#nofilter – The Truth About Young Teens on Instagram

By Meghan Ianiro (Class of 2015)


14-year-old Megan Welsh stares intently at her phone. The social media app Instagram is open and she’s switching back and forth between two filters. Ten minutes go by after a filter is finally chosen and contrast, exposure, brightness, and color temperature are all adjusted. About a dozen hashtags are placed in a caption and the photo is posted.

Now, the waiting for likes begins…

Welsh is a self-proclaimed Instagram addict, posting anywhere from 1 to 6 times daily and hashtagging her photos to get as many likes as possible. And with over half of Instagram’s 150 million+ users actively using the app on a daily basis, there’s no doubt that media has found yet another way to expose an ideal look and lifestyle — this time to an even younger generation of people.

Instagram has reached new heights when it comes to appealing to youth. According to full-service investment bank and asset management firm Piper Jaffray’s twice yearly teen survey, American teens now describe Instagram as the “most important” app compared to Facebook and Twitter. More than half of Americans 12 to 24 years of age also said they had an account on Instagram in early 2014, according to Edison Research and Triton Digital.

Instagram also recently announced that it has 300 million users, surpassing Twitter’s 284 million users.

When asked why she loves Instagram so much, Welsh explained how it’s a form of approval and reassurance from her peers.

“It’s like however many likes you get, that’s how many people think you’re pretty. The more likes you get, the prettier you are.” Welsh laughed. “I don’t like seeing anything less than 12 likes within half an hour. That basically means that it’s not a good enough picture.”

But the reality behind the need to impress others on this photographic highlight reel of sorts is no laughing matter. “Likeaholics” are rising in the world of social media. A likeaholic is someone whose mood correlates to the amount of likes he or she gets on social media.

“Honestly, I take it personally,” Welsh said about likes. “If someone doesn’t like what I posted, then I just assume they disliked it.

“Likes are like happiness points to me. The more I get, the better I feel. Sometimes, if I’m not happy with the amount of likes I get, I just delete the picture,” claimed Welsh,

Celebrities’ presences on Instagram have also proven to set unrealistic expectations for the app’s users. The recent controversy behind whether or not Kylie Jenner’s lips are real or fake based solely on the photos she posted on Instagram, and the following guides on how to get lips just like hers have proven just how focused society is on the photos being posted on the app.

According to Social Blade, The Kardashians/Jenners,  Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Ariana Grande, Rihanna, Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, and Miley Cyrus are among the most-followed celebrities on Instagram. Their mostly preteen demographic makes this statistic no surprise.

“I definitely feel pressure from the celebrities I follow on Instagram. They’re always posting pictures with the cutest clothes and perfect makeup and fancy parties and it’s so frustrating! Like, ‘why can’t my life be like that?!’” said Welsh, whose favorite celebrity to follow on Instagram is Ariana Grande.

“Her hair and makeup and clothes always look absolutely flawless. I don’t even know how she makes herself look so perfect and polished,” Welsh stated.

Psychologist Lawrence C. Rubin Ph.D of Fort Lauderdale, FL specializes in the relationship between psychology and media. He explained how easy it is for one to become consumed by things presented in the media when there’s nothing to bring him or her back to reality.

“I think that without healthy, corrective and supportive normalizing voices, that people can be victimized by the unrealistic expectations and standards depicted in media,” said Dr. Rubin in an email interview.

Dr. Rubin also believes that social media apps like Instagram contribute to younger generations feeling the need to have a “perfect life” and the “perfect look,” and constant exposure to what we don’t have is bound to have a negative mental effect on us.

Photo editing apps like PhotoWonder which allows users to slim their faces and bodies,  Camera+ which provides a wide variety of filters and photo editing features, and Perfect365 which gives users digital beauty makeovers also contribute to beauty pressure on young Instagram users.

Photo manipulation through smartphone apps is nothing new. Chinese photo app BeautyPlus recently raised attention with its plastic-surgery-like editing options. The app can remove blemishes, make eyes larger, give slimming effects, change skin color, and essentially give someone a digital facelift.

“I use Afterlight and Facetune which make you look so much better. It makes your pictures look like magazine covers and your face just looks flawless,” said Welsh, who admits to almost never posting a photo on Instagram without prior editing.

A recent survey of 1,000 women conducted by Glamour magazine found that 64% of said that they feel bad about their bodies after looking at photos posted on social media platforms like Instagram, and that the more time a woman spends on social media, the worse they feel about their bodies.

“I do feel kind of worse about myself when I see how perfect celebrities look on Instagram, but I even feel that way toward my friends. If my friends are doing something fun or they look better or they have something that I want, I’ll get a little depressed and feel bad about myself. Especially if they get a lot of likes,” said Welsh.

As for whether or not this trend will end anytime soon, Welsh has her doubts.

“I don’t think my friends and I will ever stop using Instagram,” she said. “It’s just too addicting and it’s a great way to see life through other people’s eyes.”


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