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Perpetuating Consumerism: The Role of Social Media and Self-Image

CW: This article discusses topics of self-image which could be distressing to some readers.

In recent years, so many popular social media apps such as TikTok, Instagram and Twitter, have been a part of our everyday lives. It's almost impossible to avoid these apps and the influence they have on our society.

The rise in social media popularity has led to a rise in social media influence. Marketers rely on social media influence to sell us products, and this has even changed the way social media apps function. Instagram released their shopping feature in May 2020. Not long after this, TikTok released their TikTok shop, where popular TikTok stars use the live feature to sell products at discounted prices.

In order to sell products, brands rely on trends, and trends start and end with social media and consumers' desire to conform to what is 'in'. Another key part of consumerism is issues with self-image and self-esteem, which brands also put faith in to sell their products.

Social media

When trends come and go, it can be tasking on our self-image. It's difficult to fit in when what is 'in' is always changing. It can lead to a sense of isolation, or the idea that we're missing out.

Alongside changing trends is the influx of social media influencers, and their appearances and lifestyles being some of the reasons that their style is so enticing. It is normal to want to live the way the people we constantly see on social media do. It's also normal to want to have the style they have, so we feel encouraged by advertisements to purchase the products we see being used by popular social media stars.

Now that we spend most of our days on social media, it makes it much easier for marketers to push their products onto us. Consumption is associated with a happy, healthy and successful life and there is no better way of getting people to purchase products than to promote this lifestyle on social media sites. The downside to this is, we aren't always told the truth about what we're being sold.

Molly-Mae Hague is one of the biggest social media influencers in the UK right now, and since becoming the creative director of Pretty Little Thing, the site is one of her biggest promotions to her audience. However, despite efforts, the brand is not sustainable, and the quality of their products is poor. Not only this, but they launch around 200 product lines in a week! With this many items being released weekly, it's feeding into consumerism by showing shoppers that what was trendy a couple of weeks ago, is now out of fashion. This convinces consumers to keep buying the new, trendy products; leaving the old ones to end up being disposed of.


Micro-trends fuel consumerism and are heavily controlled by social media. The harm of micro-trends is that they aren’t intended to last for more than a few months.

"Micro-trends are cheap, stylish fashion items that are designed to last until the end of the current season and are often born from the screens of social media." - Julia Bonavita

Micro-trends influence people to purchase more products at a fast rate. This is done by creating new trends, or bringing back old ones. It's impractical to keep up with the constant switching.

SHEIN has a huge influence on micro-trends: dropping 700-1,000 new styles every day! The website is a constant cycle of new, low quality items being produced and disposed of at alarmingly fast rates.

Micro-trends aren't just damaging to our planet, but to our self-image too. How we look affects how others perceive us, as well as how we perceive ourselves. Micro-trends are so fast paced, that usually by the time someone has bought clothes to fit into the trend, it's no longer fashionable. This adds to the pressure of always having something new and up to date, which then leads to overconsumption and issues with confidence if we can't stick to the current craze.

Self-image and consumerism

Self-image and self-esteem are factors to consumerist behaviour. Consumerism encourages the need for having a 'good life', or one that is better than the one we have now; yet it pushes the idea that this can only be accomplished through buying more things.

"Consumers feel better about themselves when they purchase products or services that they subconsciously link to aspects of their self-identity about which they feel insecure." -L.J Shrum

Social media and micro-trends are both big issues that affect self-image and perpetuate consumerism.

Social media can make us feel less confident, and can really impact our self-image when we see influencers who seem to be better than us. When we have a bad self-image, or low self-esteem, this can tempt us to buy lots of new things to make us happy, and to make us feel more confident by fitting in, or impressing others around us.

Shopping smarter & learning to love your style

It can be frustrating trying to follow what's currently in trend whilst still shopping sustainably, so here are some simple ways of shopping smarter, as well as learning to love your style:

  • Second hand stores, charity shops, and vintage shops are a great way to find cheap clothes that last. It's also great for the environment! You can also give your unloved clothes to these stores instead of binning them, so they can find new homes to be loved in.

  • When shopping for clothes, be mindful about your purchase. Try to look for sustainable, trans-seasonal clothes. You can never go wrong with jeans and t-shirts!

  • Reorganise your wardrobe! You may find clothes that you haven't worn in a while that you can restyle with accessories or other garments.

  • Find a style that YOU love. Self love is so important, and finding a style where you feel your most comfortable, confident self, means you're less likely to fall into micro-trends and social media influence. In addition, it's great for the environment (and your bank account!).

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