Social Media & Self Image: as Told by a Young Black Woman
Updated: Nov 27, 2020
Social media has created a lot of good in my life. It has inspired me, helped me create friendships or reconnect with those from my past, and given me the opportunity to easily share my creative work. It has caused me what I can only hope is more good than harm. However, I have to acknowledge that social media has brought a lot of negativity into my life as well.
Social media breeds insecurity in women and girls and I am no exception. For years, I have grown up looking at edited images of women on social media who claim their look is from genetics and the gym, while they have plastic surgery, makeup, and photoshop under their belt. I have watched discourse take place on social media on what type of women are beautiful, what skin color or body shape is most desirable, and what taste in fashion is trendy and acceptable. People constantly tell girls not to believe what they see on the Internet, but not believing becomes really challenging when these images are constantly shoved in your face, daily.
Every part of a woman's body is up for discussion on social media. Features I never knew existed suddenly became an insecurity. I remember hearing about hip dips for the first time when I was around 13 or 14. I never knew what they were until I saw a fitness post on Instagram talking about how to get rid of them. I looked at myself in the mirror and realized I had them. I started to hate them and hide them whenever possible.
When you are a Black woman, the online nitpicking extends to your skin color, hair texture, and facial features that non-black women get praised for. Posts have circulated putting Black women below roaches, rats, and monsters. Most recently, I saw a post comparing the genitals of dark-skinned Black women to those of gorillas. To make matters worse, both posts were created by Black men. It’s dehumanizing and beyond hurtful to Black girls and women who are growing up to see these posts on social media. Thanks to my family’s acceptance of any skin color, these posts didn’t instill insecurity of my skin color within me. These posts sting a little, but I just send them to my friends to discuss how outrageous they are. Unfortunately, not everyone comes from an environment that denounces colorism. For someone who already grew up being fed negativity about darker skin, seeing colorism on social media is dangerous to their self-image. A post like this could stick with them forever.
Featurism and texturism come into play on social media as well for Black women. Featurism is prejudice against those with features that don’t fit a set beauty standard or a preference of certain features over others. For example, thinking wider, African noses are unattractive while deeming thinner, European noses as desirable. Featurism is normalized on social media and inspires many girls to think about, or to get plastic surgery before even hitting adulthood. Texturism is a problem as well, which is the idea that some types of natural hair are better than others. It’s common to see someone refer to a looser curl afro as beautiful while a tighter coiled afro is seen as dry or nappy. It has been an uphill battle loving my natural hair. While the natural hair community online is strong and has been a huge help in keeping me confident, seeing ignorant people say awful things about my hair type feels like a slap in the face.
Black women, especially fat Black women, are attacked online in different ways than those of other races. Black women are often compared to men, animals, and insects online, absolutely unprovoked. You could post a photo, feeling great about how you look, then suddenly you’re going viral on Twitter because a man quote tweeted it with a joke about your appearance.
Ever since I started using Instagram, whenever I see an influencer or model, I instantly compare myself to them. I compare my waist to theirs, try and visualize if my butt would look as good as theirs or better in an outfit, and whether or not I’d be able to pull off their hairstyle. This habit got really bad in high school. I eventually started working out, not to be healthier but to look like models on Instagram. It was discouraging when results weren’t coming in despite following fitness routines suggested by the influencers I was aspiring to look like.
As I have gotten older, I’ve realized that celebrities and influencers are not telling the entire truth online. No one is telling the entire truth online. What people post online is their choice and their choice is typically displaying their absolute best selves. Remembering this has helped me a bit over the years, but it’s still tough seeing women with perfect bodies and faces on my feed every day.
Loving yourself is hard enough without the Internet trying to make you feel as if you are not beautiful. While I have learned to ignore many of the beauty standards promoted by social media, I still find myself comparing, putting myself down, or trying to look a certain way. I try to remember that beauty is subjective, that I don’t have to look perfect to be pretty. I wish I didn’t hold myself to such high standards of what I should look like. Life would be a lot easier that way.