Online communication platforms, including social media and Zoom, have taken a toll on how students feel about their physical appearance
This article discusses body image dissatisfaction and may be difficult for some readers.
One of the most complicated relationships I have ever been involved with is between myself and my appearance. Spending the past year online with my screentime skyrocketing has given me countless opportunities to stare at myself in the little box on Zoom picking apart the asymmetry of my face or scrolling through the beauty contest that is social media. Certainly, I am not alone in my heightened awareness of my outward image due to an increase in time spent online.
In all of my Zoom classes most people, including myself, choose to keep their cameras off despite professors encouraging us to have them turned on. For some students, the reason they keep their camera off may be because they don’t want to be the only ones in the class who have their camera on or because they may be distracted or unable to be present in the lecture.
Other students, however, may choose to keep their cameras off due to insecurity about their appearance. A study by Cornell University found that 41 per cent of students who choose to keep their cameras off do so out of concern about how they look.
Not only do people hesitate to turn on their cameras on Zoom out of insecurity, research has shown that these platforms are also leading to an increase in appearance dissatisfaction. Of the 379 adults who participated in a study surrounding body dissatisfaction related to being on camera for Zoom, around 37.4 per cent of participants reported having noticed a new aspect about themselves that they disliked due to their use of video calls. Along with this, the study also indicates that 38% of underrepresented minorities keep their cameras off, as they were concerned about people seeing the physical environment behind them. From this, it is clear that spending prolonged hours on Zoom can negatively impact body image.
Social media is undoubtedly a major contributing factor to body dissatisfaction and always has been. However, this has become more harmful recently due to a likely increase in time spent scrolling online. Through the popularization of TikTok and the constant presence of platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, I have found that the ideal body standard has become much more emphasized and specific.
The comparisons encouraged by social media lead to not only a pressure to look a certain way but also to uphold an idealized lifestyle. For example, on TikTok there is a trend going viral known as the “become that girl with me” trend. This trend features a montage of images of an idealized, unrealistic lifestyle including extremely healthy eating, thin bodies, constant exercise, and aesthetic study situations. While all of these things on their own aren’t necessarily bad, the way they are being portrayed online is unrealistic and, frankly, unattainable for most people. Furthermore, it creates the idea that in order to be satisfied with oneself people must become a glamourized version of themselves. There is a lost sense of reality with this trend, as people are creating entire lifestyles based on a few images that were able to capture a moment of perfection. This causes even greater disappointment when people attempt to live this lifestyle and realize that it is a false sense of perfection, as it is an unattainable ideal for anyone to live by.
The transition back to in-person classes in the fall has created a unique opportunity to spread body positivity around campus at a time when many people might be struggling with their own body image. There are certain things that we can do in order to make campus feel like a safe and inviting place for everyone coming back in the fall.
Firstly, speaking kindly to yourself and your own body is essential. The only person who can truly give you body satisfaction is yourself.
Secondly, try to avoid commenting on anyone’s physical appearance even if it is framed as a compliment. It is hard to understand what someone has gone through to make them look a certain way or what they are comfortable talking about. Instead, try to give others genuine compliments about things that they can easily choose about themselves (clothing, hairstyles, etc.).
The switch to online school—and to more time spent online in general—has had a negative impact on many individuals’ body image. Hopefully, the return to campus can help mend the sores caused by being surrounded by media at all times and help school return to being a positive, beneficial experience.