Treatise: Body image and the digital mirror

By promoting unattainable notions of beauty, many digital technologies have blunted the confidence of women and young girls.

Unrealistic beauty standards for women have persisted throughout history, casting a shadow over their self-perception. From traditional media to the digital landscape, these unattainable ideals perpetuate the notion of perfection, shaping what society deems to be “truly beautiful.” Unfortunately, these standards often align with Eurocentric features, leaving little room for diversity and inclusivity in representations of beauty. As a result, girls and young women are bombarded with images that reinforce narrow definitions of attractiveness. 

In the digital age, users should carefully scroll through social media feeds as personalized content floods the screens. This powerful platform wields a double-edged sword—it shapes our perceptions and exacerbates existing insecurities. The challenge lies in forming a more diverse, inclusive, and empathetic online environment where women can feel safe and seen beyond rigid beauty norms. 

Beauty filters, algorithms, and social media have created a culture of insecurity and comparison.

The algorithm’s gaze

The advent of social media has created new dimensions for the quest for beauty. Eliana Gallardo-Echenique, a senior researcher at the Universidad Peruana de Ciencias Aplicadas, says that many studies reveal the connection between media consumption and body image dissatisfaction among young girls and women. 

Even after filtering the content of their feeds, some users may still encounter triggering messages and posts about their appearances. The culprit behind these persisting norms is the algorithm. 

Like a mirror, the algorithm reflects a user’s interests and biases. One of the most commonly used social media platforms is Facebook, which uses machine learning algorithms to train on users’ engagements, such as likes, comments, and shares on certain posts. The trained algorithm will then make predictions on which posts a user will most likely interact with, generating personalized content on the user’s feeds. 

However, the algorithm amplifies more of our existing biases, as it shows content related to what we agree with, creating a vicious cycle of reinforcing preferences and filtering out the content that contradicts us. In the realm of politics, this echo chamber has contributed to the spread of misinformation and radical ideologies. On a more personal level, it can leave a lasting impact on women’s perception of themselves. 

Scrolling through social media, we unconsciously reinforce negative stereotypes and internalize the unattainable. Harmful trends, such as the thinspiration and fitspiration posts on Instagram, may also compound the pressure felt by young women to conform to these ideal standards. Constant exposure to these types of content can be detrimental to one’s mental health. Adolescents, in particular, are susceptible to self-comparison. As they go through puberty, they become more aware of their bodies. Without proper guidance and by overusing social media, they can develop a false perception that they must chase after some ideal body type. 

Filters and editing tools that promise transformation also blur the line between reality and illusion. Now powered by artificial intelligence (AI), altering facial features in photos has become easier. A simple look on the camera will automatically adapt your facial features to the “ideal” face ratio. Snapchat offers a wide range of filters that change not only the background colors of the photo but also enhance the color of your skin, slim your jawline, and adjust the size of your lips. It has been reported that users of this platform use filters due to the intense pressure to look a certain way. 

Caught with the allure of filters and comparison, users grapple with their own reflections. A survey of 227 female university students revealed that women tend to compare themselves negatively with their peers and celebrities. However, behind these pixelated images we see are people who also yearn to be seen beyond the algorithm’s gaze. 

Magnifying pixels

While social networks can amplify the pressure to fit into societal beauty standards, they also harbor a means of resistance. Gallardo-Echenique expounds that the new feminist era has not only begun to question male gaze-centered beauty but has also offered alternatives. The body positive movement, fueled by the same channels, champions diversity and self-acceptance.

Body positivity is a social movement that revolves around the idea that all bodies are good bodies and advocates for the acceptance of all shapes, sizes, skin tones, genders, and physical abilities. Isabel* (IV, BS-MKT) expresses that through the movement, she feels “less pressure to conform to traditional beauty standards.”

Societal pressures to appeal to unrealistic beauty standards have caused both physical and psychological damage to many, with body dissatisfaction being one of the most common causes of eating disorders. In Filipino culture, it is even common to be body-shamed by one’s own family. With the rise of the body positivity movement, this is slowly changing.

“The body positivity movement has helped me accept that it’s normal to feel uncomfortable when people, even those close to you, comment on your body and weight,” Nathanielle* (IV, BS-FIN) shares. “The rising popularity of the movement has also helped me develop a healthier relationship with food and exercise.”

Away from the screen

Despite the good that came with the body positivity movement, negatives have still arisen. Some have used the movement as an excuse to be complacent with their bodies and no longer work to better themselves such as by avoiding healthy habits like regular exercise, resulting in the criticism that the body positivity movement promotes unhealthiness. Other sentiments include how the movement is vain because it focuses on people’s appearances, suggesting that their value is still based on their looks.

Several other body-related movements, such as body neutrality, have also emerged online, providing other alternatives on how women should take control and view their bodies. The digital sphere has definitely made the conversation on body image more accessible yet more difficult at the same time. Though numerous body-related movements have made women more comfortable with themselves, social media algorithms continue to push toxic portrayals of beauty.

No matter which movement a person chooses to align themselves with or even if they choose to avoid them altogether, it is important that they prioritize their overall health. Oftentimes, a healthy body does not always manifest aesthetically—a fact that the media and algorithms fail to propagate. In the age of social media and generative AI, navigating this body image pandemonium is easier said than done. It will likely take many women a long time to foster a healthy relationship with their bodies, but perhaps one of the simplest ways to start is by stepping away from the screen.

*Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms

This article was published in The LaSallian‘s March 2024 issue. To read more, visit

Madeleine Lim

By Madeleine Lim

Rachel Manlapig

By Rachel Manlapig

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