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Social media: Abstinence can boost self-esteem

Social media: Abstinence can boost self-esteem


, Thursday, 9 May 2024 (14:44 IST)
For many young people on social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, it's hard to escape the beauty ideals and standards that are circulating, and these trends can be dangerous. At the moment, what seems to be "in" are a slim waist, round buttocks, and skinny legs.
Ten years ago, the "thigh gap" was all the rage. This is a space between the inner thighs that remains visible when women stand upright with their feet touching. Also known as "legging legs," its proponents argue that anyone can achieve the look — with enough dieting and exercise.
Though for most women with a healthy body weight it is considered dangerous to aspire to having a thigh gap, not everybody seems aware of this.
"Is a thigh gap healthy?" and, "How to get a thigh gap fast?" are just two of the questions that pop up in a quick Google search. "Tiny," "skinny," and "super slim" waist challenges abound. One consists of ensuring that a waist is so narrow that another person can comfortably wrap their arm around it and drink from a water bottle. 
"What I eat in a day" videos have also become popular, with young people, often women, recording in great detail what they claim is their regular diet on an ordinary day — mostly low-carb and sugar-free.
On the other hand, "body positivity" is another trend, with advocates arguing that people should accept their bodies the way they are. But social media users are unlikely to come across such content unless they actively seek it out, because social media algorithms are guided by users' search results and established viewing preferences.
Self-esteem boosted in a week
Research has consistently shown that social media can have an impact on users' self-esteem. A recent study by York University in the Canadian city of Toronto explored the effects of taking a break from social media for a short period of time. It found that the self-esteem and body images of women who stopped using social networks for just one week were significantly improved.
The researchers divided 66 female students into two groups, one of which continued to consume social media as usual, while the other had to refrain completely. They had all been asked in advance how they felt about their bodies and whether they would like to look like models.
When asked the same questions a week later, the body images of those who had refrained from social media had improved, particularly of those most likely to have internalized thin beauty ideals.
The authors said that it was rare to see such large effect sizes in this area of psychology research. They added that the improvements might be explained not only by the break from social media, but also by the fact the participants presumably replaced social media consumption with healthier behaviors, such as spending time with friends, playing sports, or spending time outdoors.
Use of social media platforms on the rise
Generally, people find it difficult to detach themselves from social media, particularly younger generations. Indeed, the average amount of time people spend on social media platforms has increased over the years.
In January, Meta, the tech giant that operates Facebook and Instagram, said that it would hide "age-inappropriate" content from the accounts of young people, provided they did not lie about their age.
So far, however, regulation attempts have shown little success, and meager compliance from tech companies obliged to enforce them. The EU's Digital Services Act, for example, designed in part to protect minors, requires network operators to delete or hide particularly problematic content, such as the glorification of eating disorders. But a report by the global nonprofit initiative Reset showed that not even 30% of harmful content was deleted when necessary. It even found that the social media platform TikTok tended to delete even less than that. Earlier this year, however, it did shut down the "legginglegs" hashtag.

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