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Instagram Worsens Body Image Issues And Erodes Mental Health

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Instagram has a harmful impact on some teenagers, and Facebook, the app's owner, knows it. That's according to reporting from The Wall Street Journal earlier this month, which showed that the company's internal research proved that Instagram worsens body image issues and erodes mental health, especially for teenage girls. Destinee Adams is a senior at Oklahoma State University, and she wrote a piece for TIME this week sharing her own experience of how the app has impacted her mental health. And she's going to talk about it with us. Hello.

DESTINEE ADAMS: Hi.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, you were just 13 when you created your first Instagram account. What were you seeing on the app, and how did it shape the way you thought you should look?

ADAMS: So on the app, I was seeing a lot of girls in, like, heavy makeup. And I think that was the age of, like, the swoop bang and, like, the straightening your hair if it was curly. I just remember wanting to be like the girls that I saw that were getting a lot of likes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You write that after years of trying to reach Instagram's impossible standards, you began to develop an overwhelming fear of rejection and uneasiness. Can you say more about what that looked like in your daily life?

ADAMS: Being a dark-skinned Black girl, I write about wearing makeup that was too light for my dark skin complexion. I grew up in a suburb in Edmond, Okla., and that is just, like, predominantly white neighborhood. And so it was hard to find makeup that matched my skin complexion. It was hard. I just didn't fit in to what Instagram standards were at that point, and so that caused a lot of uneasiness.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. How was it when you would post a picture? What happened after you would post a picture of yourself?

ADAMS: So I would post a picture, and I would gain likes. And the more I edited my picture, the more likes I found that I would get. If I get this amount of likes, then I'm worthy. Or if I get this amount of likes, then my peers will comment on it. And if you don't get the certain amount of likes that you think that you're going to get, it makes you feel a little rejected. And it's kind of overwhelming.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This month, you were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and I understand that the tipping point that made you want to seek out help was something that actually happened on Instagram. Can you tell us about that?

ADAMS: So Instagram is supposed to be a place where you can share different points in your life, but that's not exactly what it is anymore. It's just you share what looks good. You share the ups. You only see the ups. And so not really thinking about that, I shared a post about losing my dad and the grief behind that. And I remember editing it days after - like, my caption days after - because I was just like, it's a little too sad. I want to have an optimistic approach, so people will think that I'm OK, even though I wasn't, and it was a heavy subject. And that was when I realized that my relationship with Instagram was a problem. I shouldn't have been that anxious to share what I was going through, but I definitely was.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what did your doctor tell you about that when you got your diagnosis?

ADAMS: My doctor said that the pressure I feel to present myself as something other than my authentic self in that moment was a key factor to my diagnosis. It's hard because you can't stay off of Instagram in this generation. Instagram is a place where I am in contact with peers, and I'm in contact with future employers. It's not something that I can just delete. And I think that would make me even more anxious because I'd feel like I'm missing out on something.

But I just try to not so much, like, critique what I post and not overthink what I'm posting and what I'm saying. And I try to leave my phone alone and not just watch the notifications pop up and see who commented and see who liked it and see who didn't like it. But it is a process because I was just diagnosed this month, so I got a long way to go. But I think the first step to that is realizing that you have a problem and pinpointing it and then working through that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Destinee Adams, a senior at Oklahoma State University who's been writing about the negative mental health impacts of Instagram on her generation. Thank you very much.

ADAMS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.