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83% of South African girls alter at least one body feature before posting on social

Tackling the tough truths about teens, identity, and Instagram
Author: Staff writer
Thu, Nov 30, 2023

Photo by Getty Images

In an era where the glow of smartphone screens often reflects the realities of life, young people are facing a challenging landscape in terms of self expression and identity.  “It's crazy how digitally altered images and "ideal" beauty standards online can mess with one’s sense of self-worth. I mean, scroll through any social media feed, and it's like everyone's living this flawless, filtered life. It's easy to start thinking, ‘Wait, why don't I look like that? Am I not good enough?’,” says Masechaba Khawula, Dove South Africa Brand Manager. “We start measuring ourselves against digital illusions.”

Dove’s 2021 research revealed that more than 80% of South African girls are ashamed of their appearance. The results indicated that 83% of South African girls alter or conceal at least one body part or feature before posting a photo of themselves on social media, compared to the global average of 77%.

"We invite all women to experience beauty on their own terms.”

- Masechaba Khawula

The impact of social media and digital beauty standards is profound and multifaceted, something that Khawula is passionate about. One of her key roles as brand manager is to uncover and unlock relevant insights to help solve the needs and wants of the consumer.

As a brand that’s synonymous with real beauty and positive body image, Dove is actively addressing the concerning research and is on a mission to redefine beauty standards and help everyone experience beauty and body image positively. Says Khawula: “We care about the future generation: helping girls build positive self-esteem through the Dove Self-Esteem Project (DSEP), ensuring the world they enter is removed from toxic beauty standards and we invite all women to experience beauty on their own terms.”

Photo by Getty Images

Social media platforms often present an idealised version of people’s lives – from filters to Face App and fake private jets. Young people often compare themselves to others on social media, which can make them feel like they're not good enough. “Constant exposure to carefully curated and filtered content can lead young people to compare themselves unfavourably, feeling like they don't measure up to the ‘perfection’ of their peers, which contributes to feelings of inadequacy and lower self-esteem,” says Khawula.

Here are some findings from The Dove Beauty and Confidence report

  • Eight in 10 girls opt out of important life activities, such as trying out for a team or joining a club at school if they don’t feel good about the way they look.
  • Seven in 10 girls stop themselves from eating when they are worried about their appearance, or otherwise put their health at risk by not seeing a doctor.
  • For adult women, it’s an incredible nine in ten.

Image supplied

This is more than just about appearance, it’s a matter of identity. Young people today struggle with maintaining a curated online persona, often at odds with their real-life reality, and the challenge of juggling these two personals can be overwhelming, leading to feelings of inauthenticity and impacting self-esteem.

“Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and over the past 16 years, the DSEP has been on a mission to reach millions of young people to help shatter beauty stereotypes, build body confidence, and inspire them to feel empowered and included,” says Khawula.

“Living in the digital age brings in new kinds of social dynamics that affect how young people see themselves, and it's different from what older people go through. Always being online, wanting quick approval, and dealing with the challenges of keeping up a certain online image are things that today's youth face.”

Image source: Dove

As part of the Dove Self-Esteem Project, the brand developed the Confident Me workshop, aimed at 11 to 17-year-olds. The resource offers free downloadable tools designed for teachers and schools to run body confidence workshops.

Says Khawula: “Dove's work in promoting positive self-esteem isn't limited to the classroom. It's a call to action for parents, caregivers, and educators. We believe that empowering young girls with a strong sense of self-worth can break this cycle, helping us achieve our global goal of reaching a quarter of a billion young people by 2030.”

M-Net's Habits of Gen Z is an insightful mini docuseries that encourages families to engage in open conversations, challenge perceptions and celebrate connections as we get to know Gen Z’s perspectives, lifestyles and motivations. 

Throughout the series, you can expect to hear from vibrant thought-starters around values, identity, sex, drugs, diversity, and the future, and perspectives from relatable voices from across the country, representing Gen Z to Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers. 

Habits of Gen Z airs every Thursday at 9pm on DStv’s Channel 101.