Social Media Savvy: Girls Online

f you have a social media presence of any kind, chances are that you know what it’s like to fall down a social media rabbit hole. One minute you’re perusing pictures of your friend’s new baby, and the next you’re unable to stop scrolling through the personal photos of a stranger’s life. This happens to me most often on Instagram, where I have on more than one occasion found myself glimpsing into the life of a creative, entrepreneurial type woman. Her skin and hair are flawless, her partner looks charming and supportive, her children are adorable, and her house is the perfect mix of mid century meets boho.  Her life appears on my screen completely and utterly perfect. Down the rabbit hole I have fallen, minutes later I emerge, bleary eyed, disoriented, and more often than not, a little blue about my own life.


Social media creates a platform for people to cultivate their image. We all know that nobody is perfect, but on social media, with careful consideration and in some cases a penchant for photo editing apps, it’s not difficult to curate and maintain an image that to the outside world can make a person’s life look picture perfect.


I consider myself a confident and self-assured woman with a healthy distrust of the media and its warped messaging. This is not to say that I don’t sometimes wish I was taller or tanner. I am not immune to traditional media’s messages, but for the most part I’m able to say “QUIT IT!” and move on with my life, happy in my own skin. However, something changes acutely when it comes to social media. When the people we see aren’t Photoshopped models but people only a few degrees of separation from us, things feel more personal. Social media often creates a forum for girls and women to look to their friends and peers to make comparisons about their bodies and appearances.


All of this led me to wonder, what impact does this new frontier of media have on girls, whose sense of self and ability to put social media messaging in cultural context are in the early stages of development?


Traditional media has long been linked to a number of negative consequences for girls and women, from disordered eating to lowered self-esteem. Because social media is relatively new, we don’t yet have many peer reviewed longitudinal studies on the impact social media exposure has on girls and women.  However cross sectional research on the topic does suggest that women and girls are made more vulnerable through the rapid growth of social media.


Girls and Social Media:

  • Another study, this time conducted by the Girls Scouts, reported that teens say girls on social media routinely try to look and act differently than they do in person. According to the girls surveyed, many girls downplay their good qualities (being smart and kind) and enhance the things that make them look popular and cool (being fun, funny, and social) on their social media pages.

  • The same study found that 68% of girls have had a negative experience on social networking websites, such as being the victim of gossip or having personal information posted publicly about them. Perhaps more alarmingly, 55% of the same girls reported that they’ve been responsible for taking part in activities similar to the ones they had been victims of.

  • A 2013 study from Flinders University found that the more time girls spend on social media, the more likely they were to be dissatisfied with their body image and experience low self esteem.


Women and Social Media:

  • In a recent cross-sectional study, Facebook use was found to be associated with greater instances of disordered eating. The same study found that Facebook use was also more associated with the maintenance of weight and shape concerns, compared to other non-social media Internet activities.

  • A 2012 study out of Utah Valley University found a correlation between the amount of time people spent checking Facebook and negative feelings about their own lives. The more time people spent on social networking was associated with a higher probability of thinking their friends lived better, happier lives.

  • study conducted by researchers at two German universities found that the most common cause of frustration for Facebook users came from users comparing themselves socially to their peers.  The second most common source of dissatisfaction was “lack of attention” in the form of likes and comments as compared to friends.


Social networking is impacting how girls and women view their lives and their bodies in some pretty powerful ways. How can we as caretakers, parents, and siblings of young girls help them negotiate this new media frontier with confidence?


Media Literacy

Media literacy and media education can be used to teach girls and women to become more active and critical consumers of appearance-related media. Media literacy interventions have been shown to decrease social comparison behavior and internalization of the thin ideal.


  • Girls with higher levels of empowerment, exhibited more positive physical self-image and lower risk of developing an eating disorder. The same study reported that exposure to the media and the consequential sense of personal empowerment was found to be associated with parenting practices. Parents who knew what their daughters were doing on the web and who participated in media consumption with their daughters helped offset some of the negative side effects of social media.

At the Girls Empowerment Network we address issues related to media literacy in all of our programming. To facilitate this discussion, we play games and present exercises to the girls that encourage them to become critical consumers of media. Our goal is to explore and process how what they see depicted in the media impacts their self image and world view.



Self-confidence is also a major part of this equation. When girls are confident in who they are and comfortable in their own skin, they are far less likely to be negatively impacted by social media.


  • A recent study by the Girl Scouts of America found that teenage girls who say they don’t feel good about themselves are at a higher risk of social networking privacy/safety issues, are more likely to make themselves look different than who they really are, and have had more negative experiences with social networking.


At GENaustin, we believe it is paramount that girls feel strong, confident, and proud of who they are. Luckily, making sure that the girls we care for feel confident in who they are is far from quantum physics. In fact, it’s strikingly easy to provide support by developing a positive and nurturing environment that encourages girls to express and be themselves.


This summer, GENaustin is offering three new summer camps that will incorporate arts & crafts, games, and fun-filled activities that center around being a girl, including media literacy and self-esteem. Activities include yoga, making collages and friendship bracelets, tie-dying, acting and using tablets! Campers will enjoy snacks and prizes. Most importantly, girls will gain new friends and memories that will last forever!

Vanessa Wright