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How altered images and social media affect our self-image

May 11, 2023 |5 minute watch time

By John

Five years ago, CVS Health launched a program called Beauty Mark® to show beauty as it really is – real and authentic – by using unaltered images in the beauty aisles of our stores. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re celebrating this milestone along with our continued commitment to passing on a healthy self-image to the next generation. We explore how social media filters can create beauty standards that are simply unachievable and lead to real-life mental health consequences.

What the numbers tell us

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 3 in 5 U.S. teen girls feel persistent sadness and hopelessness. “What we see is that women – especially young women – start to really feel lonely and ‘less than’ and isolated,” says Cara McNulty, President, Behavioral Health and Mental Well-being for CVS Health.

In fact, a recent CVS Health Harris Poll found that 60% of people ages 18-32 say social media has negatively impacted their mental health. “We’re really looking at other people’s highlight reels, and we’re comparing it to, potentially, our lowest selves,” says Saloni Khamar, a young professional from the General Management Development Program at CVS Health who participated in a recent roundtable discussion about the impact of social media and filters on our mental well-being. “That’s where the issue really starts with negative self-image,” adds Oren Stern, “where you start to think, this doesn’t look edited.”

Promoting inclusivity and body positivity is one way to develop and foster a healthy self-image. “Body positivity is all about being comfortable in who we are, being proud of who we are, and carrying ourselves in a way that shows I am who I am, and this is beautiful,” explains McNulty. “It's not constantly striving to be something else.”

Our key takeaway

We can each set our own boundaries and learn to use social media in a healthier way. Here’s advice from Cara McNulty on how to do just that:

  • Step away from social media. Know your limits, and take time off from social media regularly.
  • Post more realistically. Role model being authentic by making sure what you post is realistic.
  • Live in the moment. Try to be more present in the moment vs. constantly documenting your life.

Learn more about rising mental health concerns in a new study from CVS Health/Harris Poll.

Gracie (00:05):

There's so many ways that you can edit your pictures. And there's so many filters you can use that make your lips look bigger, your eyes look a certain way or your skin look really good.


Daniel (00:15):

A lot of people use social media to look at content to create goals for themself or inspiration for like an outfit or an inspiration for prettier apartments.


Hilary Russo (00:30):

Welcome to Healthy Communities. Today we're focused on self-image. Social media filters and images that are digitally altered have created beauty standards that are just unrealistic. Five years ago, CVS Health launched a program called Beauty Mark to show beauty as it really is, real and unaltered.


Erin Condon (00:51):

Beauty Mark is our commitment to transparency and to helping women, girls, boys, men have a healthier self-image. It became very personal for me to make sure that I'm doing my part in helping instill confidence in young girls and making them feel like they have a healthy self-image.


Hilary Russo (01:10):

We brought together a group of professionals from the general management development program at CVS Health to discuss the effects of social media on their emotional wellbeing.



How does that impact you when you are scrolling and you're seeing things that affect you not in a positive way?


Dia (01:27):

I can definitely get into kind of the comparison of like, Ooh, this person seems to be living a much nicer lifestyle, seems to maybe afford things I can't right now, is able to do things that I want to do."


Saloni (01:38):

We're really looking at other people's highlights reels, and then we're comparing it to potentially like our lowest lows.


Daniel (01:44):

I think everyone has to realize social media is just curated. It's all just exactly what people want to put out there.


Hilary Russo (01:50):

We talked to Cara McNulty about how social media impacts mental health.


Cara McNulty (01:54):

The use of filters on social media has just taken off, and what it's done is created this unrealistic perception that everyone has it all put together all the time. And what we see is that especially young women and women in general start to really then feel lonely and less than and isolated because they're thinking, "Gosh, this is what everyone looks like." Seeing unaltered images is profoundly important because it allows all of us to realize that everyone is beautiful. It helps normalize that we as humans are perfectly imperfect.


Hilary Russo (02:41):

What is your first thought when you see somebody using filters?


Gracie (02:43):

It depends because some filters are silly and some are fun. I think about switching my face with my grandpas and he couldn't stop laughing. And so that was so fun for us. But then I think about scrolling and seeing an Instagram model or seeing somebody who looks perfect beyond belief, and it's definitely a very different reaction.


Oren (03:05):

There is a hyper fixation for a lot of young men on, "What does my physique look like? Why doesn't it look like that?" What you don't realize under the surface, there's a lot of magic going on. That's where the issue really starts with negative self-image, where you start to think, "This doesn't look edited."


Saloni (03:19):

Especially now there are a lot of trends of celebrities saying like, "Oh, this body style is in," or "This body style [inaudible 00:03:25]." Body shapes aren't a trend. They're what you have and they're what make you beautiful.


Cara McNulty (03:30):

Body positivity is all about being comfortable in who we are, being proud of who we are, and carrying ourselves in a way that shows "I am who I am and this is beautiful." It's not constantly striving to be something else. Body positivity means positive talk about ourselves and about others.


Hilary Russo (03:55):

What do you feel that your responsibility is to this next generation to make it a positive experience when we're dealing with social media?


Dia (04:03):

Social media is just simply here to stay. We can find a way to kind of promote the positive, call out the negative in a positive way, and try to identify what is the root cause of these types of negative emotions, these body dysmorphia that's coming from these filters.


Hilary Russo (04:17):

So here's my takeaway of what I learned from talking to this group of young professionals. Life happens out there, not in here. And if it feels overwhelming or addicting, it probably is. And most importantly, whether you're scrolling or you're posting, always be yourself.