Social Media’s Beauty Standards Negatively Impact Women’s Health

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Photo courtesy of The U.S. Sun.

Kim Kardashian wears a skin-tight dress to accentuate her curves and small waist at the 2019 Met Gala.

As cosmetic surgery trends continue to blow up on social media, experts at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi weigh in on the negative psychological effects these beauty standards pose to young women. 

According to Dr. Theresa Sharpe, University Counseling Center Director at TAMU-CC and Licensed Psychologist, the combination of the normalization of cosmetic procedures and photoshopped images of influencers has taken a toll on women’s mental health. 

“For some women, repeated exposure to photoshopped images may lead to self-loathing, negative body image, depressed or anxious mood, and/or feeling self-conscious about how they look,” Dr. Sharpe said. 

Professor of Psychology, Dr. Lauren Denver-Potter believes that the perfection portrayed on social media can impact the way people feel about themselves. 

“Many studies show how social media negatively impacts mental health. As humans, we typically act and react based on emotions without taking a moment to activate the “thinking” part of our brain. When we are presented with images of perfection on social media, the reactive “emotional” part of our brain compares ourselves with those images. We should make more effort to use the logical part of our brains to approach social media with the understanding that the perfection seen online is often the result of clever filters and photoshopped images,” Dr. Denver-Potter said.

Although women throughout history may have felt pressured to meet society’s beauty standards, social media has heightened this pressure for women in today’s society, according to A. Hope Gibson, a second-year psychology graduate student. 

“Editing apps allow anyone to edit themselves to perfection. When women see their peers seemingly achieve extreme beauty standards on social media, their mental health and body image suffer as these ridiculous standards become normalized. Such normalizations contribute to unhealthy, often extreme weight control behaviors,” Gibson said.

With the launch of the Instagram app in 2010 and the rise in fame of Kim Kardashian, there was a 51% increase in breast augmentations, buttock augmentations, and buttock lifts in comparison to other cosmetic procedures. This is according to a study published by Haverford College in 2018. Moreover, Brazilian butt lift (BBL) procedures increased by 77.6% between 2015 and 2020. According to the Aesthetic Society, there were a total of 40,320 buttock augmentations in the U.S. in 2020 alone. 

The popularity of cosmetic procedures continues to rise despite associated health risks. According to Healthline, common complications from plastic surgery include: hematoma, seroma, nerve damage, pulmonary embolism, and organ damage. The BBL has the highest mortality rate in plastic surgery as 1 in 3,000 patients die from the procedure. Additionally, breast implants have posed serious health risks. In 2021, the FDA strengthened safety requirements for breast implants after reported implant-related deaths and health issues. The FDA reported that as of January 5, 2020, the agency received a total of 733 reports of breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma.

 Although the media glorifies unrealistic beauty standards, women do not have to conform to them, in Dr. Sharpe’s opinion. “It’s important to question the narrow definition of beauty that the media praises. True beauty encompasses more than our physical bodies” Dr. Sharpe said.