Editor's Note: Recently we were contacted by a smart, vivacious college senior who told us she'd become passionate about media literacy after seeing the impact of the media's representation of the female body upon several of her friends. Additionally, she recently experienced a very personal tragedy that further cemented her concerns and interest in media, particularly social media, and the role in plays in the lives of youth today. We thought it was important to share her story with you...
Social media plays a key role in the lives of adolescents today. According the the Pew Research Center, as of 2018, 95% of high school aged youth, 13-17, reported having access to a smartphone. On top of this, nearly half of the demographic reported using social media daily.
Platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube serve as windows of opportunity for us to share different aspects of our lives with friends. But media consumption also has the ability to impact an individual’s identity in many different ways.
As a college student, I have personally been part of the the social media movement. When I was in the sixth grade the first iPhone was released, and since then I have seen social media exposure not only impact my life, but the lives of those around me. While social media allows me to keep up with the lives of my friends from around the world, it often lowers my self-esteem. If I scroll through Instagram at any given moment, my feed is flooded with photos of people having the best time at the beach, skiing, or simply just eating out with friends. On social media, everyone appears to be living their best life all the time. This leads to the unhealthy mindset that we have to live up to this standard of being perfect on media all the time. If I am feeling upset about myself I can simply post a “cute” photo on media of me and my friends doing something “fun.” While there may be a sense of instant gratification when this photo is gaining likes, it is all fake.
"On social media, everyone appears to be
living their best life all the time."
Yes, social media IS fake.
Through social media you are able to live an artificial life through a screen where everything appears perfect. This is damaging because instead of accepting and expressing our true emotions, we conceal them to live up to the idealized unrealistic standards of beauty and success on media. By constantly feeling the pressure to live up to this fake life, many teens often face feelings of isolation and depression.
A Real-Life Example
Leslie, a senior in high school, on Instagram appeared to be living her best life. With over 1,500 followers and an average of 400 likes per photo, her feed was filled with photos of her cheerleading, smiling, and enjoying time with friends.
Through her stories on social media and posts one would never have expected Leslie to take her own life. But on March 28, 2019, after feeling depressed, isolated, and feeling like she could not relate to anyone Leslie made the irreversible decision to take her own life. Her candlelight vigil had over 1,000 students in attendance. Family, friends, classmates, and even her dance competitors were all in attendance. Leslie’s death came as shock to everyone in the community.
When the news of Leslie’s death broke people were shocked, because you would have never guessed she was struggling because she appeared to be so happy and put together on her Instagram and Snapchat. I realize that this is a facade that Leslie had put on, just like so many other young people do.
"Through her stories on social media and posts
one would never have expected Leslie to
take her own life."
It is important to take a step back when using media, to realize that the images portrayed on social media apps do not tell the full story. It is vital that adolescents are educated on the unrealistic standards that are often depicted on media. It is hard to grasp the notion that feeling sad and not perfect is normal when all of the media you are exposed to tell you the exact opposite.
I am sure that the feelings of isolation, that Leslie felt, are more common in adolescent youth than we would like to admit. It is of the utmost importance that we become aware of and confront these emotions.
Sara Sara Sosnowski is a senior Integrated Educational Studies major at Chapman University. Sara became interested in education, especially media literacy, during her sophomore year of college after seeing the impact that the media’s representation of the female body had on several of her friends. As Sara continued through the traditional educational journey, Sara’s processors encouraged her to explore and investigate topics of interests, this is where she realized her passion for media literacy. Sara has volunteered with several youth organizations around Orange County to help aid her on this journey. She is very passionate about understanding how education is impacted by technology and hopes that she can use critical media literacy in her classroom as she prepares to be an elementary school teacher in Miami, FL in the fall of 2019.