Having had the pleasure of spending more time with my young folk over the summer months, it was quite revealing to me how pervasive social media is in their lives. I think almost everyone I know (apart from my father!) uses social media to some degree but young people tend to use multiple platforms in many ways, to not only contact their friends and keep up to date with the news but also, as we all tend to do, mindlessly scroll through endless reels and posts.
There have been some studies which have shown that social media use is linked to dissatisfaction with one’s own body image, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and self harm. The use of cosmetic dermatology has also increased, more so since the pandemic and the incidence of a condition we sometimes see called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is also rising.
[Zeeni N, Doumit R, Abi Kharma J, Sanchez-Ruiz M-J. Media, technology use, and attitudes: associations with physical and mental well-being in youth with implications for evidence-based practice. Worldviews Evid Based Nurs. 2018; 15(4): 304- 312. doi:10.1111/wvn.12298]
[Barry CT, Sidoti CL, Briggs SM, Reiter SR, Lindsey RA. Adolescent social media use and mental health from adolescent and parent perspectives. J Adolesc. 2017; 61: 1- 11. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2017.08.005]
At home, we constantly talk about the use of devices and social media at home. It’s difficult, as virtually everyone we know uses a device of some sort and social media to communicate and even things such as the school timetable and homework are communicated to the children via their own devices.
It was therefore interesting to read an article in the journal Pediatric Dermatology about an interactive workshop aimed at adolescents which worked on social media awareness and self confidence.
[Mumber HE, Rashid S, Carey G et al. Impact of a Comfortable in our Skin interactive workshop on social media awareness and self-confidence in adolescents.
Who are Comfortable in Our Skin (CIOS)?
They are a new, non-profit organisation which provides peer support for children and young adults with the aim to promote self-compassion. They even have their own Instagram page @ComfortableInOurSkin.
What did the workshop involve?
It was a small study involving 24 students aged 15-18 years from the Boston, USA area. The workshop was a 2-hour interactive workshop led by medical and student members of CIOS. They covered areas such as the effect of social media on body image, celebrity photo-editing, the widespread differences in appearances and tips for healthy social media behaviours.
The study participants were questioned before and after the workshop on opinions about social media and about their body happiness scores and they were then surveyed again by email 6 weeks after the workshop.
What did they find?
Snapchat and Instagram were the most commonly used platforms. The study participants reported photo-editing and anxiety about the number of likes their posts receive. Around half reported spending three hours or more per day on social media.
Before the workshop, 90% of those with a self-reported skin condition spent more than 1 hour a day thinking about something they dislike about their body, compared to 60% in those with no self-reported skin condition.
72% of those with a self-reported skin condition said they had problems with family, friends etc because of the way they worry about how they look and this compared to only 23% in those without a self-reported skin condition.
63% of the former frequently wished they could change something about their appearance compared to 23% of the latter group.
And after the workshop?
There was a subtle change after the workshop.
More reported they were happy with their body, agreed they should cut back on social media use and felt confident in their ability to do so.
After the workshop, less people felt like they would like to look more like a social media model and less felt that people on social media made them feel less confident about their appearance.
Unfortunately, this effect did seem to drop slightly at the 6 week follow up survey.
Social media has not been proven to cause Body Dysmorphic disorder (BDD) but systematic reviews of the health implications of social media platforms has shown that social media influencers negatively affect users’ self esteem.
[Tiggemann M, Zaccardo M. “Exercise to be fit, not skinny”: the effect of fitspiration imagery on women’s body image. Body Image. 2015; 15: 61- 67. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2015.06.003]
[Brown Z, Tiggemann M. Attractive celebrity and peer images on Instagram: effect on women’s mood and body image. Body Image. 2016; 19: 37- 43. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2016.08.007]
Even though this was a small study and its results did not reach statistical significance, it has shown that discussion about the realities of social media and its impact on users can reduce the negative effects of social media.
Food for thought!
Dr Sandy Flann, Consultant Dermatologist.