Social Media and Beauty Standards: Quest for Perfection and its Impact on Women

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She has dreams of being envious, so she is starving; you know, cover girls eat nothing. She says beauty is pain, and there’s beauty in everything. What’s a little bit of hunger? I could go a little while longer, but she fades away. She doesn’t see her as perfect; she doesn’t understand she’s worth it. According to Alessia Cara’s song “Scars to Your Beautiful,” a young woman is portrayed as starving herself in an effort to meet societal beauty standards.

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This is an unattainable standard of beauty where women should be unrealistically thin and without any physical flaws.

The Influence of Media on Beauty Standards

In our society, young women have constant access to social media and are inundated with images of desirable and flawlessly thin women. They begin to compare themselves to these images of perfection, and when they feel they do not fit this category, they embody dissatisfaction. Their discontent makes them feel unattractive, which affects their self-esteem. The adverse effect that social media exposure has on these young women forms distorted views of their bodies, which leads to mental health disorders such as body dysmorphia and eating disorders.

Diagnostic Aspects of Body Dysmorphia and Eating Disorders

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition , body dysmorphia occurs when an individual is preoccupied with one or more perceived defects or flaws in physical appearance that are not observable.

The individual with this disorder will indulge in mental acts such as comparing his or her appearance with that of others. Conversely, feeding and eating disorders are characterized by a persistent disturbance of eating or eating-related behavior that results in the altered consumption or absorption of food and that significantly impairs physical health or psychosocial functioning. Young women obsess over these images on social media; their fixation leads them to strive for this beauty standard, causing them developmental disorders. These young women will starve, binge eat and vomit, undergo extreme dieting, and/or plastic surgery just to fit into this standard.

Historical Perspective and The Role of Barbie as a Beauty Icon

Historically, body dissatisfaction among young women was always a concern. Women’s bodies were sexualized and viewed as objects for men to look at. Their self-worth was placed in their physical appearance instead of their inner qualities, such as intelligence. Media, which at the time included television, advertisements, and magazines, promoted the sex appeal of women. Women were viewed as creatures that were put in this world to satisfy the desires of men.

If a woman had a larger bust, appeared thin, and invoked desire, then she was regarded as perfect. Conversely, in 1959, Barbie was introduced to society. She is a doll that has been coined as a beauty icon. A doll who exhibits unrealistic body measurements. Her waist is the same diameter as her head. Her neck is twice as long as an average human’s. Her legs are fifty percent longer than her arms, which for an average female should be twenty percent. Women who did not embody these characteristics also experienced the same body dissatisfaction as women in the present time. The only difference is that young women now have instant access to social media. “Social networking sites are available for viewing, content-creating, and editing 24/7, on mobile devices, anywhere, anytime, allowing for exponentially more opportunities for social comparison and dysfunctional surveillance of pictures of disliked body parts than were ever available with the conventional mass media”.

Social Media vs. Traditional Media: A Comparative Overview

In the past, it was easier to avoid magazine content, and watching television would be an activity someone did in their free time.

Although the exposure of these unrealistic beauty standards was present, it was not readily available to you as it is now. Another major difference between social media and traditional media is that people are passive consumers. Now, they are actually creating their profiles and uploading the information they want to share. Most of the information posted on social media is meant to show the individual in a positive light in regard to their appearance and life. This makes it easy for the viewer to want to compare their appearances to others. (Tamplin, Mclean, & Paxon 2018) Subconsciously, a young woman being constantly exposed to this narrative of beauty may eventually feel inadequate. She begins developing low self-esteem, which foreseeably will be prone to mental health disorders in relation to their physical appearance (I.E., eating disorders and/or body dysmorphia).

In the social media era, it is normal for young women to have one or more of these social networking sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. These platforms are used for but not limited to uploading photos and statuses, dispersing and gathering information, maintaining and making new relationships, and building a following. The user also has the option of accessing their accounts to their liking if he or she has an electronic device handy such as a cellular phone, computer, and/or tablet. Access to social media allows you to constantly be exposed to people’s images and posts. Furthermore, this society has become fixated on their likes on Instagram, retweets on Twitter, and streaks on Snapchat. In order to excel in the social media era, you have the unwarranted pressure of taking perfect selfies and flawless photos. Not only do you have the pressure of taking and posting impeccable photos, but it is imperative to have a following where your photos and posts are popular within the social media outlet you are using. If a photo or post does not receive over 1000 likes or another acknowledgment, then it is not considered to be successful.

In accordance with Objectification Theory, women will scrutinize their own bodies from their audience’s perspective based on the number of comments, likes, and positive feedback they receive.  Your followers on social media also become a clear indication of your validation as a person to these young adults, especially women. Young women view the photos and follow other women whom they idolize and consider to be perfect. These women portray societal beauty standards with their pictures reflecting the thin and desirable body shapes attached to their flawless faces. Now young women view these pictures and compare themselves to the women in the photos, which is known as Social Comparison Theory. “Social comparison theory provides a foundation for understanding women’s body image disturbance. This theory proposes that people have the drive to determine their progress and standing in life, and they often do so by searching out standards to which they can compare themselves.” 

The Pressure to Undergo Cosmetic Surgery and Other Enhancements

In comparing themselves to these unattainable standards, young women begin to internalize a dysfunctional view of their bodies. This leads to body dissatisfaction, and women become obsessed with striving to become these idolized women. For some women, these negative views will cause them to develop eating disorders in order to become thin or maintain their weight. Others will develop body dysmorphia and become fixated on a certain part of their body. They also see Celebrities, Instagram Celebrities, and even their own peers getting cosmetic surgery done in order to accentuate a part of their body. Showing off their new look trivializes the idea of getting yourself fixed if you do not like a certain aspect of your body. As of recent, young women have been spending a lot of money getting their butt implants/injections or lip fillers in order to replicate celebrities such as the Kardashian sisters. They also buy clothing, skin care products, and makeup to look like them. “It has been suggested that the constant presentation throughout the media of thin and attractive female celebrity images, just like fashion models, reinforces an unachievable thin ideal. Supporting this suggestion, a recent trend in cosmetic surgery sees women requesting specific body parts of celebrities, for example, Kim Kardashian’s eyes and jawline”.

Young women subject themselves to physical and emotional stress in order to be like someone else. They do not realize that they are losing their originality and uniqueness, trying to become a replica. While women are being diagnosed with mental health disorders such as body dysmorphia and eating disorders, big businesses are profiting from their distorted views and insecurities. Gyms, Plastic Surgeons, Make- Up/Skincare Companies, and the Diet Industry all benefit from young women being dissatisfied with their bodies. If a young woman becomes obsessed with being thin, she may get on a strict diet and get a gym membership to overindulge in exercise to meet this standard of beauty. She may also undergo cosmetic surgery and invest in skincare products and makeup in order to change the imperfections she believes she has.

The issue with young women is that they follow these celebrities, social media celebrities, and even their peers without realizing that these women are influencing them to have these perfect bodies which are not attainable naturally. These influencers utilize Photoshop, filters, and other editing applications to enhance their pictures. The young women who follow these influencers want to aspire to imitate without realizing that these images are altered to give an illusion of perfection. If all these edits were removed and the actual pictures were demonstrated, then all the imperfections would be shown, which would allow young women to see that everyone has flaws. No one in this world is completely perfect, even if they have cosmetic surgery, diet, and overly exercise. Furthermore, a young woman who develops an eating disorder and/or body dysmorphia will not get cured by having surgery to fix an aspect of their body or by becoming thin. These young women will need to attend counseling and receive treatment to actually change their distorted views and mindset. It does not matter how many changes a young woman can make to her body in order to look like a Social Media Influencer. If a woman has low self-esteem, she will not realize that she is beautiful.

Women with low self-esteem will not be satisfied regardless of how many changes they make to their physique. For instance, a young woman could get breast implants, lip fillers, and butt injections and be considered attractive to everyone else, but internally she is unsatisfied with her appearance. It leads them to become obsessed with changing their bodies. This detrimental behavior will continue until the mindset is changed. Young women need to realize that they come in different shapes and sizes, making each woman unique and beautiful. To build their self-esteem is to accept their physical appearance with flaws and all. The ability to have high self-esteem is to have confidence and be comfortable with who you are. Young women should also be aware that social media itself is a tool people utilize to share posts and pictures with the intention of providing an illusion of the perfect life. Society is working on promoting high self-esteem and self–worth among young women.

Initiatives Promoting Self-Esteem and Body Positivity

Personal care brand Dove has established a Dove Self-Esteem Project, which has helped teachers, parents, mentors, and youth leaders to deliver self-esteem education to young adults for over ten years. The project provides a self-awareness workshop informing its audience on how social media affects self-esteem and causes body dissatisfaction. It brings awareness to the companies that benefit from these distorted ideals and shows a visual via YouTube on how pictures are altered with Photoshop. Finally, the project provides resources in order to change the negative body narrative into a positive one. The Beautiful Me is another foundation encouraging young women to acquire high self-esteem. Beautiful Me is an educational self-esteem program designed to educate females by promoting appreciation for their genuine qualities, accurate self-awareness, and the satisfaction gained by helping others. This foundation accomplishes its mission by offering Educators and Mental Health Professionals a 90-minute training seminar.

After their training, these professionals will be able to offer self-esteem workshops to young women within their respective organizations. Certain aspects of the entertainment industry have also taken a stance toward promoting high self-esteem and self-acceptance. This message is being conveyed through music, television, and self-love books. Women who are not considered traditionally beautiful by society’s standards are now being hired as models, comedians, and actresses such as Ashley Graham, Amy Schumer, and Leslie Jones. Social Media Influencers, including celebrities, have also used their platforms to exhibit their imperfections by displaying their stretch marks, scars, and postpartum bodies for their followers to view. Although unattainable standards of beauty are still being portrayed through all social media outlets. These small changes promoting awareness and high self-esteem give hope that society will eventually move towards more women being able to accept and love themselves for who they are.


Young women have been subjected to traditional and social media to meet a certain standard of beauty, and if she does not meet it, then it becomes detrimental to their persona. She begins to feel unattractive, and her self-esteem diminishes, which can cause her to become fixated on her appearance. This obsession with trying to have the perfect body and face can cause women to develop mental health disorders and engage in behaviors that may be taxing to their well-being. Although this narrative of sexualized and flawless perfection is still prevalent in our society, there have been strides in female empowerment and body acceptance. Organizations and the entrainment industry are building awareness, educating, and promoting high self-esteem by targeting these young women. A new narrative is being discussed, where women should love themselves for who they are. Hopefully, one day most people will comprehend that there is beauty in everyone, and young women with mental disorders such as Body Dysmorphia and Eating Disorders will diminish drastically.


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Social Media and Beauty Standards: Quest for Perfection and Its Impact on Women. (2023, Jun 21). Retrieved from