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Understanding Our Impact

as creative professionals

Creative professionals produce the ammunition used by all sides of all arguments.

The responsibility for distributing honest, ethical, and socially responsible content lies with us.

Our content, our audience, our responsibility.

Social Media

Harmful content starts with us, the creatives

and ends


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Candy Cotton

Manipulated and retouched content on social media directly contributes to body-image and self-esteem concerns among teenage girls.

Mariska Kleemans, Serena Daalmans, Ilana Carbaat & Doeschka Anschütz (2018) Picture Perfect: The Direct Effect of Manipulated Instagram Photos on Body Image in Adolescent Girls, Media Psychology, 21:1, 93-110, DOI: 10.1080/15213269.2016.1257392

Three Friends

Suicide rates for adolescent girls increased 65% between 2010 and 2015.


Adolescent girls are repeatedly identified as the most vulnerable group to the potential negative mental health effects from social media use.

The same years adolescent social media use soared.

1: Jean M. Twenge, Thomas E. Joiner, Megan L. Rogers, Gabrielle N. Martin (2017) Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time 

Candy Cotton

70% of teens say they've felt not good enough or

not attractive in the last month.

67% feel they have to create the perfect image.

Teen Mental Health Deep Dive, Instagram 2019

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Candy Cotton

Same feed,

different story.

In contrast to traditional media, social media provides a parallel platform to both creators and audience. This structure gives content creators a unique ability to connect with their audience on a deeper level than is possible through traditional media formats. However it also blurs the lines between professionally produced content, and day-to-day snapshots of our own lives. A teenager’s selfies, and the meticulously produced portraits of their idols appear together in their feeds leading to inaccurate comparisons. 

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"Social media is inherently harmful to our mental health"

Candy Cotton


Social media use can be harmful however studies show that the content itself is the deciding factor.


Many users find a sense of community, education, and inspiration through social media - it's inherently harmful content which is to blame, not the technology as a whole. By better understanding the cause we become better equipped to identify and correct it.

Understanding your impact.

Image by Charisse Kenion

The effect of manipulated and retouched media on consumers was documented well before the rise of social media when body and social comparison issues came to light as a result of unrealistic portrayals of women in beauty magazines.

Self-objectification and body dissatisfaction are important predictors of disordered eating and depression among young women.

(Paxton et al., 2006; Peat and Muehlenkamp, 2011; Stice, 2002; Tylka and Hill, 2004)

A study exposing participants to simulated instagram feeds with original or retouched/reshaped selfies showed that exposure to the retouched images directly led to lower body satisfaction among participants.

Candy Cotton

Our content,

Our audience,

Our responsibility.

The effects of social media - both posive and negative, stem from the specific content the audience sees. As the creators of this content, part of the responsibility to ensure the safety of our audience lies with us.

What can you do?

Create a positive narrative

within your posts.

Giving your audience something to be positive about not only leaves them feeling better about themselves but also gives you the best chance of organic growth. While trends and photographic styles come in and out of fashion, movements around mental wellbeing and body positivity are constantly progressing and are undeniably here to stay. Time spent forming positive messages from your content is both an investment in the wellbeing of your audience and the growth of your social media accounts.

Look after your audience, and they'll look after you.

A motivated audience not only has a better online experience, but is more likely to continue engaging with you as a creator. Platforms are under ever-increasing pressure to promote positivity online, and ethical posts are a sure-fire way to both avoid backlash and increase the longevity of your online presence.

Engage in ethically minded campaigns.

Campaigns such as #instagramvsreality have a very real effect in countering the harm caused by excessively unrealistic instagram feeds. Even a single post can counter some of the harmful effect of a social media feed dominated by images of perceived perfection.

Be honest about your creative process.

Before heading to the liquify tool, consider which edits are really necessary to get your artistic vision across. If editing physical appearance is an essential part of your workflow then do so with your audience's wellbeing in mind and disclose the changes. Disclosing the extent of your editing process not only prevents public backlash but also establishes trust within your audience.

Move with the times...

In 2015 Kate Winslet famously included a 'no-photoshop clause' into her contract with L'Oréal, pledging to appear 'as she is' in their campaigns. In 2021 the Norwegian Parliament passed an amendment to their 2009 Marketing Act requiring influencers to label content containing retouched figures. France has implemented similar measures, with discussions ongoing for other nations to follow suit. Almost weekly, celebrities, influencers and photographers find themselves in the firing line for posting altered images to their social media or misleading representations of their lives in the pursuit of fame.


In the 150 years since retouching and photo-manipulation first appeared (yes it really is that old), there has never been so much public criticism of ethically questionable media practices - and if history tells us anything, we can expect public criticism to only grow.

Candy Cotton

Further reading:

Mariska Kleemans, Serena Daalmans, Ilana Carbaat & Doeschka Anschütz (2018) Picture Perfect: The Direct Effect of Manipulated Instagram Photos on Body Image in Adolescent Girls, Media Psychology, 21:1, 93-110, DOI: 10.1080/15213269.2016.1257392

Tiggemann M, Anderberg I. Social media is not real: The effect of ‘Instagram vs reality’ images on women’s social comparison and body image. New Media & Society. 2020;22(12):2183-2199. doi:10.1177/1461444819888720

Telegraph headline linking depression and social media isn't backed up by article - By Daniella de Block Golding -

O'Reilly, M., Dogra, N., Whiteman, N. et al. (3 more authors) (2018) Is social media bad formental health and wellbeing? Exploring the perspectives of adolescents. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 23 (4). pp. 601-613. ISSN 1359-1045

Abi-Jaoude E, Naylor KT, Pignatiello A. Smartphones, social media use and youth mental health. CMAJ. 2020;192(6):E136-E141. doi:10.1503/cmaj.190434

The complicated truth about social media and body image - By Kelly Oakes BBC

Zahl, Daniel & Hawton, Keith. (2004). Media influences on suicidal behaviour: An interview study of young people. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy. 32. 189 - 198. 10.1017/S1352465804001195. 

What Selfies Are Doing to Self-Esteem How they can exacerbate insecurity, anxiety and depression Rachel Ehmke - Child Mind Institute

Mental Health Deep Dive - Meta

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Hard Questions: Is Spending Time on Social Media Bad for Us? - Meta

Social media and low self-esteem - Sophia Auld - Australian Christian College

How Does Social Media Play a Role in Depression? By Nadra Nittle -

Thomas Gültzow, Jeanine P.D. Guidry, Francine Schneider, and Ciska Hoving.Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. May 2020.281-289.

Image by Jason Leung
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All content has an impact.

Make yours positive.

Our Content, Our Audience, Our Responsibility

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