Let’s start with some scientific studies examining the huge impact ‘selfies’ is already having on young women’s self-esteem and body image.
Back in 2014, a Dr David Veale, a consultant psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and The Priory Hospital, started sounding the alarm that about the alarming link between the rise of ‘selfie culture’ and Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Dr Veale said:
“Two out of three of all the patients who come to see me with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) since the rise of camera phones have a compulsion to repeatedly take and post selfies on social media sites.”
- More likely to have a higher ‘Appearance Anxiety Inventory’ score.
- More likely to use ‘filters’ (like those included on Snapchat and Instagram) to re-touch their selfies.
- More likely to feel that they were posting up too many pictures of themselves online.
- Were overly focused on the number of ‘likes’ their selfies got from others.
Before we continue, here’s a definition of what ‘Body Dysmorphic Disorder’ actually is:
Body dysmorphic disorder: A psychiatric disorder characterized by excessive preoccupation with imagined defects in physical appearance. It is classified as an anxiety disorder, and it is believed to be a variant of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Also known as somatoform disorder and dysmorphophobia.
Is this really something we want to be promoting in the orthodox Jewish world for Jewish women and girls, under the banner of ‘progress and equality’?
Even the non-Jewish world is starting to realize there is a huge selfie-induced problem with people posting too many images of themselves online, and becoming overly-obsessed with their external appearance. This comes from the official BDD website:
Body Dysmorphic Disorder affects 1.7% to 2.4% of the general population — about 1 in 50 people. This means that more than 5 million people to about 7.5 million people in the United States alone have BDD. BDD is about as common as obsessive-compulsive disorder and more common than disorders such as anorexia nervosa and schizophrenia.
(Some earlier studies found lower prevalence rates of BDD in the general population, but the more recent studies that found prevalence rates of 1.7% to 2.4% were much larger and used better scientific methods.)
It’s possible that BDD may be even more common than this, because people with this disorder are often reluctant to reveal their BDD symptoms to others.
Let’s go back to the scientific studies, to see what else they are telling us about how social media is promoting some very unhealthy emotional attitudes to how people relate to themselves.
Dr Giuseppe Riva recently published a study called: ‘Risk and maintenance factors for young women’s DSM-5 eating disorders’. This study found that:
Self-objectification (thinking about and monitoring the body’s appearance from an external observer’s perspective) was the largest contributor to both Eating Disorder onset and maintenance.
To put this into plainer English, the more a young woman was focused on how her body appeared to other people, the higher her chances of developing an Eating Disorder in the first place, and also for her Eating Disorder-ed behavior to continue. In other comments that he made to VICE magazine (horrible name, but actually a really good article), Dr Riva explained how social media is promoting the problem of ‘self-objectification’. He said:
"This is particularly true for Snapchat and Instagram, which provide a mirror-like vision of young women, which is also altered and shared. This behavior supports the vision that a social body—self-objectified—is more relevant than the real felt body."
Apparently, things are getting so bad with these apps that many users now refuse to have any picture taken that they can’t ‘retouch’ and make ‘perfect’ - which brings us on to the next mental illness selfies can feed in to: narcissism.
I’ve written so much about narcissism, and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NDP) on spiritualselfhelp.org and in other places. The bottom line is that it’s learned behavior and can be unlearned (with an awful lot of effort, prayer and understanding of what’s really causing it and how.)
But there is no question that social media encourages people to behave in a very narrow-minded, self-aggrandising and un-empathetic way, all of which can fuel the fire of narcissistic traits, and turn the latent narcissistic ‘tendencies’ that we all have, to a greater of lesser degree, into a real problem.
This comes from an excellent article on the RAWHIDE website (which sadly has pictures of women in it, so I can’t link to their excellent infographic), but here’s their take on what they call ‘social media narcissism;”
Social media narcissism may be displayed through many of the following traits:
- Constantly Updating Their Profile Picture: A social media narcissist changes their profile picture often. They will stick with photos that maximize the chance of gaining admiration rather than ones that illustrate a close relationship.
- Obsessive Checking of Social Media Accounts: Social media narcissists may check their accounts 60-100 times a day. They don’t want to miss any comments or mentions.
- Oversharing: Social media narcissists will share purely self-promotional posts such as photos and videos that provide little value to their friends but satisfy their desire for more likes.
- Updating Friends and Followers on Every Little Thing: Social media narcissists will share many posts that “self-promote.” They will fill other user’s timelines with self-indulgent boasting and bragging.
- Over-Friending: A social media narcissist will have lots of friends and followers. Many of the friends and followers they have never met, spoken to, or don’t know very well. The goal is to have a high number of friends and followers, with little interest in making real friends.
- Seek Support: Social media narcissists will find comfort in their own social media feeds when they have a bad day. They will look back at their timelines and take comfort in their self-perceived awesome life.
- Easy to Anger: A social media narcissist may display significant anger from comments or general disagreement. They may be prone to making a public spectacle when they’ve been angered by publicly shaming someone they disagree with.
But the point is this: the whole social media / selfie culture that encourages both men and women to obsess over appearance instead of being concerned by substance, and that glorifies people’s looks over their personalities, abilities and deeds is clearly leading to some huge spikes in emotional and mental issues, including:
- Body Dysmorphic Disorder
- Eating Disorders
So why oh why would the orthodox Jewish world want to encourage our teens and women to start doing more of this stuff, and to start putting more emphasis on having pictures of themselves posted up all over the place?
The mind boggles.