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The impact of selfies on youth mental health


September 20, 2019 Mental Health


Par Audrey Fortin

Psychosocial worker

You don't have to read the latest scientific studies to know that more and more young people are using social media on a daily basis - just look around.

If Facebook used to be the social media "darling" for young people, they are now turning more and more to Instagram and Snapchat. Both social networks are designed for sharing photos, especially selfies. While social media has many positive sides, what impact does it have on the mental health of our youth? And what role do selfies play in this?

Understanding selfies

The selfie - taking a picture of yourself - has become a common way to present yourself on social media. While for most of us this gesture is fairly trivial, studies show that young women between the ages of 16 and 25 spend about 5 hours a week taking selfies, editing them, and sharing them on social media. While this number seems considerable, what is most concerning is the impact of the time spent on social media and the concern these young women have about their physical appearance.

Impact of selfies on girls' body image

Indeed, the more time these young women spend on social media, the more likely they are to have a negative perception of their body image. This may lead to dissatisfaction with their weight, a quest for thinness at all costs, and increased scrutiny of their bodies. 

These frustrations with their body image are a risk factor for developing eating disorders, which are closely linked to low self-esteem and depressive symptoms.

Taking selfies and posting them daily on social networks contributes to making these young women more anxious, less confident, and feel less attractive, even with the ability to retouch their photos. Obviously, not all young women who take selfies experience these negative effects, but those most vulnerable would be, among others, those who place an exaggerated importance on their physical appearance.

Different concerns for guys

When we look at how boys are affected by their posts on social networks, the situation is different. For girls, beauty and the attraction it generates seem to be important, but for boys, it's something else. They are more concerned with showing themselves in pictures with friends having fun. Otherwise, they fear being seen as "losers" in the eyes of others.

Studies show that young women between the ages of 16 and 25 spend about 5 hours a week taking selfies, editing them, and sharing them on social media.

Possible explanations for the differences between boys and girls

Girls generally seem to be more concerned about comparing themselves to others than boys. Girls, traditionally, have been brought up to care about being a good friend and being liked by others. In addition, in their education, girls are often evaluated on their physical appearance whereas boys on their physical abilities. Girls have learned that their physical appearance generates positive attention: "You look so pretty!" "Oh, your dress is so beautiful!" "Who did your hair?"

Beyond upbringing, the bodily changes girls experience during puberty put them at greater risk for certain mental health problems, such as eating disorders. The difference is also hormonal. In fact, according to some studies, testosterone seems to be a protective factor against depression. For these reasons, boys tend to have more confidence in themselves, experience less anxiety, and are therefore more indifferent to body-image insecurities.

Changing the tide to protect girls' mental health

How can we help young women feel better about themselves? First, we need to be aware of our tendency to value girls based on their physical appearance. Second, we should try to value them in other ways, such as through friendships, sports, activities, academic or professional achievements, and by acknowledging their unique interests and talents. Finally, introducing them to various interesting, strong, and intelligent women who can act as a role model is also beneficial. 

Of course, these solutions are neither miraculous nor instantaneous, but it is worth the effort! 


National Lubrary of Medicine, The effects of active social media engagement with peers on body image in young women
ScienceDirect, “Selfie” harm: Effects on mood and body image in young women
Le journa; des Femmes, Estime de soi : quel est l'impact des réseaux sociaux ?