Images of stick-thin girls in television, movies and fashion magazines have been proven time and again to cause low self-esteem in young women. And we can now add the Internet to the long list of influences that contribute to poor body image in teen and pre-teen girls. It makes sense, considering that teen girls can consume a lot of the same media online that they would through the traditional mediums.
The NetGirls Project set out to find just how damaging a prolonged exposure to the Internet can be on a young girl's view of herself, and released its findings last week.
The study found, "a worrying correlation between excessive media use, particularly social media and the Internet, and lower self-esteem and body-esteem, and higher
The study surveyed 1,000 girls between the ages of 12 and 16. Forty percent of those girls demonstrated a fear of gaining weight and a belief that their bodies weren't good enough.
Ninety-six percent of the girls have access to the Internet at home and on the whole, girls average about 3.5 hours online daily.
One of the factors contributing to the girls' poor body image may be the advertisements run on the various popular social networking sites, the researchers said. Ads on sites for young girls are usually "reinforcing the importance of beauty and thinness," Dr Slater told MedicalDaily.com.
The advertisements, though, might be only the tip of the iceberg. In February, Time's Healthland blog reported on a disturbing trend where teen girls make YouTube videos asking for viewers to validate their appearance. The result--crushingly vicious commentary by trolls--could be nothing but bad for young girls' self-esteem.
This writer had a similar experience at 28, when photos of me from a friend's college photography project were taken by a stranger and reposted to an online forum. No part of me was left unscrutinized, my teeth, my nose, my weight. I was deemed a genetic punchline by hundreds of anonymous Internet commenters. It's one thing to have lingering insecurities about our appearance, but very few of us actually get them validated by an audience. That was traumatizing enough for my body image issues at 28. I can't imagine enduring it at 14.
Of course, there's also the possibility that the Internet is bad for everyone, regardless of age and gender. Earlier this month, Mashable.com reported on a study that found that social media use contributes to higher levels of anxiety and lower self-esteem among users.
Apparently, the Internet is a veritable petri dish of self-loathing and discontent at any age. And when the users are already facing the physical and emotional awkwardness and changes that young teens are, watch out.