Stereotypes in social media
December 4, 2021
Unattainable beauty standards are only one of many harmful elements of social media. Stereotypes that misrepresent different races, genders and sexualities are also prevalent in social media.
Social media does not represent everyone, and finding representation of women of color, transgender women or non-binary people who present themselves in a traditionally feminine way is difficult, while finding representation of white, cisgender and straight women is not as difficult to find on social media.
Social media presents narrow ways in which people should act based on their gender. Leslie said that students who do not fit into this presented criteria feel pressure to change the way they act to fit the desired stereotypes.
“I have heard a lot of folks who identify as men talk about the ways in which media representation and societal stereotypes have made them feel like they are supposed to be ‘macho’ or not show emotion or not cry or they need to be interested in sports or to not be interested in drama. So in that way, I think the media has boxed people in,” Leslie said. “And then, those who identify as non-binary and trans, in some ways feel it for both sides, right? The ways that we put expectations on all people based on this very problematic vision of gender being binary is very harmful.”
Leslie said that teenagers are susceptible to believing what they see on social media, and since stereotypes come up in daily scrolling, Leslie suspected that this would eventually take a toll on their self-esteem and they may feel unseen.
“When you cannot see yourself represented, that limits your dreams of what you can imagine happening for your future. I feel like that often plays out, and I have seen a lot of students talk about how if they identify as young women and they do not see strong women being represented, both in media and in their everyday lives, it makes them wonder what that means for what is possible in their futures,” Leslie said. “We have a lot of talk about that concept in the GSA as well, like if you do not hear positive, happy, successful stories about LGBTQ folks, that may make people feel like that is not a possibility for their lives later on.”
The stereotypes that social media perpetuates stray far beyond gender and what constitutes beauty. BHS Graduate Lexi Danesco said beauty standards can lead to internalizing false messages about marginalized communities. When youth see misrepresented people, they may start to perceive themselves and each other inaccurately, or think that their behaviors should align with those portrayed on social media.
“I identify as biracial, and I have always felt like I was not represented in social media, but I started following accounts of people who identify as biracial, and that has helped me. It depends on who you are and who you follow, but generally, I do not feel well represented in social media,” Danesco said.
Lazarova-Weng said lack of representation in social media feeds into successions of inequality.
“Injustice-wise, having a lack of representation really plays into the role of how stereotypes are created and continued. I think it allows the cycle of discrimination to continue when we just stereotype or allow stereotypes to continue without really combating them or adjusting them or even calling them out as a problem,” Lazarova-Weng said.