Since Dr. Jean Twenge started documenting the rise of the smart phone generation born after 1995 (what she dubbed iGen), researchers have been finding increasing evidence that social media is playing a key role in decreasing mental health and increasing body dysmorphia in the teenage population around the world, especially although not exclusively girls.
Just yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published an investigation entitled Facebook Knows Instagram is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show.
The Washington Post has reported on “Snapchat dysmorphia” in an article entitled Patients are desperate to resemble their doctored selfies. Plastic surgeons alarmed by “Snapchat dysmorphia.” The article references this study published in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery. The WashPo article quotes a Northwestern psychology professor as saying:
The National Eating Disorders Association says on its website that social media is a significant contributor to eating disorders and body dysmorphia.
These issues are not unique to North America. The BBC in the UK has reported on The complicated truth about social media and body image.
Even faraway Fiji has not escaped the impact of media generally on body image. In a culture that has traditionally prized being fat, the influx of TV has caused girls there to lament being too big, as reported by the New York Times around the turn of the millennium.
In the academic marketing literature, researchers have generally shown the significant influence of influencers in an article entitled A Shoppable Life: Performance, Selfhood, and Influence in the Social Media Storefront published in the journal Communication, Culture and Critique.
Given the above research and the well-documented exponential rise in children and teens presenting at gender clinics over the last decade, tracking almost exactly with Twenge’s iGen, it is not unreasonable to posit that social media may be influencing young people to believe they have gender dysphoria. It is not even unreasonable to think that social media may even be giving young people gender dysphoria, especially during a period well known for intense identity exploration and development.
In some ways, perhaps this influence wouldn’t even matter. But when a quick path to medicalizing this distress in permanent ways is being offered to young people, then the question must be asked and researched in a non-biased, balanced, fair, and ethical way. This research is the furthest thing from transphobic. We should not be fearful of the answers, whatever they may show. This includes research on whether general societal acceptance is part of the equation – and to what extent.
Such open inquiry is to the benefit of all of society and will also aid in improving physical and mental healthcare for all people with gender distress, no matter where they are on their journey in life.
Thus, Genspect calls on all researchers and journalists – whether on the right, left, or middle – to investigate this phenomenon with an open mind. We also call on all editors and outlets – whether academic journals or mainstream media – to encourage, solicit, and facilitate such articles.
Photo credit: Ryan Arya, Pexels