Social media usage can be harmful to a student’s self-esteem

Graphic by Natalie Kulak ’21

Graphic by Natalie Kulak ’21


Students from colleges and universities all over the world turn to social media as a place to connect with each other at the start of each new school year. Being away from home for the first time while having the chance to reinvent themselves results in students attempting to make new friends through social media apps. As a relatively small liberal arts college, students at Mount Holyoke have the opportunity to follow their peers’ lives through the lens of social media on a more intimate level than many.

Students can use apps like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat to connect with each other personally. “Social media enables me to talk face -to-face with my family and friends, who live on the other side of the world,” said May Chen ’21, an international student from China.

 “Social media plays a huge role in the lives of college students,” said Marion Wolloch ’21, a Community Advisor for MacGregor Hall. “Whether it’s used as a platform to gain clout or just mindless entertainment, it impacts everyone.” Wolloch commented that social media is also useful for staying updated on events around campus.

However, some argue that viewing the lives of peers behind screens and filters can be unhealthy. “Social media gives you a warped sense of how people are doing,” said Lily James ’21, a peer health educator. “People only document the good parts of their lives, so it seems like other people are living their best lives.” 

Through body and face-editing apps like Skinny Cam, Facetune and Perfect365, photoshop opportunities are now readily available to young people on their cell phones. App users have the option to cover up pimples, whiten teeth and even airbrush skin, curating their image to their liking. 

According to researchers at Boston Medical Center, as these edited pictures become the new norm, students’ perceptions of reality can be distorted. This can be harmful to a student’s self-esteem and trigger body dysmorphic disorder. Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental illness that involves obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in one’s appearance.

According to TIME, the most vulnerable app users are those who spend significant amounts of time posting and comparing themselves to their friends. A study found that female college students who compared themselves to others on Facebook were more likely to correlate self-worth with appearances. Interestingly, while girls report more body image issues and eating disorders than boys, studies have shown that all genders can be equally impacted by social media.  

In 2016, psychologists found evidence linking social media usage to body image concerns, dieting, body surveillance, a drive for thinness and self-objectification in adolescents, according to TIME. Furthermore, according to the New York Post, research by the University of South Wales in the U.K. found that those who spend more than an hour a day on Instagram and Facebook were more dissatisfied with their bodies than others who spent less time on these apps.

While Snapchat filters that add animal ears and flowers to selfies are noticeable and extravagant, other edits can be subtler and contribute towards inciting certain beauty standards. 

“I think it’s just up to people to be honest about how they look on social media,” said James. “Don’t use the teeth -whitening apps, don’t photoshop your body to look slimmer, don’t post pictures saying ‘I woke up like this,’ when it really isn’t how you woke up. It’s challenging to change how you act in a society that has so many pressures, but it is absolutely crucial in fighting these effects.”