I’m also deserving of being healthy and being happy in my body,” Peeks said.  

Peeks follows several Instagram accounts that have encouraged her on her journey with her mental and physical health. 

“I follow Clara Guillem, @claraandherself, [on Instagram]. She struggled with eating disorders a lot, [but] she’s recovering. She talks about her mental health and she’s in a really healthy, good place [now] and she shares how she’s managed that. I [also] follow Lizzo, @lizzobeeating, and she helps me because I still have those ideas [from] P.E. like that fat people are unhealthy. She reminds me that you can be healthy and be fat and have rolls and that’s okay,” Peeks said. 

From such a young age, specifically in elementary and middle school Health and P.E. classes, the idea that being overweight is unhealthy and being skinny is healthy, is reiterated over and over again. This statement has come to be untrue for Peeks and has actually been detrimental for her. 

“We’re taught from really young, especially in elementary school Health, [that] being fat is unhealthy. There definitely needs to be more representation of different body types [in health class.] I don’t think it’s okay to promote obesity, I don’t think it’s okay to promote any kind of body type. I just think that [we should] promote health and being healthy. I think that the curriculum should be based more on being healthy rather than the number on the scale or how you look in the mirror because that’s something that I’ve struggled with,” Peeks said. “[Also,] when you have more muscle you weigh more. When I started doing dance, I had a really negative body image and I [thought dance] was going to help me lose weight. I would weigh myself and I would [wonder] why I gained weight, but girl, it’s because you made muscle. I just think that it’s important to not base everything on what will make you fat and what will make you skinny. That’s not okay to teach kindergarteners and middle schoolers and even high schoolers.”

Not only is this idea reiterated in health class, but also in the media we consume as little kids. Stores such as Justice, a store for young girls, use primarily thin girls as their models. This could teach young girls that they will only look good in those clothes if they have that body type. 

“I think body positivity is for everybody and I think that a lot of people think it’s exclusive to people who fit a certain [standard]. I have a very average body type and I didn’t see myself represented a lot because when I was a kid [I mainly saw] Justice girls and they are so small,” Peeks said. 

Social media standards overall have been detrimental for Peeks growing up. 

“There’s a specific way that things are supposed to be on [social media] and there’s a certain algorithm, if you don’t fit those standards then [it] just doesn’t work out for you. A lot of the things that go viral [that are] related to fashion, certain body types are displayed a lot and they’re doing better at that, but I think that it’s hard to see those kinds of things, especially from a young age when you’re still growing and your weight fluctuates. I think [social media has] definitely had a negative impact on me for the most part. On TikTok I feel like a lot more people are being body positive and sharing their bodies more openly with everybody, which can be scary, but also, it’s really nice to see people with my body type represented and people with different body types,” Peeks said. 

Some TikTok influencers have dedicated their platform to body positivity. The app overall has become a sort of safe place for those struggling with the topic. It has become a place to tell their story which has impacted Peeks in the best way possible. 

“TikTok is a really good place for people to put themselves out there and show that [different bodies] are a normal thing and that’s okay. I think that that’s really helped me because I’ve definitely been exposed to a lot more different body types and it’s really changed my perspective. Especially Lizzo, [who also has TikTok], I love her. She is fat and she is healthy. I think that that really helped me see that just because you’re fat doesn’t mean that you’re unhealthy [and] just because you’re fat doesn’t mean that you’re not trying. You don’t owe anybody anything, you just owe it to yourself to be healthy and be who you want to be,” Peeks said. 

However, there is still negativity in the comment sections of those types of videos. Peeks believes sharing your body like that, with the intention of helping others become more confident and love themselves more, is an incredibly brave thing to do and seeing negative comments is frustrating. 

“I think that people in [TikTok] comments, a lot of the time they’re like, ‘This isn’t for you, we didn’t do this for you’ and it’s like, we didn’t do this for what, like this is for everybody. If someone is confidently showing themselves because they think it’s a way for them to express themselves, that’s amazing. It makes me mad when people are in those comments trying to bring them down like saying that this isn’t for you or like that they shouldn’t be doing this,” Peeks said. 

The body positivity movement has also brought about a stigma of what types of bodies society is okay being positive about. Peeks believes everybody deserves to be a part of the movement. 

“Body positivity is for everybody, but you shouldn’t be silencing other people because it means something different to everybody. You shouldn’t say body positivity is only for this kind of person because it’s not, it’s for everybody. Be considerate with how you do that because a lot of health influencers who are for body positivity, promote diets and it’s great to be healthy but you need to be considerate,” Peeks said. 

Being considerate also includes understanding that everybody struggles, both guys and girls. Within the body positivity movement, often the focus has been more on girls than guys. However, guys have just as many expectations placed on them. 

“I feel like [body positivity for guys is] probably not taken as seriously, especially within the community of guys, I feel like there’s less of that now [because of COVID] and you’re not worried about posting all these pictures and outfits you’re wearing. There’s still quite a bit of pressure outside of that [though],” Corriston said. 

Peeks agrees that it’s not taken as seriously, even though it should be. 

“I don’t think it’s taken as seriously, I don’t think there’s a lot of body positivity representation for men or at least I haven’t seen it. I think toxic masculinity has a big role to play in that, like men have to be strong, men have to be lean and tough. I think that that’s just as damaging as telling a woman that she needs to be skinny and curvy. Plenty of men have eating disorders, plenty of men struggle every day. I think it’s probably just as bad for them and I feel really sorry for them,” Peeks said. 

Corriston shared some advice for those struggling with comparison and social media expectations. 

“It’s different for everybody, but definitely just be yourself, especially during COVID, nobody cares if you’re not having all these cool pictures, just do you and don’t worry about posting every single thing. Just live in the moment because we are living in groundbreaking times right now,” Corriston said. 

Peeks also shared advice surrounding weight gain in quarantine and learning how to love yourself even if you’re uncomfortable with that. 

“Sometimes I just need to hear that it’s fine. Things change and over quarantine, I gained a lot of weight and that’s okay. Things are changing, you have to give yourself a break. This is so cheesy, but you’re good the way that you are and as long as you’re not destroying your body, you’re good. Just treat your body nicely. Just be nice to it,” Peeks said.