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For better or worse, celebrities have a powerful impact on how teens view themselves and how they see the world. In fact, it’s easy to underestimate how much celebrities influence teenage attitudes and behavior.

Celebrities can have a positive influence on youth. In fact, they can serve as role models. But famous singers, actors, and other celebrities can also provide unhealthy examples. In particular, celebrity influence on body image and substance use is often detrimental to teen mental health.

Therefore, teenagers need guidance on how to interpret celebrities’ influence. Adults can engage with kids around media. In addition, they therefore support how children process what they’re seeing and hearing. Moreover, parents and teachers can use celebrities’ stories as entry points into important discussions about health and personal choices.

The Impact of Media on Teen Body Image

Research shows that teen body image is shaped by many factors. These include friends and family, where the teen lives, and their cultural background. However, celebrity images have a profound impact on teen body image.

The Today Show and collaborated on the “Ideal to Real” body image survey. As a result, the survey found that 80 percent of teen girls compare themselves to images they see of celebrities. Moreover, among those girls, almost half said that celebrity images make them feel dissatisfied with the way they look.

Therefore, appearance is among teenagers’ top concerns, teen girls in particular. In her book Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, author Lisa Bloom reveals that 25 percent of young American women would rather win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize.

How Celebrities Influence Teen Eating Disorders

Why does celebrity influence on teen body image matter? Because body dissatisfaction is linked to mental health challenges, including eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem. Studies find that young women who consume media with many images of an unrealistic “thin ideal” are more likely to exhibit symptoms of disordered eating. In addition, the Girl Scouts Research Institute found that nearly half of girls ages 13 to 17 wish they were as skinny as the models in fashion magazines.

Celebrities play into this trend when they document their extreme diets or use language that can be triggering for those with eating disorders—such as when the entertainer Kim Kardashian recently expressed gratitude for being told she “looks anorexic.” News outlets covered a conversation between the Kardashians and the backlash it spawned. When celebrities minimize the severity of eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, or endorse taking unhealthy products to suppress appetite, they are emulating dysfunction.

Furthermore, for celebrities that are as exploited for their physical bodies as often as the Kardashian family is, they are shirking an opportunity to reframe the narrative around healthy weight. Hence, teens are told that looking skinny defines your worth. This messaging is superficial, heartbreaking for many, and can be deadly for those who suffer with life-threatening eating disorders.

And it’s not just teen girls who are affected. Research shows that young men also experience body dissatisfaction and depression as a result of viewing media images. And this body dissatisfaction can lead to unhealthy, excessive exercising among male teens.

Positive Celebrity Influence on Teen Body Image

However, some celebrities influence the body-image discussion for the better. For example, the singer Lorde called out a Photoshopped image of herself on Twitter. She noted that one photo showed her with “perfect” skin while the other was real. “Remember, flaws are ok,” she tweeted.

Other celebrities, including Rihanna, Beyoncé, Melissa McCarthy, and Jennifer Lawrence have spoken out against the ideals of beauty promoted by the entertainment and fashion industries.

“You shouldn’t be pressured into trying to be thin by the fashion industry, because they only want models that are like human mannequins. You have to remember that it’s not practical or possible for an everyday woman to look like that. It’s not realistic and it’s not healthy.”


Substance Use and Celebrity Influence

Celebrities influence teens in other ways as well. When stars post images of themselves drinking or smoking on social media, they normalize substance use. Furthermore, they make it appear attractive and cool.

Moreover, teens often idolize celebrities and want to be like them. Therefore, if they see images on Instagram of a favorite singer or actor using drugs or drinking, they might be tempted to do so as well.

For example, a University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine study looked at teenagers who frequently listen to music that contains references to marijuana. Subsequently, they found that these teens are more likely to use the drug than teens with less exposure to such lyrics.

In addition, for every hour that American teens listen to music, they hear more than three references to different brand names of alcohol. Researchers say that this might contribute to teen drinking. In addition, researchers at Dartmouth Medical School found that movie characters who smoke cigarettes influence teens to try smoking. Therefore, media influence on youth can contribute to risk-taking behaviors.

The Impact of Celebrity Endorsements on Teen Nutrition

Moreover, celebrities influence how teens eat. In one study, researchers examined endorsements made by 163 music celebrities who were popular with teens. They used Teen Choice Award nominations as a way to measure the celebrities’ popularity among adolescents. And many of these celebrities endorsed snack foods and non-alcoholic beverages.

Subsequently, the researchers found that 71 percent of the beverage endorsements promoted sugar-sweetened drinks. Also, 81 percent of the endorsed foods were low in healthy nutrients. In other words, celebrities are encouraging teens to eat food that doesn’t support their physical or mental development.

That’s because nutrition and teen mental health are closely linked. Certain nutrients directly contribute to mental health. And an increasing body of research reveals the negative impact of sugar on the brain and body.

Read “Top 10 Foods to Eat Every Day.”

Celebrities Can Raise Awareness and Reduce Stigma

Many celebrities are open about their struggles with addiction and mental health. As a result, they help to reduce stigma and raise awareness. For example, before reportedly entering rehab after an apparent drug overdose earlier this summer, Demi Lovato released a song about relapse, titled “Sober.” Consequently, the song inspired young people nationwide to open up about their substance abuse and mental health challenges.

Lovato has struggled for years with drug abuse, alcoholism, depression, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders. While her recovery continues, her song helped increase understanding around relapse and addiction. For many people, relapse is part of the recovery journey. Furthermore, it provides an opportunity to address the underlying issues and build better coping strategies.

In addition, the singer Ariana Grande has been frank about her battle with PTSD and anxiety following a bombing at a concert venue while she was performing. Moreover, the model Bella Hadid has shared about her social anxiety. And England’s Prince Harry has spoken publicly about the trauma of losing his mother, Princess Diana. Subsequently, he and Prince William formed the Heads Together initiative. The project tackles stigma, raises awareness, and provides help for people with mental health challenges.

These are just a few of the many celebrities who have shared their struggles with the world. As a result, celebrities influence the public’s understanding of these issues.

How to Talk to Teens About Celebrity Influence

How does media influence teens? Because pop culture plays such a big role in teens’ lives, celebrities influence the way teens think and what they talk about. Therefore, parents can use celebrities’ experiences as avenues for talking about sensitive subjects.

Thus, celebrity anorexia cases offer opportunities to talk to teens about how dangerous the “thin ideal” can be. And they can discuss healthy ways to stay fit and eat well. Moreover, stars who speak out about coping with mental illnesses demonstrate that people with such diagnoses can be successful and happy.

Parents might ask teens what they admire about the stars they follow. What qualities do they want to emulate? Perhaps creativity, passion, or dedication? What can they learn from the lives of celebrities who have struggled with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or substance use?

Some teens are upset when they find out about a celebrity’s struggles. Therefore, parents can offer a different viewpoint: Stars who share their stories are examples of courage, honesty, and authenticity. Moreover, their vulnerability makes them stronger. And they often receive tremendous support and love after opening up. In this way, they serve as role models for youth.

However, some celebrities are unable to overcome mental health conditions. The deaths this year of designer Kate Spade and television personality Anthony Bourdain brought renewed attention to mental illness and suicide. Therefore, the message for teens is that people who are suffering must seek professional treatment as soon as possible.

In conclusion, celebrities are really people. Thus, they experience real struggles. But because they are in the public eye, teens have the opportunity to learn from them. And parents can help them sort through the information and take away a healthy message.

Images courtesy of unsplash


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Celebrities face a great deal of pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty standards. Their body shapes, and appearances are documented, scrutinized, and critiqued. Thankfully, there are some strong and powerful individuals who have become vocal about promoting self acceptance. Listed below are just a few of the celebrities that have been influential in promoting a healthy message when it comes to body image.

Demi Lovato has talked extensively about her struggles with eating disorders. She recounts that as a child she compulsively over-ate, then starved herself after being called fat at school by bullies. Demi speaks of the pressure that she felt to be perfect that contributed to her disorder. She states that she feels the most beautiful when she relaxes without makeup.

Ferne Cotton is a BBC television presenter who helped research and present a documentary titled The Truth About Online Anorexia. She has since been involved in promoting the message to young girls that they should try only to be themselves and love who they are.

Laverne Cox is another celebrity who is vocal about positive body image. The actress and producer puts an emphasis on allowing women to be themselves. Her message is that women should not allow the media to dictate to them who they should be, or tell them that their bodies are not right.

Lorde, recently shared unphotoshopped pictures of herself to remind her fans that “flaws are ok”. The pop singer then continued her campaign to prove to teenage girls that she is not perfect by posting selfies of her face covered in zit cream. Lorde has at least 1.3 million followers on Twitter, so she is in a good position to share positive body image messages.

Jennifer Lawrence is an inspiration for people who think that being an actress is only about being thin and not eating well. The star is very open about the disturbing number of actresses who present with eating disorders and has stated that she will never starve her body for an acting role. She is known for statements that strongly denounce the thin ideal. Jennifer has stated that she is always very aware that her actions and body weight will affect younger fans and has acted as a great role model for positive body image by looking after and loving her body. Jennifer Lawrence has also stated that if things like cigarettes are regulated due to the potential for harm to the younger generation, that fat-shaming should also be regulated.

Nina Dobrev has stated that she will never give up snacking or count calories. She also explains that limiting the food that you eat can damage your mood and make people grumpy.

Taylor Swift has admitted to suffering from negative body image issues. She has stated that once she realized that body image issues were normal, she was better able to become more self-accepting. She explains that reading the stories of other people who also felt inadequate helped her to understand that everyone can feel negative about themselves at times, and that learning to love herself just as she was would be the best long term solution.

Rihanna has spoken about the fashion industry being full of very thin women and how this negatively affects the body image of women over the world. She states that women should not allow the fashion industry to dictate to them what size to be. She has also stated that for most women and girls, size zero is not healthy or attractive and therefore should not be sought after. Rihanna urges girls not to feel pressure from the fashion industry to be thin.

Miley Cyrus was criticized for being full figured in 2011 and has since spoken out publicly about what she refers to as disruptive beauty standards. She has stated that she loves her body, and that by calling her overweight, critics are being a destructive force for the body image of women.

Prince Fielder is a baseball player for the Texas Rangers. He was featured on the front page of ESPN magazine and the picture (see below) was attacked on social media for being “plus-sized.” Prince spoke back about the negative comments his body received, saying that just because a person is big does not mean that they cannot be athletic. Despite the negative comments that Prince got on twitter, the general consensus has been that his was a bold and beautiful move by him towards body acceptance in the media.

Lena Dunham is the creator of and a star in “Girls” a series that takes a comedic look at the lives and experiences of a group of girls in their early twenties. Lena states that she has had to face her own insecurities about not being extremely thin and that she finds a range of women’s bodies to be beautiful and hopes that others do too. She thinks about her “body as a tool to do the stuff I need to do, but not the be all and end all of my existence.”

Khloe Kardashian is another celebrity who is very proud of her body despite struggling previously to accept her bodyweight. She states that she is learning how to love herself and not listen to the standards set by other people. Khloe has also stated that she does not think that you should ever criticize another person’s weight, and that a person’s weight does not define them.

Tyra Banks is a model who is proud of her curves and states that girls of all kinds can be beautiful as long as they are the shape that they are supposed to be naturally. Tyra has been an advocate for encouraging more diverse shapes in the fashion industry and urges girls to take a pledge to look in the mirror and find the unique beauty within.

Tess Munster, known professionally as Tess Holliday, was the first plus-sized model to sign with a major modeling agency. She also started an Instagram account, effyourbodystandards, to encourage women to celebrate their bodies, whatever their size, and to celebrate their unique appearance. Tess wants people to rethink traditional standards of beauty and hopes women will become more self-confident if they learn to accept themselves as they are.

Dascha Polanco is an actress on the show “Orange is the New Black.” She admits to struggling with her body image, and said that her own insecurities prevented her from acting when she was younger. She now works to combat stereotypes and help people be proud of who they are.

Adele is a popular singer who, despite receiving criticism from Karl Lagerfeld on being “a little too fat,” has said she does not feel pressure to be thin and advises young girls to appreciate their bodies.

If you suffer from a negative body image it is important that you choose your role models wisely. The women listed above will help you to understand that everybody feels insecure about how they look at some point in their life, and that by supporting one another people can overcome their fears and better accept themselves. Collectively, they also illustrate that a range of bodies can be beautiful.

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Written By Tabitha Farrar – 2014

Social media, celebrities increase body image anxiety in teens

Hop on Instagram these days, and you won’t have to scroll far to find countless photos of thin, tightly-toned people with perfect hair, clothing and makeup smiling at you from your screen. As adults, often it’s easier to recognize that filters play a major roll in these magazine-like images, but to a child, the standard being set is one that is almost impossible to attain.

Like it or not, social media is a common peer for most adolescents and teens, and kids are gaining access to smartphones and other digital devices at a much younger age. In fact, a 2017 Nielson study revealed nearly half of American kids receive a smartphone by the age of 10.

It used to be that celebrities were most often featured in airbrushed magazines found on drugstore racks, but with the rise of the digital world, these images of false perfection are easily accessed and predominantly spread across the social media platforms most frequented by young people. The pressure to present perfection online has increased at an alarming rate, and it’s taking a significant toll on our kids – particularly young girls.

“There is a growing crisis in children and young people’s mental health, and in particular a gathering crisis in mental distress and depression among girls and young women,” Dr. Bernadka Dubicka of the Royal College of Psychiatrists told the Guardian. “There’s a pressure for young people to be involved 24/7 and keep up with their peer group or they will be left out and socially excluded.”

A recent YMCA survey of 1,000 youth ages 11 to 16 revealed 62% of 15 to 16- year-olds felt major pressure to look a certain way because of what they were seeing on social media. Celebrity accounts were the most influential, with 58% of the kids surveyed saying the beauty standard sent by Instagram’s most famous users was the most impactful.

But it’s not just the teens who felt the anxiety of social media standards. Forty-three percent of the 11 to 12-year-olds surveyed said the images they see on social media played a role in the way they felt about their own image, and influenced their perception of what a “real” body looks like.

In fact, a 2012 study revealed 80% of 10-year-old American girls had been on a diet.

“Today’s beauty standard is completely unobtainable, leading us to constantly feel bad about our bodies and looks,” Denise Hatton, the chief executive for YMCA England and Wales, told the Guardian. “This is particularly the case for young people and it can have serious effects on their mental and physical wellbeing.”

A 2015 study by Common Sense Media found that 35% of teens surveyed admitted to stressing over being tagged in “unattractive” photos posted to social media, 27% said they were often stressed about how they look in photos, and 22% said they felt bad about themselves when they didn’t get enough comments or likes on a photo they posted.

The YMCA has partnered with beauty brand Dove for its Be Real Campaign, which encourages transparency and authenticity on social media by asking users to stop editing their photos before posting.

“The latest part of this movement is the Be Real Body Image Pledge which calls on the advertising, fashion, music and media industries to pledge to transform the way they portray body image and to responsibly reflect reality, diversity and healthy role models for all,” the company’s website reads. “And we think it’s a change that can’t come soon enough.”

The hope is that youth will put aside the pressure to meet an impossible standard, and instead embrace the things that truly make each person beautiful.

“We’ve all been guilty of only posting our most flattering pictures on social media,” Hatton said. “While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to show yourself from your best angle, it’s important that we still like ourselves when we’re not looking our best, which is probably the majority of the time for most of us.”

The negative effects of frequent social media use in teens are widespread. Studies have shown teens who spend a lot of time scrolling Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat have difficulty sleeping and increased anxiety and depression.

So what can we as parents do to combat these negative effects? Common Sense Media suggests body image talk starts at home.

  1. Ban all “fat talk”: Tell your kids what you appreciate about your own body and watch what you say about others.
  2. Get involved: Stay tuned into your kids lives by asking them about school, friends and feelings. Nurture a positive self image and steph in when necessary.
  3. Start early: Emphasize health and not weight, teach appreciation for all body types and people and focus on talents and strengths instead of outward appearance.
  4. Immunize your child: Choose quality media with diverse characters, question assumptions about appearance and challenge stereotypes.
  5. Be a social media supporter: Help teens find supportive online communities, encourage social media breaks when drama unfolds, and ask your teens how online feedback makes them feel.

The recent 2015 MTV Video Music Awards event was notable – not for the recognition of award recipients, but for the public spat between host Miley Cyrus and hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj.

Whether real or staged, the hurling of insults and aggressive behaviour dominated mainstream press coverage of the ceremony surely much to the delight of MTV.

Both Minaj and Cyrus are known for courting controversy and have been criticised for being “bad” role models for young people, particularly girls and young women. But what if the mainstream media considered that young people actually use incidents such as this and celebrity culture in a wider sense in a whole host of complex ways to negotiate their identities?

A well-publicised survey of UK parents with children under ten years old voted both Cyrus and Minaj as the worst role models for their daughters. This came even before the recent spat.

The dislike of Minaj and Cyrus appears to be centred on their penchant for dressing provocatively and being outspoken about their sexuality. In predictable contrast, the Duchess of Cambridge was considered the most positive influence on young girls. The worst male offenders were musicians and performers Kanye West, Justin Bieber and former One Direction band member Zayn Malik.

Obsessed with celebrity

Discourse in this vein is not a new phenomenon. Musicians and performers have long been considered to influence young people in negative ways. In the 21st century, the impact of celebrity culture on society, especially on young people, has come under scrutiny.

Are today’s youth obsessed with celebrity? Is this detrimental to society? Can celebrities ever have a positive influence on young people? Does celebrity culture really matter? These are complex and plural questions to which there are few, if any, concrete answers. However, what is routinely ignored in mainstream media is young people’s sense of agency.

Much of the research and commentary surrounding such questions is centred on how celebrity culture may impact upon health and well being in terms of eating disorders or mental health issues.

The rise and dominance of social media sites such as Instagram and their links to the glorification of “super-skinny” celebrities have been cited as influences in the rise of eating disorders in young people.

The British Psychological Society recently said experts warned that youngsters are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with images permeating from a celebrity culture in which thin bodies are celebrated, larger ones are ridiculed and children are sexualised.

Sense of identity

It is logical to suggest that continual exposure to celebrity culture impacts in negative ways on some young people’s senses of identity. This may well affect health and well being, but how this happens and to what degree is incredibly complex. We must also consider the ways in which the media choose to present rather narrow ideas about how celebrities – particularly female ones – should behave and how they should look.

Those whose behaviour falls outside of these narrow ideas are often condemned as being wayward, controversial and difficult. Indeed young people may well negotiate their own gendered identities through the celebrity and by talking about them with their peers. The Celeb Youth project in the United Kingdom is an excellent example of much needed academic research into the field of celebrity and identity. It focused on the influence of celebrities in the construction of young people’s aspirations.

What is omitted from the media conversation about celebrities as role models is that many young people are more than capable of making informed, intelligent choices about which celebrities they follow and are becoming increasingly aware of the ways in which the media positions celebrities against each other in terms of race and class.

Young people may connect with those that they feel best represent them as well as those that do not. Indeed, it is also fair to suggest that many young people have no interest in celebrity culture at all.

It is the active and complex use of celebrity culture by young people to negotiate the world around them that is often lost in favour of sweeping generalisations about negative impacts. Perhaps rather than eliminating celebrity culture from the classroom, it could be used productively and constructively to allow young people to make sense of the world they are growing up in.

Why should we listen to celebrities like Bono or Angelina Jolie when they endorse a politician or take a position on an issue? Do we listen to them? Despite their lack of public policy experience, celebrities are certainly everywhere in the media, appealing on behalf of the oppressed, advocating policy change—even, in one spectacular case, leading the birther movement all the way to the White House. In this book Mark Harvey takes a close look into the phenomenon of celebrity advocacy in an attempt to determine the nature of celebrity influence, and the source and extent of its power.

Focusing on two specific kinds of power—the ability to “spotlight” issues in the media and to persuade audiences—Harvey searches out the sources of celebrity influence and compares them directly to the sources of politicians’ influence. In a number of case studies—such as Jolie and Ben Affleck drawing media attention to the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo; Bob Marley uniting warring factions in Jamaica; John Lennon networking with the new left to oppose Richard Nixon’s re-election; Elvis Presley working with Nixon to counter anti-war activism—he details the role of celebrities working with advocacy groups and lobbying politicians to affect public opinion and influence policy. A series of psychological experiments demonstrate that celebrities can persuade people to accept their policy positions, even on national security issues.

“This fascinating book opens the door to new, essential understandings of US politics. The work features meticulous quantitative analysis, and the second chapter, which explains the rise of celebrity influence, is must reading for anyone interested in contemporary politics. Essential.”


“Celebrity politicians and politicized celebrities have had a vital impact upon politics within the first two decades of the 21st century. Mark Harvey’s important new book provides a theoretically informed and empirically grounded account of this phenomenon. His qualitative and quantitative analysis concerning the political effects of celebrity engagement is especially welcome due to it terrific level of detail. Moreover, Harvey’s insightful account is particularly prescient in the light of the ultimate celebrity politician Donald Trump’s ascendency to the office of the Presidency of the United States.”

—Mark Wheeler, Professor of Political Communications London Metropolitan University

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“In Celebrity Influence Mark Harvey makes a persuasive case for the power of celebrities to shape the national conversation. Harvey offers a detailed and historically rich context through which to understand how entertainers and athletes channel their fame and credibility with audiences into political action. In an era when show business and politics have become increasingly intertwined, Harvey presents a timely analysis of an underappreciated topic.”

—Alan Schroeder, author of Presidential Debates: Risky Business on the Campaign Trail

“If there is one thing that the election of Donald Trump has taught us, it is that the phenomenon of celebrity politics is very real and very important. In his book Celebrity Influence, Mark Harvey explores this phenomenon more thoroughly and more seriously than perhaps any social scientist ever has. If you are interested in why and how celebrities affect our politics, you should read this book.”

—Anthony J. Nownes, Professor of Political Science, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

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Harvey’s analysis of news sources reveals that when celebrities speak about issues of public importance, they get disproportionately more coverage than politicians. Further, his reading of surveys tells us that people find politicians no more or less credible than celebrities—except politicians from the opposing party, who are judged less credible. At a time when the distinctions between politicians and celebrities are increasingly blurred, the insights into celebrity influence presented in this volume are as relevant as they are compelling.

Does celebrity culture have a positive or negative impact?

Celebrity culture and their life are increasingly impacting on young adults by setting a false example of their body image and their life choices. We have been interviewing young adolescents to adults which have their own opinion on celebrity culture and how they’re impacting the society with their actions and choices.

We spoke to three teachers, one year eight student and also a Sixth Former.

Mr Aitchison said, “Celebrity culture is a travesty and damaging our society. I don’t follow celebrities online because I am too busy leading my own life instead of following the false shallowness of people.”

We also asked him for his opinion on Miley Cyrus’ transformation; this is what he replied with, “She will do anything sensible as a business woman. She did something to get back when her career was over. She did it with a BANG! Celebrities do have an effect on my daily life personally because they create low self esteem in our young people, which discourages students to be confident.”

Another teacher had a different view on celebrity culture, this was Mr Wright he had said, “They become too obsessed, they end up becoming celebrities without actually achieving anything. My opinion about Miley Cyrus’ transformation is that because she was brought up in Disney she was expected to be perfect and no one expected her becoming a rebel, so fair play to her.”

There was also one Sixth Former that had a different opinion to both of the teachers. Tom said, “I think that celebrity culture is stupid and they are only good at their own thing. The only reason why I follow the celebrities is because there are few interesting things like how they live their rich life and get to do exciting things.”

We asked him a couple of questions based on Miley Cyrus’ transformation and how celebrity life effects his life. This was Tom’s answer, “It’s not nice and she was better and prettier before. Now she is weird and has a bad influence on young people. Celebrities don’t have an effect on my life because I’m not really bothered about them.”

In conclusion, celebrity culture divides opinion amongst youngsters and adults.

What do you think? Do you indulge in celebrity culture?

By Nicole, Jackson, Oliwia & Hazel

How Social Media Impacts Beauty Standards for Boys and Girls

Paige SmithFollow May 11, 2017 · 4 min read

Social media has increased in popularity ever since the idea of smart phones and tablets started to appear for sale; there are various types of “social apps”, where millions of people can create their own profile and communicate with each other. While one may think social media only consists of contacting friends and sharing memories, the use of social has started to become the complete opposite of its purpose. Social media has slowly progressed into presenting boys and girls with their definition of what is “perfect” or “beautiful” and it has started to make an impact on self-esteem.


Girls have been known for experiencing the body image issues and what they need to look like in order to be more accepted towards others. At a young age, they start to view others and focus on what they wish to change about themselves. With social media being apart of their lives the majority of the time, they experience the images and other posts, which reflect on social media’s ideal “beauty”. With this mindset, it is likely for girls to become diagnosed with an eating disorder and other forms of mental disorders.


When people think about social media affecting one’s self-esteem, they would start to think about girls being the majority of those who are impacted. However, today boys can have just as negative of an impact by the use of social media and their self-esteem. Boys today view the ideal “perfection” to become more muscular and overall physically fit. This could lead boys to start taking unhealthy supplements or diets, in order to gain the ideal results.

Studies have been proving how the negative ideals from social media can make a serious impact in their lifestyle, especially within a younger age range:


With the idea of boys and girls using social media the majority of their time, the parents could play a factor towards how it is affecting their children. In a article published in 2015 titled, “Concerns about Children, Social Media and Technology Use”, studies have shown that one-in-three parents have gained concern over their children’s use of social media within a year. Despite a percentage of parents showing concern on how their children use and view social media, there is a majority of parents, who believe they should not get involved in their children’s social life.

“Most parents say they have not felt uncomfortable about the information posted about their child; few have requested content being removed”.

With the idea of parents becoming involved with their children social media, it can create an impact within the relationship whether or not the parents actually express concern.

Nicole, a mother of a son and daughter, expresses her views towards the overall idea of children using social media through a mother’s perspective:


Despite social media making more of a negative impact on boys and girls, rather than creating a positive experience, there are solutions towards how social media could end up improving one’s self-esteem.

The following suggest ideas for the individual to consider in order to begin to improve on their self-esteem:

Another solution social media users would benefit from is their role models. Well-known celebrities have started to come to the public and promote the idea of body positivity and self-acceptance; this could lead to their followers to become inspired to change the way they view themselves and feel accepted for who they are.

Here are just a few well-known celebrities, who spoke up towards the idea of body positivity and self-acceptance:

magazine issue
/ Issue 35

Selfie-Esteem: The Relationship Between Body Dissatisfaction and Social Media in Adolescent and Young Women

  • written by Bindal Makwana, Yaeeun Lee, Susannah Parkin & Leland Farmer
  • edited by Eiko Fried

Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook have become ingrained in the lives of countless individuals. With adolescents and young adults, particularly young women, being the primary users of such platforms, it is an important question whether social media use has an impact on self-concept, self-esteem, body image, and body dissatisfaction. Researchers have started to empirically investigate these questions, and recent studies show mixed results. The present article attempts to review these findings and offers possible explanations for effects of social media use on body dissatisfaction, with a focus on Instagram, Facebook, and other popular image-based platforms.

“Social media is not real life,” stated Essena O’Neill, a 19-year-old Australian Internet star who quit social media in November of 2015 to prove the point that social media is just a means of fake self-promotion. Essena was a star on Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube, and other social media platforms, with over 600,000 followers on Instagram alone (McCluskey, 2016). As soon as she went silent, her fans and friends created an uproar. They called the Australian teen out and accused her of intentionally closing her social media accounts in an attempt to attract more fame and attention. Her fans, friends, and followers began posting blogs and videos in reaction to Essena quitting social media, with some going so far as sending death threats.

The same week Essena quit Instagram, The Guardian’s Mahita Gajanan (2015) asked other young women about their self-esteem and experiences with social media. Her findings were in line with Essena’s; most of the women that were interviewed felt insecure. Many young women reported obsessing over the number of “likes” they were getting, feared not looking beautiful in their photos, thought individuals would think they looked different on social media than in real life, and questioned what aspects of their life people would get a glimpse of. It was a common theme that women were dedicating extensive amounts of time to thinking about what image to upload, photoshopping it and regularly checking their personal page to see the updated “like” counts, which in turn increased their own insecurities. Even though many women were aware of these actions, they were consumed by their need to fit in on social media and struggled to disrupt their habits. Numerous young women reported that they lived their lives via social media and regarded media presence as more important than real life. This preoccupation with social media and the compulsive behaviors that follow may potentially contribute to body dissatisfaction. However, to this day, research findings have been mixed, and the exact relationship between social media behavior and body dissatisfaction is unclear.

The Influence of Media

Social media usage in particular has increased dramatically over the last decade and continues at an incline. Pew Research Center indicates that 71% of 13- to 17-year-olds use Facebook, 52% use Instagram, and 41% use Snapchat in 2015. Teenage girls are also using image-based social media platforms more frequently than their male counterparts; 61% of girls use Instagram versus 44% of boys. This increase in usage of social media, especially Facebook and Instagram, may negatively affect adolescent girls and young women in regard to their self-confidence and body satisfaction (Lenhart, 2015).

Some researchers have portrayed links between body dissatisfaction and eating disorders with exposure to fashion magazines or television shows in women (Grabe et al., 2008; Levine & Murnen, 2009). These studies examined exposure to media forms and body image to show that there may be a link between viewing images of thin bodies and personal body dissatisfaction. Another study by Becker and colleagues (2011) suggests that media effects can even take place indirectly. The authors studied whether direct and indirect exposure to mass media (i.e., television, videos, CD players, MP3 players, internet access, mobile phone access) were associated with eating pathology in Fijian adolescent girls. They found relationships between both direct mass media exposure (i.e., personal media exposure) and indirect mass media exposure (i.e., media exposure to the people in one’s peer group) with eating pathology in Fijian adolescent girls. Despite its limitations, such as the question of whether the findings can be generalized (Becker et al, 2011), the study suggests that at least in this case,social networks played an important role in the relationship between media and eating pathology, which may extend to a relationship between media and body dissatisfaction.

However, these findings must be taken with knowledge that some other researchers have found no link between viewing image based media and body dissatisfaction. Holmstrom (2004) conducted a meta-analysis on the pre-existing literature focusing on general media exposure and body dissatisfaction, body image and eating disorder pathology. Holmstrom focused on 34 studies that used media as the independent variable and a form of body image dissatisfaction as the dependent variable and the overall effect size was small. Surprisingly, the research showed that women reported feeling better about their bodies after viewing overweight images and had no change in body image after viewing thin bodies. These findings blur the potential relationship between body image and media and suggest a need to further investigate.

A more recent meta-analysis conducted by Ferguson (2013) extended the work of Holmstrom (2004), Grabe and colleagues (2008) and other researchers, and incorporated findings from 204 studies. A major point that Ferguson honed in on was publication bias; more specifically, that statistically significant results are more likely to be published and null findings are not, with meta-analyses being a collection of biased findings. Ferguson (2013) found little to no relationship between media and body dissatisfaction in males, however, there was a higher, but very small, prevalence in females, especially for those with a predisposition for body image issues. Overall, the meta-analysis encouraged researchers to be more conservative in their assertions of a relationship between social media and body dissatisfaction due to inflated effect sizes, study design limitations, and publication bias.

Social Media Usage

Social media offers a collaborative space for social interaction between seemingly infinite numbers of people. Several benefits have been identified in relation to the routine use of social media platforms. “The six key overarching benefits were identified as (1) increased interactions with others, (2) more available, shared, and tailored information, (3) increased accessibility and widening access to health information, (4) peer, social, emotional support, (5) public health surveillance, and (6) potential to influence health policy” (Moorhead et al., 2013, p. 8). Although there are several benefits associated with the use of social media, specifically image based social media, some uses of these platforms may lead to potentially unwanted effects. The primary image based social media platforms this review examines are Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook.

Lewallen and Behm-Morawitz (2016) suggest that adolescent girls and young women following fitness boards on Pinterest were more likely to report intentions to engage in extreme weight-loss behaviors, such as crash dieting or a radical exercise plan. In response to images viewed on the fitness boards on Pinterest, these adolescent girls and young women initiated a process of self-reflection, which increased intention to engage in extreme weight-loss behaviors. Overall, the results of this study revealed that social media environments might influence adolescent girls and young women to engage in social comparison leading to feelings of inadequacy and body dissatisfaction (Alperstein, 2015). Furthermore, based on the results of this study and others, negative body image concerns appear to be higher for those who internalized negative messages and images (Alperstein, 2015; Bell, 2016).

Currently, studies link social media platforms with body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls (Tiggemann & Miller, 2010; Tiggemann & Slater, 2013). In order to investigate the underlying processes, one study investigated over 100 seventh graders and found that adolescent girls who shared more photos online, such as selfies, and used more photoshop felt worse about their appearance and exhibited greater eating concerns (McLean et al., 2015). Specifically, some studies suggest greater usage of social media heighten body dissatisfaction due to an increase in appearance-related comments from friends (de Vries et al., 2015).

Using applications and other editing devices, such as Photoshop, to alter selfies is nothing new for many teens and women. Thanks to an array of free applications, people can alter the way their bodies look in photos with a swipe or a click. Teens can cover up blemishes, alter their facial shape, and manipulate their bodies to look thinner and more attractive (e.g., making their waists smaller or their breasts bigger). Even the popular socialites Kim and Khloe Kardashian have utilized Photoshop to post edited selfies for their Instagram accounts. As pointed out in an article by Mirror Magazine, many fans have criticized the sisters for unrealistic alterations to make themselves look thinner and more toned (Rutter & Strang, 2016).

Instagram and Body Dissatisfaction

Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms (Kharpal, 2015). It allows users to communicate solely through posting and sharing photos. Researchers have looked at the role of Instagram on body image with adolescent girls and young women, the most frequent users of the social media platform. Anecdotally, in an interview with Elle Magazine, Emily Bryngelson, an associate designer at Ann Taylor, who admitted to struggling with an eating disorder as a teenager, revealed that she deletes selfies if she doesn’t receive enough “likes” (Fleming, 2014). She explains, “Instagram makes me so anxious. I’m always looking at other women thinking, ‘I wish I looked like that,’ or ‘I should get more in shape.’…I mean, young girls can now follow Victoria’s Secret models and see what they look like in the ‘every day.’ …That has got to make any woman, let alone a 13-year-old girl, feel unsure of herself.”

Studies on Instagram have mostly focused on fitspiration pictures and content in the young adult population. Fitspiration is a movement that promotes a healthy lifestyle, primarily through food and exercise. Despite its good intentions, researchers have suggested dysfunctional themes in the images and messages. For instance, when over 600 fitspiration images were studied, one major theme regarding the female body emerged: thin and toned (Tiggemann & Zaccardo, 2016). In addition, most images were found to contain elements objectifying the female body. However, we must wonder whether the blogs themselves are problematic or if the viewers are construing the content in a negative way. In other words, are certain individuals viewing a toned or thin body, comparing themselves to it, and then feeling bad about their own body?

Furthermore, some researchers suggest that even the mere act of watching fitspiration on Instagram can lead to unhealthy eating and exercise behaviors in young adults (Holland & Tiggemann, 2016). In one experiment where 130 female undergraduates were randomly exposed to either fitspiration or neutral travel images, scientists found that the appearance-based pictures of fitspiration had a negative impact on mood, body image, and self-esteem (Tiggemann & Zaccardo, 2015). In other words, the college students who viewed fitspiration images felt worse about themselves and their bodies compared to the students who viewed neutral images. Limitations of these studies need to be kept in mind when interpreting the findings. Using travel photos as a control to fitspiration may not have isolated the variable of interest and resulted in inaccurate findings. We expect humans to socially compare themselves to other humans more than they do with landscape. Future studies should consider incorporating control photos featuring attractive, but average-sized women, for example, to produce more comparable results.

Facebook and Body Dissatisfaction

Alongside Pinterest and Instagram, Facebook is common among adolescent girls and is associated with body dissatisfaction (Kimbrough et al., 2013; Tiggemann & Slater, 2013; Fardouly, Diedrichs, Vartanian, & Halliwell, 2015; Fardouly & Vartanian, 2015). For example, Tiggeman and Slater (2013) found that teenage girls who used Facebook were more concerned with monitoring body appearance, idealizing thinness, and pursuing thinness, than were teenage girls who did not use Facebook. Furthermore, in comparison to viewing an appearance-neutral website (i.e., a home craft website), viewing Facebook was associated with more negative mood and body dissatisfaction for women who tend to compare their appearance with others (Fardouly et al., 2015). However, rather than the time spent on Facebook, the way people use it, such as interacting with photos, seems to explain the relationship with body dissatisfaction (Meier & Gray, 2014; Fardouly & Vartanian, 2015; Kim & Chock, 2015). Meier and Gray (2014), for example, found that time spent on photo activity, rather than time spent on Facebook generally, was linked to thin-idealization, self-objectification, weight dissatisfaction, and pursuit of thinness.

Similarly, Kim and Chock (2015) found that “social grooming” behaviors such as “liking”, visiting, and commenting on friends’ posts and photos were linked to body image concerns. The researchers explained this link through the notion that “social grooming” activities lead to viewing other individuals’ profiles, particularly their photos. People tend to post attractive images of themselves on social media platforms (Manago et al., 2008), and increased exposure to these images may lead to a distorted and idealized conceptualization of body shapes. In October 2016, model and actress Gisele Bundchen posted a photo of herself on Facebook and within three weeks received 105,000 likes, 1,125 shares, and 1,437 comments such as “I want that bronzed skin!” and “Can I use it as a profile picture?” This type of social comparison has the potential to lead to poor body image, especially for adolescent girls and young women (Fardouly & Vartanian, 2015).

In Summary

The popularity of media, particularly social media, in youth makes it a potentially influential force. The findings discussed above provide a foundation for future research and have opened up important discussions on how social media use may influence body dissatisfaction. However, many studies are correlational, and the causal mechanisms behind the potential relationships are still unknown. Much of the findings may be applicable to an individual and not generalizable to the general public. Much work is needed in the future to parse apart potential factors for causation such as peer pressure and photo editing capabilities. Scientists have identified specific areas to focus on, such as the need to clarify the construct being measured (i.e., whether the outcome is eating disorder pathology, body dissatisfaction, and so forth) and to design the overall experiment by addressing the limitations of past research (Holmstrom, 2004; Ferguson, 2013). All in all, despite the mixed findings and limitations of past studies, past research seems to suggest a relationship between social media and body dissatisfaction, although the exact nature and strength of the relationship remains unknown.

Alperstein, N. (2015). Social comparison of idealized female images and the curation of self on Pinterest. The Journal of Social Media in Society, 4, 5-27.

Ferguson, C. J. (2013). In the eye of the beholder: Thin-ideal media affects some, but not most, viewers in a meta- analytic review of body dissatisfaction in women and men. Psychology Of Popular Media Culture, 2, 20-37.

Gajanan, M. (2015). Young women on Instagram and self-esteem: ‘I absolutely feel insecure.’

Retrieved November 10, 2016, from…

Holland, G., & Tiggemann, M. (2016). “Strong beats skinny every time”: Disordered eating and compulsive exercise in women who post fitspiration on Instagram. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 50, 76-79.

Essena O’Neill: Why I REALLY am quitting social media (Original Video). .

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Levine, M. P., & Murnen, S. K. (2009). “Everybody knows that mass media are/are not a cause of eating disorders”: A critical review of evidence for a causal link between media, negative body image, and disordered eating in females. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 28, 9-42.

Tiidenberg, K., & Cruz, E. G. (2015). Selfies, image and the re-making of the body. Body & Society, 21, 77-102.

Issue 46 | Social Media and Body Image

Communities of Feeling

Visual practices of curating images on platforms, like Tumblr and Pinterest, were strategies participants of this study used to manage the anxiety of being visible in their homes, schools and other social media platforms. Humour about the everyday challenges of being a young woman and experiencing anxiety or mental illness were common. This project revealed that memes and animated gifs shared on social media were important, and provided reassurance and relief.

This study looked closely at the reasons why participants engaged with certain social media platforms, and how this made them feel. One young woman explained that her use of Tumblr provided a space for her to collect and reblog images that made her feel less anxious and more connected to a larger group. The images were personal to her, but never images she photographed herself. Like other women in the study, she didn’t really converse with other Tumblr users, but enjoyed feeling like she was part of something bigger, without the “work” of actively connecting. In her words, these practices were “therapy”. She described her Tumblr use as being explicitly connected to her engagements with, what would formally be considered, clinical therapy.

This contrasts to earlier chat-based or contemporary forums where young people actively converse together (see Webb, Burns & Collin, 2008, for example). Of course platforms like Pinterest and Tumblr afford limited (and changing) conversation tools, and not all young people use these platforms in the same way. However, the affordances of these platforms, such as public anonymity (Cho, 2011), their visual focus on interests, and norms of shared content circulation through reblogging (Kanai, 2015) make them spaces for ambient connection through imaging practices. Media practices both shape the platforms, and the platforms shape media practices.

What Next? Rethinking Media Literacies

The implications of this project provide nuance to important research emerging from other health fields and disciplines, especially the diversity of “communities” on image-based platforms and how young people may seek disconnection from the pressures of visibility and peer relationships.

Traditional notions of community, where young people communicate with insiders or other group members, may be inadequate to make sense of how and why young people are engaging with social media platforms. Interventions may benefit from extending common notions of connectedness, as establishing relationships with people, to also include ‘feeling’ connected through shared, relatable content.

Utilising a ‘media practices’ approach requires us to ask why and how rather than what young people do. In this way, we might not recommend particular platforms or apps to a young people in clinical and education work, but instead seek to explore what practices young people do engage in and unpack what underlies those practices: their experiences, values, and attitudes; their social and personal cultures and environments; and the changing affordances and cultures of platforms.

By understanding the relationship between media practices and young people’s experiences we can better establish interventions that closely understand the diversity of young people’s media practices in recovery. From here, the project is continuing to develop media practice-based workshops for young people and practitioners, and to produce new recommendations for practitioners to support exploring media practices with young people to inform recovery interventions.

Cho, A. (2015). Queer reverb: Tumblr, affect, time. In K. Hillis, S. Paasonen, & M. Petit (Eds.), Networked affect. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Couldry, N. (2012). Media, society, world: Social theory and digital media practice. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hand, M. (2012). Ubiquitous photography. Cambridge: Polity.

Hjorth, L., & Hendry, N. A. (2015). A snapshot of social media: Camera phone practices. Social Media + Society, 1(1).

Robards, B. (2012). Leaving MySpace, joining Facebook: “Growing up” on social network sites. Continuum, 26(3), 385–398.

Scolere, L., & Humphreys, L. (2016). Pinning design: The curatorial labor of creative professionals. Social Media+ Society, 2(1).

Back to Top

Airbrushed photographs of celebrities with perfectly preened bodies staged in exotic locations are all over social media, but such flawless images have been described as damaging for the way they pressurise young people to meet unobtainable body-image standards.

Most children own a smartphone by the age of 10, and this has in turn led to increasing pressure on youngsters to look perfect in their online lives, a study has found.

The youth charity YMCA spoke to more than 1,000 young people aged between 11 and 16. They found that 62% of 15 to 16-year-olds felt that social media had ramped up expectations over their personal appearance. Photoshopped images and the sharing of only the most flattering shots shifted young people’s understanding of what a normal body looked like, the charity said.

Ideals of physical perfection were also said to be driven by celebrity culture, with 58% of 11 to 16-year-olds identifying it as the main influence.

Denise Hatton, the chief executive for YMCA England and Wales, said: “We’ve all been guilty of only posting our most flattering pictures on social media. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to show yourself from your best angle, it’s important that we still like ourselves when we’re not looking our best, which is probably the majority of the time for most of us.”

Social media was already a concern among 11 to 12-year-olds, with 43% of those surveyed claiming individuals they saw on online influenced them.

The charity has joined Dove, the health and beauty products company, for its Be Real Campaign, which is asking people to sign up to its body image pledge, IPledgeToBeReal.

It urges social media users to stop editing their pictures and to hold brands and organisations responsible for not promoting healthy body images and diversity.

Hatton said: “Today’s beauty standard is completely unobtainable, leading us to constantly feel bad about our bodies and looks. This is particularly the case for young people and it can have serious effects on their mental and physical wellbeing.

“It’s time to take back control of how we feel about our bodies and celebrate our real self so that everyone can feel confident in their body this summer and beyond.”

Increasing numbers of academic studies have found that mental health problems have soared among girls over the past decade, coinciding with the period in which young people’s use of social media has exploded.

Dr Bernadka Dubicka, the chair of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said last year: “There is a growing crisis in children and young people’s mental health, and in particular a gathering crisis in mental distress and depression among girls and young women.”

Dubicka said social media such as Snapchat and Instagram “can be damaging and even destructive” to girls’ mental wellbeing. “There’s a pressure for young people to be involved 24/7 and keep up with their peer group or they will be left out and socially excluded.”

Social media use has also contributed to a increasing sleep deprivation among young people, which could both be a symptom of mental illness and also raise the risk of it developing, she added.

Media and Its Impact on Celebrity Culture and Society

James Gilmore

Professor James Fleming


Much to my parents’ dismay, I spend a lot of my time on the internet. Recently, perusing the internet has become a chore. I often stray from my favorite content and find new personalities that I must follow. Though some may find this laborious, I find it entertaining and refreshing. Meeting new internet personalities is like broadening my real social network. Whenever I watch a video on YouTube, I feel as though that person is having a conversation with me. For example, I frequently watch Casey Neistat’s video blogs on YouTube. I adore Casey Neistat for his positive, motivational vibes. When I hear Casey Neistat tell me, “Success is where opportunity meets preparation,” I feel encouraged enough to surmount my obstacles. If he can do it, then I can too. In short, I relate myself to Casey Neistat; we both want to seize the moment. However, just like with friends in real life, I could not tolerate listening to just Casey Neistat all day. That is when I click over to jacksfilms who is another internet personality who utilizes the YouTube platform. Jack Douglass is my most comedic online “friend.” I could spend hours listening to his hilarious, cynical humor. Quite honestly, I am cynical myself. Douglass is an outlet for me to express my cynicism in the comment section of Douglass’ videos which will reach the millions of other cynics who follow Douglass. Though a meme could make me chuckle, I do not connect with content as much as I do with the personality. I crave the sense of belonging when watching Jack Douglass or Casey Neistat, I crave the eye contact between these internet personalities (I stare at my computer screen way too close), and I crave the authenticity of the personality. Most of all, however, I crave the community built around the internet personality.

Casey Neistat and Jack Douglass collected two billion and one billion views, respectively. Similar to me, these billions of viewers crave authenticity and a sense of belonging. The internet personality is the epicenter of a community of like-minded individuals. No matter the platform, there is always a community interaction based of the internet personality. Therefore, the internet personality satiates our desire to broaden our social network. Furthermore, internet personalities capitalize on our sense of belonging by endorsing products and selling merchandise to their huge audience. Therefore, similar to the traditional Hollywood celebrity, an internet personality’s greatest asset is their social capital. Social capital is the influence and internet personality has on his or her audience. However, How do these internet celebrities compare to other celebrities such as Tom Hanks or even Benjamin Franklin? Throughout history, the media platform determines the celebrity; moreover, the value of celebrity has demeaned, which questions the viability of the current normative theory, or how the media ought to be regulated, in the United States.

Celebrities have been an important aspect of United States culture since its founding. However, with advancements in communications technology, new media platforms redefined the role of celebrities in the United States. In the words of Marshall McLuhan in his book “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man”, the medium is the message. The medium influences how the message is perceived. McLuhan argues that with each new advancement in communication technology, there has been a personal or social consequence.1In the case of celebrity, new advancements in technology have demeaned the term celebrity.

The common ancestor to all types celebrities today in United States pop culture is the hero. In his book “Celebrity Culture in the United States”, author Terence J. Fitzgerald argued that the revolutionary era celebrity was a hero who embodied the ideals of virtue, self-reliance, and achievement.2The popular medium during George Washington’s time was the mechanical printing press and oral storytelling. The message to the audience was often a mental model, or an internal picture in one’s head. The mental model theory depicts the celebrification, or the individual changes that transform ordinary people into celebrities, of revolutionary era celebrities, as defined by celebrity culture scholar Olivier Driessens in the journal “The Celebritization of Society and Culture: Understanding the Structural Dynamics of Celebrity Culture.”3Oral storytelling, printed documents, and limited advancements in imagery created a reliance on human reasoning to create mental models from “…perception, imagination, or the comprehension of discourse.”4Rhetoric was used to persuade audiences and to create a vivid internal image. George Washington, through rhetoric, was imprinted in an audience’s mind as a honorable, achieving human being. George Washington, as well as every other celebrity of that time period, was someone to idolize.

The mental model theory continued to represent the celebrity until the Gilded Age, from the 1870s to the 1900s. The look of celebrity itself changed with the advent of mechanical means of image reproduction and of the facility for mass diffusion of information.2 The Gilded Age, coined by the satirist Mark Twain, symbolized a time of grave social problems covered by a thin layer of gold. The celebrity represented the thin layer of gold, since “…America’s most-admired figures were hero-inventors like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Italian emigre Guglialmo Marconi. Financial wizards such as J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller (either “captains of industry” or “robber barons,” depending on your perspective) were idolized for fighting their way to Darwinian peaks of capitalist success/excess.”2These celebrities shortly dominated new, advanced media through the mental model theory; however, these advancements in communications technology exposed the gatekeeping that plagued the Gilded Age. Kurt Lewin, known as the pioneer of social, organizational, and applied psychology in the United States, described the concept of gatekeeping as “a wife or mother as the person who decides which foods end up on the family’s dinner table.”5The Gilded Age, though renowned as a laissez-faire time period, witnessed massive regulation of information, particularly in the severe social issues caused by industrialization. It was the muckrakers, the ones who inquired into and published scandals and allegations of political or business leaders, that redefined the media’s message. Progressivists such as Upton Sinclair with The Jungle created a broader narrative for the audience. Celebrities were exposed during the Gilded Age; they were no longer the embodiment of honor, virtue, and achievement; rather, they could be greedy robbers, cronies, and liars. This revelation began the downward trend of celebrity status. The subsequent century would witness further decline in the status of stardom.

The twentieth century witnessed the electromagnetic evolution of communication. Technologies such as the radio, television, and the internet are today’s new media. However, electromagnetic communication, particularly the internet, was not the advent of instant communication. The internet connects our thoughts, whether it be for good or bad. The connection of information belongs to the internet’s predecessor: telegraphy. Marshall McLuhan’s medium theory highlights the concept of new media, the intersecting and convergence of old and new technologies. For example, Harry Potter movies (new media) are based off the contents of Harry Potter books (old media).

The internet was not the first instant communication platform, it is similar to the telegraphy networks that thrived during the Victorian era. “The Victorian Internet” by Tom Standage describes the history of the world’s first internet. Standage boldly begins his work saying, “In the nineteenth century there was no televisions, airplanes, computers, or spacecraft… there was, however, and Internet.”6The Victorian Internet was a worldwide communications network that shrunk the world through instant communication. Instant communication is often accredited to the modern internet, but this attribute is precedent. The concept of media richness began with the Victorian Internet in that it was the first communication technology to provide instant feedback. The media richness theory is based on two assumptions: people want to overcome equivocality and uncertainty in organizations and a variety of media commonly used in organizations work better for certain tasks than others.7 The capacity for a medium to provide instant feedback, transmit cues such as body language, to utilize natural language, and to create a personal focus determines the richness of the media.7 Beyond instant feedback and perhaps natural language (the creation of secret codes)6, the Victorian Internet lacks any further media richness. The modern internet sets the precedent as the richest media because it provides essentially face-to-face interaction on platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, FaceTime or any other social media platform.

The internet allows users to find our niche. On the internet, I belong to a community of cynical humorists when I interact with fans of Jack Douglass, or a community of hardworking, do-it-yourself individuals who listen to Casey Neistat’s insights. The social presence theory exemplifies how the richness of the internet has created a community around internet personalities. The idea is that a medium’s social effects are principally caused by the degree of social presence which it affords to its users. The greater the presence afforded, the better a person perceives that individual.8When I am watching a video by Jack Douglass, I can see his blue eyes, the spit flying from his mouth when he shouts, or the traces of a unibrow growing. I know him so well because of the richness of the internet. Furthermore, the internet allows users to find social support in an individual’s social network.

The internet medium demands an internet celebrity who is not heroic or extraordinarily talented, the internet, in the case of internet personalities, requires content about authentic experiences that relates to other users. In accordance with McLuhan’s “the media is the message”, the modern internet, unlike any other communication technology, allows users to be themselves because it is the most rich mass media so far in human history.

The richness of the internet medium is a double-edged sword. Is it always good to allow users to be themselves? Should the content that users post and view be uncensored in the name of media richness? Is rich media a good thing? In terms of celebrity, scholars have argued that the face-to-face interactions on the internet has demeaned the value of being a celebrity. Fitzgerald states that the role of celebrity now exists “…squarely at eye level, lacking any pretense of pedestal altogether: postmodern pseudo- celebrity blips flooded the airwaves…”2Through changes in media, celebrities morphed from heroic to blips who flood the airwaves. Now, if one wishes to be a celebrity, one must gain serious publicity to distinguish himself or herself from the billions of other internet users. It is well known that publicity can be good or bad; either way, publicity is still publicity. One internet content creator, Logan Paul, exemplifies the dangers of creating publicity in the world’s richest media platform.

Logan Paul is known as an American internet personality with around 3.5 billion views across his media platforms. His YouTube channel, “Logan Paul Vlogs,” entertains some 17 million subscribers with everyday lifestyle content. Logan Paul received public outcry when he posted a vlog exploring an infamous Japanese forest, a location known as a popular suicide destination. In his vlog, Logan Paul finds a hanging man, and he even poses with the corpse. Not only is this content taboo and inappropriate, but also this video was uploaded to a channel that is followed by mostly younger viewers. Whether it be ignorance to his age demographic or just plain stupidity, Logan Paul failed to understand where to draw the line. Instances such as Logan Paul’s raises an essential question in today’s society: is it our responsibility to regulate the access the internet grants its users?

In the book “Four Theories of The Press”, authors Fred Siebert, Theodore Peterson, and Wilbur Schramm proposed four normative theories of media: authoritarian theory, libertarian theory, social responsibility theory, and soviet media theory. A normative theory in media descries an ideal method for the regulation of a media system. Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm define the press as all the media of mass communication.9Currently, the United States practices a social responsibility approach to the internet, as well as most other forms of media. In a socially responsible mass media system, anyone has the right to use the media, and the media is controlled by community opinion, consumer action, and professional ethics.9Most importantly, what is forbidden in a socially responsible media is serious invasion of private rights and vital social interests. Is a socially responsible internet enough, however? Would it be better to regulate internet content to protect irresponsible content creation, as seen in Logan Paul’s vlog? Perhaps the internet in the United States could adopt a libertarian approach (popular in the United Kingdom and several other European countries), where anyone with the economic means can use the media, and where the media is controlled by a “self-righting process in a free market place of ideas” and by courts.9Under a libertarian practice, defamation, obscenity, and indecency is forbidden. A libertarian approach could revive the heroism of a celebrity and remove the urge to receive publicity through malevolent means. However, a libertarian approach would inherently limits one “message” of the internet medium. No longer would the internet allow users to be themselves; rather, the users must conform to what the collective deems acceptable.

In conclusion, advancements in communication technology have always created richer and richer media. As media becomes more interactive between users, more personal, more face-to-face, the users can become more themselves. The modern internet, successor to the telegraphy networks of the Victorian era, is history’s most recent and richest media platform. The modern internet sets the precedent of a media system’s capability to foster human interaction between users. The modern internet redefined media as a connection of thought and emotions rather than a connection of information. Internet celebrities thrive through this connection of thought and emotions because users crave a social network for support. Internet celebrities efficiently grow audiences through their personality and creating a community of like-minded individuals. However, to reach a sizeable audience on the internet in the United States, one requires publicity, either through benevolent or malevolent means. So, in a world with a massive volume of content, how can we as a society manage irresponsible content from internet celebrities? Perhaps a change in normative theory, from a socially responsible practice to a libertarian practice, where anyone with the economic means can use the media and is controlled by a “self-righting process in a free market place of ideas” and by courts,9could eliminate irresponsible content creation as well as revive the value of a celebrity. However, there is always an opportunity cost, and so what consequences would a change in normative theory entail? The modern internet wouldn’t be as rich, it would lack a community of users who are in the outgroup. Furthermore, obscenity, defamation, and indecency are arguably subjective topics. Can we trust the users of the internet to self-correct the media? Understanding these critical questions is vital for today’s society. Media and celebrity culture permeates our daily lives. Celebrity culture is more than keeping up with the Kardashians; celebrity culture is how we communicate our thoughts and emotions through media. Relating to a celebrity, whether it be an internet personality or a Hollywood actor, creates a sense of social belonging that creates a community of link-minded individuals who interact. As a result, users broaden their social network. The medium has always been the message; the media always influences how the message is perceived. Whether you like it or not, the influences of the internet affect our society greatly. It is important to accept, listen understand, and recognize these influences.

End Notes:

1McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man. MIT Press, 1994.

2Fitzgerald, Terence J. Celebrity Culture in the United States. H.W. Wilson Co, 2008.

3Driessens , Olivier. “The Celebritization of Society and Culture: Understanding the Structural Dynamics of Celebrity Culture.” International Journal of Cultural Studies, 2012,

4Johnson-Laird, P. N. Mental Models: towards a Cognitive Science of Language, Inference, and Consciousness. Harvard University Press, 1995.

6Standage, Tom. The Victorian Internet: the Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s on-Line Pioneers. Walker and Company, 2007.

8“Communication and Information Technology | Social Presence Theory.” Universiteit Twente, University of Twente,


9Siebert, Fred S. Four Theories of the Press: the Authoritarian, Libertarian, Social Responsibility, and Soviet Communist Concepts of What the Press Should Be and Do. University of Illinois Press, 1956.

Celebrities and social media

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