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Beauty and the beast
Social media is raising a generation with self-perception issues and eco-anxiety.
Good morning! Over at our daily newsletter, The Signal, we’ve written extensively on how Meta, X, Snap, TikTok, and others are jostling to drive engagement at a time when social media fatigue is peaking. They’ve done everything from fuelling a creator economy and launching live shopping to now piloting ads-free subscription models and AI chatbots. This scramble is kinda warranted. Various reports suggest that Gen Z users (and younger) don’t resonate as much with, say, Facebook and X, and that many prefer to communicate in DMs as their main timelines get inundated with algorithmic tripe. In short, social media isn’t social anymore. In today’s edition, we bring you two articles that emphasise the Catch-22 situation young users find themselves in: even as they present themselves more confidently online or speak truth to power, they find themselves in mental health crises. Also: a curated list of our favourite longreads this week.
Photo credit: Photo by Gaelle Marcel/Unsplash
How young women suffer chasing an Instagram beauty ideal
Young women are bombarded with Instagram images that can define beauty and how they see themselves. While empowering for some, it can cause many to suffer.
Ritika Pahwa, Priyanka Tiwari, Anika Magan
Madhvi, 21, follows about 575 profiles on Instagram. She has a mental image of how she wants to look but lacks confidence about her appearance — she's short, and has facial hair and pimples — in public and on social media.
She follows more than 50 microcelebrities — what many people call influencers — for new beauty trends and compares herself to others on Instagram and Snapchat.
She often feels depressed when she sees fit, good-looking, clear-skinned girls wearing fashionable outfits in their online posts.
Madhvi is not her real name, but for the Indian beauty industry, she is a typical consumer relying heavily on the advice of microcelebrities for product reviews and recommendations.
Instagram, an image first, text second platform with more than one billion monthly active users, has emerged as the space where such influencers have gained popularity.
Microcelebrity refers to the practice of self-presentation and self-branding in the virtual world, which involves being recognised as public personalities, creating relationships with followers, particularly young women, and influencing their decisions and attitudes.
They shape acceptable standards of beauty and affect buying decisions and even their followers' self-perceptions and self-worth.
Studies have shown individuals tend to make social comparisons with others they see as having similar abilities.
According to Hootsuite, 70.1 percent of Instagram users are under 35. Instagram's younger audiences are heavily influenced by the flamboyant, fashion-forward lifestyles endorsed by microcelebrities.
Microcelebrities connect with their followers through content and life stories and provide recommendations about products, services and brands. Those with mass followers are often approached by brands and paid to endorse them, capturing consumers from within their followers and influencing their perceptions.
It's how they contribute to cultivating ideas, trends and stereotypes on appearance and fashion.
Followers, especially young women, often look up to such influencers as relatable celebrities they can imitate and use for advice. Their 'authenticity' makes them an effective communication intermediary for organisations to sell their products and services.
Microcelebrities are often considered to be informed, connected and experienced and have had a significant influence on norms of beauty, culture and individual self-worth.
Their most direct influence is the redefinition of beauty standards. They challenge conventional beauty norms by showcasing varied body types, skin complexions and aesthetics.
Some segments of the beauty industry have propagated rigid and narrow ideas of beauty but a smaller segment of microcelebrities pushes ideals that broaden the definition of beauty and promote inclusivity, encouraging people to embrace their unique features.
Another important area of influence is the increased use of filters and Photoshop culture. While some microcelebrities promote authenticity, others rely heavily on filters and photo editing tools to present an 'ideal' image.
Such heavy use of filters distorts perceptions of beauty, making it challenging for people to differentiate between reality and edited representations.
Microcelebrities' brand collaborations can make their followers equate happiness and self-worth with material possessions. That potentially leads to feelings of inadequacy for those who cannot afford those products.
Constant exposure to curated, glamorous images on Instagram can damage an individual's self-esteem and mental health. Constant comparisons with these microcelebrities can lead to feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.
However, some influencers can empower individuals to express themselves authentically. They often use their platforms to discuss body positivity, self-acceptance and mental health issues.
Across many interviews similar to Madhvi's, girls reported feelings of comparison and inadequacy when seeing content promoted by microcelebrities.
More recently, Madhvi has realised the effort that goes into making microcelebrities look so glamorous and that they don't look so perfect in real life. She has also hinted that she needs to improve her own health.
Most women in the ongoing study have reported feeling more comfortable in their own skin as they get older. They also realise that a lot of social media content has been manipulated to look so picture-perfect.
However, the toll that such social influence takes on the mental health of young people is still high. A constant sense of self-inadequacy and inferiority often engulfs some if they cannot represent themselves in ways admired and promoted on social media.
Despite a lot of users identifying the often-unreal portrayals seen on social media, there is still internal pressure to best represent themselves.
It means users need to be aware of what's really being promoted when they browse Instagram. Any person given microcelebrity status should be verified by the app so followers are told exactly what is being promoted and why.
Making it 'normal' to seek help when it is needed is also important. Making mental health assistance accessible would help ensure that an individual's self-worth is not undermined by exposure to social influence.
If this article has raised issues for you, or if you're concerned about someone you know, visit https://findahelpline.com/i/iasp.
Ritika Pahwa is a PhD scholar in the Department of Applied Psychology at Manav Rachna International Institute of Research and Studies in Faridabad, India.
Dr Priyanka Tiwari is a professor and Head of Applied Psychology at Manav Rachna International Institute of Research and Studies in Faridabad, India.
Dr Anika Magan is an assistant professor in the Department of Applied Psychology at Manav Rachna International Institute of Research and Studies in Faridabad, India.
Scrolling into stress: how climate fears hit youth
Our young people are getting a dose of social media-driven eco-anxiety over the environment. There are ways we can help them beat it.
Ida Bagus Nyoman Adi Palguna, Gabriela Fernando
Young people are suing their governments in the state of Montana and European countries, accusing them of not doing enough to protect the environment. They've effectively stepped up from a case of anxiety over the environment to a legal one.
It is perhaps one of the most spectacular results of youthful concern over the environment and their assessment of progress on climate action.
Those concerns are driving increased eco-anxiety — a term used to describe the emotional distress caused by the shifting environment and the growing climate crisis. Social media often feeds it.
Young people typically use social media for self-expression, social connection and information sharing but they face various challenges too.
While social media can help raise awareness and activism, it also increasingly exposes young users to a barrage of alarming information and the risk of misinformation. That can intensify their feelings of helplessness, fear and despair over climate change.
This wave of negative news and imagery can create a sense of urgency that young people might struggle to process, leaving them anxious about the state of the planet and its future.
It begs the question: how to ease young people's eco-anxiety while still using social media for environmental awareness?
Studies suggest young people tend to experience higher levels of eco-anxiety.
The global survey on climate anxiety among children and people aged 16 to 25 years from 10 countries, including Brazil, India, Nigeria, Philippines and Australia, revealed that they are extremely worried and feel sad, powerless, helpless and betrayed by their governments.
This survey also revealed that the adverse impacts on daily life from the climate crisis were greater for youth in the Global South.
While problem-focused coping has seen young people engaging more in climate action and activism, the unpleasant emotions — including frustration over governments' lack of political will and action — is contributing to the rising eco-anxiety and poor mental health.
A study found that individuals experiencing eco-anxiety had higher rates of depression, anxiety, stress, lower self-reported mental health and functional impairment.
Eco-anxiety is compounding the pre-existing mental health issues of young people that are often neglected or overlooked.
The World Health Organization reports that globally one in seven 10 to 19 year-olds live with a mental health condition, with suicide being the fourth-leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds.
In Indonesia, the National Adolescent Mental Health Survey found that around one in three people aged 10 to 17 showed symptoms of a mental disorder in the past year.
Eco-anxiety during adolescence can cause chronic distress that can affect a young person's well-being into adulthood. It is crucial for them to receive timely and appropriate mental health support.
Eco-anxiety was found to have a significant correlation with the rate of exposure to information about the impacts of climate change, the amount of attention paid to climate change information and what is seen as acceptable by peers.
Social media plays a critical role in this exposure to information and can significantly influence cognitive biases that increase the tendency to trust and circulate information that fits with existing beliefs or political inclinations.
These biases are magnified in a digital landscape where biased social media algorithms often create echo chambers and filter bubbles. Those algorithms will reinforce existing viewpoints.
Social media giants like Facebook and X (formerly known as Twitter) employ algorithms that tailor the users' content based on online sponsorship, promotions, and predicted emotional reactions, regardless of whether these reactions are of joy, sympathy or anger.
This overexposure to unbalanced and biased information about climate change can deepen the effects of eco-anxiety and the general mental health on the young, especially those with pre-existing conditions.
This is particularly important for emerging economies like Indonesia — the world's fourth-most populous country — that has a large youth population and is a nation grappling with substantial climate risks.
Indonesia is home to the world's fourth-largest group of Facebook users and the fifth-largest group of X (previously known as Twitter) users.
While more evidence about the role of social media on eco-anxiety is needed, governments could also focus more on safeguarding the growing and vulnerable youth populations from the dark side of social media in the context of the climate crisis.
That would let young people to actively engage in climate action while mitigating the risk of social media-driven eco-anxiety.
Building media literacy education into schools and youth networks to increase awareness about climate change is also part of the solution.
Including young people's voices and experiences is crucial in understanding the impacts of social media and eco-anxiety on their mental health and helping governments develop effective programs.
A 2022 study found that positive news stories about climate action can help young people's mental and social well-being.
Governments could drive this by establishing youth advisory boards and collaborating with social media and news platforms to formulate appropriate climate change reporting guidelines.
This initiative will ensure that young people's voices are considered in the decision-making process and that social media and news platforms actively contribute to strengthening youth action and well-being around climate change.
If this article has raised issues for you, or if you're concerned about someone you know, visit https://findahelpline.com/i/iasp.
Additional reporting and contribution by Ida Bagus Nyoman Adi Palguna, a youth mental health advocate and Health Science student at University of the People. He is the founder and head of Indonesia-based youth mental health community, Dengarkanaku.org.
Dr Gabriela Fernando is an assistant professor at Monash University Indonesia. Her key areas of interest are in interdisciplinary concepts across global health equity, non-communicable diseases, and women’s health and gender equality, with a particular focus on the South and Southeast Asia region.
Within hailing distance: First there was Meru. Then there were a clutch of Meru-like cab aggregators, followed by Ola and Uber. Today, India’s cutthroat ride-hailing market also has challengers such as BluSmart, InDrive, and a bevy of hyperlocal players waiting to strike gold. Most of these have EV fleets. What do they bring to the table, and what do they not? In the latest episode of TechTonic Shift, we compare the ride-hailing business models of yesterday and today, and what that bodes for driver-partners and you, the passenger. Available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts.
An impossible task: “This bondage is the bondage of love, it is the intercourse of many births.” No, we’re not going crazy. These are the actual translated lyrics of a song from the popular Bollywood movie Karan Arjun. (Aah! Now did you get it?) If you thought writing subtitles for dialogues in Bollywood movies would be a chore, think about what translators or film subtitlers go through when a song turns up. It requires an additional layer of interpretation, and the task can be so daunting since even an unintentional goof-up can make you the subject of countless memes. Bollywood songs can be rhymes, conversations, stories, or pure gibberish, like the opening lines of Badtameez Dil (Paan mein pudeena dekha, naak ka nagina dekha…) How do you translate a culture and translate across cultures? This Outlook piece dives into the wondrous art of subtitling Bollywood songs.
How Vine died: Before there was (the Gen Z favourite) TikTok, there was (the millennial favourite) Vine. The platform, which featured videos capped at six seconds, is the kernel from where the modern creator economy emerged. Think Liza Koshy, the Paul brothers (Jake and Logan), Lele Pon, and Jay Versace.
Things seemed promising when Twitter bought the OG shortform video app in 2012 for a reported $30 million. But it wasn’t meant to be. All it took was a bunch of secret meetings at a now-infamous address: 1600 Vine in Los Angeles. By 2015, the apartment complex housed nearly 20 top Viners who became so influential, they started monetising a platform that couldn’t care less about monetisation. And in order to game Vine’s algorithm, some of them posted content so problematic, it made Vine and Twitter execs break into a sweat. Enter those meetings. We won’t spoil it for you; instead, we recommend that you head over to The Washington Post for the goss on how things fell apart.
Lucky chronicler: Michael Lewis is always in the right place at the right time. No doubt about that. It’s not only luck, but also a fair bit of who he is that makes people open their deepest secrets to him. Even when they know that it may be a bad idea. The thing is they do not even feel rancorous. From the time his autobiographical first book Liar’s Poker became a wild success, Lewis has had no dearth of witnesses to speak to whatever the subject he chose to write about. Often the leads came from those who occupied central space in his chronicles of Wall Street, such as Danny Moses from The Big Short providing the tip-off for Flash Boys. As Samanth Subramanian writes in this nuanced unrolling of Lewis’ craft and methods in The Guardian, he is the “Hemingway of the bull ring” of the “moneyed men and women of the US”. None of that, however, would match the proximity to events, sometimes even before they happened, he enjoyed for his latest offering, Going Infinite, on fallen FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF). Lewis was already embedded into the SBF ecosystem for several months, preparing to write the story of a man creating financial history when the curly-haired nerd turned out to be a fraud. In spite of his exclusive peephole into SBF’s head, Lewis had misread him completely. Now, it was upon him to write a different book.
In memory of Meitner: Earlier this year, Katie Hafner, journalist, author, and host of the podcast Lost Women Of Science, visited a nondescript grave in a small churchyard in England. It had taken her and a friend 30 minutes to locate it. The grave, overrun by weeds, had a faded tombstone that belied the stature of the person who lay six feet under. That person was Lise Meitner. Meitner, a Jewish physicist, was nominated for the Nobel Prize 46 times but never won it. Considering this is Nobel season, we thought it fitting to curate this story in The New York Times about how one of the greatest scientists, who helped discover nuclear fission, never got her due. Not by a then-Nazi Germany—which forced her to flee her home and start from scratch—and not by her colleague Otto Hahn, who got sole credit and the 1946 Nobel for it. Read and seethe.
‘This Land (Isn’t) Your Land’: What do you do when your land, rivers, crops, cattle, even pets turn metallic red? Protest isn’t allowed, and peaceful resistance is met with violence. You are branded a ‘terrorist’ and the only help available is offered by your very oppressors. This is the reality of the Adivasi communities of Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, whose lives and homes have been destroyed by iron ore mining. This long account in Scroll describes the plight of the tribal residents in the mineral-rich forests of Maharashtra, where they lack Scheduled Tribe status and its protections. When these communities object to the pollution caused by mining, they are accused of being ’Naxalites’, harassed, and even killed by the police. Meanwhile, private mining companies such as Lloyds are trying to win them over with factory jobs even as iron ore sludge slowly makes their homes uninhabitable.
Naxals aren’t active in this region anymore. But it may be doomed to a self-fulfilling prophecy; the Adivasis of Gadchiroli have been pushed to the brink of survival and have no option but to fight the faceless state with all their might.
The Grand Kabul Hotel: A grand reception? Check. Ballrooms? Check. Swimming pool? Check. High-flying guests? Er…
Running a five-star hotel in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan is kind of like selling ice cream in Antarctica. It’s an uphill battle. Though that’s what Samiullah Faqiri is tasked with—to revitalise the Intercontinental, Afghanistan’s sole ‘luxury’ hotel. Once known for its decadent parties and music concerts, the Intercontinental is now a pale shadow of its past. To fix that the government is trying an experiment, forcing Talib fighters to work with civilians. Success would demonstrate their administrative capabilities and inject some much-needed funds. But extreme poverty, closed international borders, and a ban on music are getting in the way. Intrigued? Take a glimpse inside the Taliban's luxury hotel here.