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How altered images and social media affect our self-image

May 11, 2023 |5 minute watch time

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.