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Online woman have must be tough, starting in their teens

Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop

When I was, like, 17, I didn’t eat for three solid days. Ten pounds had to go — immediately. The period of starvation crowded out every other thought in my head. Of course, I lost weight, though it was mostly water. Of course, I gained it back.

My point is that teenage girls’ angst over body image long preceded Instagram, the photo- and video-sharing app now being blamed for a spike in eating disorders. So it’s hard to assess findings in a study in which 32% of teen girls said when they felt bad about their bodies, “Instagram made them feel worse.” Instagram is owned by Facebook.

Young women still see dog-eared copies of Teen Vogue and InStyle at their hair place. They, too, feature pictures of the anorexic stars in bikinis — many digitally touched up as Instagram lets its users do. Ask today’s teen girls whether photos of rake-thin model Gigi Hadid make them feel worse about their bodies. They might well say yes.

Which leads one to wonder exactly how much an apparent rise in teenage girls’ emotional distress has been fostered by Instagram. A lot, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Unlike the wildly popular Tik-Tok, which emphasizes performance, Instagram puts the focus on faces, bodies, and lifestyle. That invites waves of “negative social comparison” with friends and acquaintances contributing to one’s internal turmoil.

In any event, Facebook is worried about the fierce competition for its Instagram audience. Over 40% of Instagram users are 22 or younger. They haven’t been “aging” up to Facebook, now the province of older people. The report finds that young adults consider Facebook’s content as “negative, fake and misleading.” (Where else have we heard that?)

The problem of teens suffering social distress via Instagram could be assigned to most everyone on any social media. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg likes to talk about the positive mental benefits — the connecting with others — that social media offers. But what kind of connections are these platforms promoting and, more to the point, replacing? While social media apps promote shallow relationships, more seriously, they crowd out opportunities for real intimacy.

I know two wonderful women pained by serious depression and racked by self-doubt. They’re on Facebook all the time, posting several times a day about their allegedly carefree lives and happy marriages and, in the case of one, flawless children.

I love them both but know they are hiding their realities. All their “friends” see, however, is the phony facade, and then they wonder why they, too, aren’t having a grand time.

When these women and I speak one on one, it’s an entirely different conversation. We share our fears and often laugh about them. Rather than respond to a Facebook post with a fake-sweet comment (“Looks like you’re having so much fun”), a real friend hearing about an insecurity might respond (“I know how you feel”).

It almost doesn’t matter what is said in such conversations. It’s the sympathetic voice that offers comfort. This is the kind of interaction possible only with honest back-and-forth.

Despite my three foodless days — and some subsequent fad diets — I never developed a full-blown eating disorder. Had I been on Instagram, I doubt things would have gone otherwise.

Anyone on social media, or a simple email account, can be subjected to bullying and cruel comments, many of them anonymously sent by cowards. Women are favored targets for crude remarks.

That’s a simple given of the digital age. Teenage girls would be advised to reassess what apps they use. Meanwhile, all sensitive women who insist on living online must toughen up. Adolescence would be the right place to start.

Follow Froma be reached at fharrop@gmail.com.

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