Froma Harrop: Women Online Must Be Rough, From Teenage Onwards

Froma Harrop

When I was 17, I didn’t eat for three days. Ten books were to be gone – immediately. The famine period squeezed out all other thoughts in my head.

Of course, I lost weight, even though it was mostly water. Of course, I got it back.

What I mean is teenage angst about body image long predates Instagram, with the photo and video sharing app now being blamed for an increase in eating disorders. This makes it difficult to assess the results of a study in which 32% of teenage girls said when they felt bad in their bodies: “Instagram made them feel worse. Instagram is owned by Facebook.

Young women still see dog-eared copies of Teen Vogue and InStyle in their homes. They, too, feature photos of the anorexic stars in bikinis – many digitally enhanced like Instagram allows its users to do. Ask today’s teenage girls if photos of slim model Gigi Hadid make them feel worse about themselves. They might well say yes.

Which begs the question as to exactly how much of an apparent increase in teenage emotional distress has been fostered by Instagram. A lot, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Unlike the hugely popular TikTok, which emphasizes performance, Instagram emphasizes faces, bodies, and lifestyle. This invites waves of “negative social comparison” with friends and acquaintances that contribute to her internal turmoil.

Either way, Facebook is worried about the fierce competition for its Instagram audience. Over 40% of Instagram users are 22 or younger. They have not “aged” until Facebook, now the preserve of the elderly. The report reveals that young adults view Facebook content as “negative, false and misleading.” (Where else did we hear that?)

The problem of teens in social distress via Instagram could be attributed to almost anyone on all social media. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg enjoys talking about the positive mental benefits – connecting with others – that social media offers. But what types of connections do these platforms promote and, more specifically, replace? While social media apps promote superficial relationships, more seriously, they crowd out opportunities for true intimacy.

I know two wonderful women who suffer from severe depression and who doubt themselves. They’re on Facebook all the time, posting their supposedly carefree lives and happy marriages multiple times a day and, in the case of one, flawless children.

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

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

It doesn’t matter what is said in such conversations. It is the sympathetic voice that offers comfort. This is the kind of interaction that can only be done with honest back-and-forths.

Despite my three days without food – and a few subsequent fad diets – I never developed a full-blown eating disorder. If I had been on Instagram, I doubt things would have turned out otherwise.

Anyone on social media, or on a simple email account, can be the victim of bullying and cruel comments, many of which are sent anonymously by cowards. Women are the prime targets of crass talk.

It is a simple fact of the digital age. Teenage girls would be advised to re-evaluate the apps they are using. Meanwhile, any sensitive women who insist on living online need to toughen up. The teenage years would be a good place to start.

Froma Harrop is a union columnist. Follow her on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be contacted by email at: [email protected].


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