For this issue of EmpowerGen, we asked Athena Sapourn, a 17-year-old Senior in Boulder, who is aspiring to study child psychology, to write about something she felt was important to discuss when it comes to her generation.  She settled on Social Media, its impact on teen girls, and what we can do to understand and help.  Summer was also particularly interested in this topic and helped edit the article.

Below is Athena’s article:

The Facade of Perfection: Unmasking Social Media’s Influence on Self-Esteem
By Athena Sapourn

Social media, often a platform for connection and self-expression, has become a breeding ground for the cultivation of unrealistic beauty standards, significantly affecting young girls’ self-esteem. This aspect warrants a closer look into how the curated nature of social media content distorts perceptions of reality and contributes to a sense of inadequacy.

Beauty-enhancing apps and filters have taken social media by storm. Originating as an outlet for self-expression and creativity, these apps, Facetune, Photoshop, etc., have created an unattainable beauty standard idealized by many social media users. The allure of flawless skin, white teeth, and contoured features pressures individuals, particularly young girls, to conform to a fabricated idea of beauty. The pursuit of perfection lowers authenticity among women, perpetuates a culture of comparison, erodes self-esteem, and distorts perceptions of genuine beauty.

As young girls scroll through social media feeds, they see curated images of women, creating an illusion of perfection when in reality, those images are heavily edited. Exposure to these images promotes a sense of inadequacy. In 2020, the Women and Equalities Committee surveyed body image. It was discovered that 65% of under-18s thought there was an ‘ideal’ body type, 66% of children feel negative about their body image most of the time, and 89% of adults also admitted to feeling social pressure to look a certain way. These unrealistic beauty standards distort self-esteem and promote values of beauty that are fundamentally unrealistic.  

Emma’s Story

One poignant example of the impact of social media on a young girl’s life is the story of Emma (name changed to protect privacy), a 16-year-old aspiring artist. Initially, Emma used social media as a platform to share her artwork and connect with fellow artists. However, when she discovered beauty-enhancing apps and filters, she found herself entangled in the web of unrealistic standards. Consumed by the pressure to conform to the flawless images on social media, Emma began editing her photos extensively, striving for unattainable perfection. The feedback she received became centered around her physical appearance rather than her artistic talent, reinforcing the notion that beauty trumps creativity. Emma’s self-esteem plummeted as she wrestled with the contrast between her authentic self and the fabricated version presented on social media. This struggle represents the broader issue, illustrating how the manufactured nature of social media posts can profoundly impact the emotional well-being of young individuals like Emma, emphasizing the urgent need for reevaluating values perpetuated by social media platforms.

Unrealistic Beauty Standards and Lifestyle Habits

The emergence of social media influencers has introduced a new definition of beauty and perfection. Their influence is particularly profound in young girls who admire these influencers. Their considerable influence extends to increasingly unrealistic beauty standards and lifestyle habits. Although many influencers promote positivity, inclusivity, and self-expression, it has a negative side. Meticulously created posts may inadvertently create unrealistic beauty and lifestyle standards. Seeing women being paid to travel and party, showcasing luxurious lifestyles and brand endorsements worth thousands of dollars, has become a captivating social media aspect. This can create unrealistic expectations, leading followers to believe that such glamorous lifestyles are the norm. This can contribute to dissatisfaction with one’s life and breed a sense of inadequacy.

What Can You Do to Help?

By dissecting these topics, we can unveil how social media’s portrayal of an idealized world can deteriorate young girls’ self-esteem and overall well-being. Looking closely at these issues, we can see how social media’s perfect world can make young girls feel bad about themselves. Teaching young people that pictures on social media aren’t always real can help them understand the difference between what’s true and what’s not. We can also ensure good role models and numerous diverse people are shown online so everyone feels accepted. Everyone—parents, teachers, and the people who run social media—must work together to ensure being online is a positive experience for young girls. This way, we can help them feel good about who they are, just as they are.

-With Great Hope for Your True Authentic Self, Athena

Read our Last Issue, “Why You Should be Thinking about Water“.

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Heidi Cuppari, a graduate of Brown University, is a pioneering figure in the fields of sustainable financing, impact investing, youth entrepreneurship, and women's leadership. Having moved to Boulder in 2006, she has spent nearly two decades contributing to the growth and development of the impact investing and social entrepreneurship community in the city. With a personal life as vibrant as her professional one, Heidi is a devoted mother and an integral part of a close-knit family. She started a family legacy art gallery and celebration space called Cuppari Mondo Bello, in collaboration with her children and her father, the acclaimed Italian artist Pasquale Cuppari. This venture was initiated to uplift her father during the challenging times of COVID-19, and it has since morphed into an avenue for social impact through the amplification of consciousness-evoking art. In her career and volunteer activities, Heidi strives to align global social impact with collective action. As the founder of Island17 and Dream Tank, and as a council member of The Digital Economist, she continually advances her mission of fostering a healed planet and peaceful world. She recently co-created the Playa Puertecito Collaborative, an initiative aimed at building a sustainable community on the Sea of Cortez. Her work emphasizes the power of collective impact and highlights the importance of giving a voice to the younger generation in shaping our shared future. Heidi's 'Financial Attunement' sessions demonstrate her ability to blend traditional financial client support with innovative, relationship-based models. These sessions offer a new approach to finance, connecting meaning with money and helping others align their financial resources with their deeper purpose. https://heidicuppari.net