If you’re anything like me, you spent the majority of quarantine sitting in bed watching Tik Tok, going on Instagram, Snapchat, etc. And you loved it, right? No structure, no school for a while, and even then it was only online, and no responsibilities. Though, this constant use of social media started to take a toll on my self-image and health – it may have taken a toll on you in some way as well!
The Thin-Ideal Media: Social Media’s Effect on Our Bodies
When it comes to the portrayal of women, the media does not do “normal”. Normal in the real world is size 14 to 16, yet “normal” in the media is size 0. Models for top brands have become increasingly emaciated and ads for beauty and fashion brands constantly airbrush photos of these models to make them even thinner. This type of content creates what we know as thin-ideal media: a psychology term that refers to the idealization of the slim female body type.
The thin-ideal media is detrimental to the mental and physical health of the women and young girls who are exposed to it. Look anywhere in our society, television, social media, magazines, and you will find weight-loss and slimming content aimed at women and adolescent girls. This pervasive, unhealthy body image is the only body type celebrated and shown on social media, leading to the notion that looking that one way is the only way to be beautiful. A study led by Dr. Kristen Harrison found that in adolescent females sheer exposure to thin-ideal content was directly related to increased body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Additionally, the same study found that participants with greater exposure to thin-ideal content self-reported higher scores of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating (Harrison). These young girls and women are copying the unhealthy eating habits they see on social media and among their peers to achieve the look that is so highly promoted in our society. This just continues to reinforce the belief that thinness equates to beauty and women and young girls continue to try to conform to unrealistic ideals.
While social media plays a huge role in body dissatisfaction, a study done by Dr. Christopher Ferguson and his colleagues found that the strongest and most consistent predictor of negative eating and body issues was peer competition (Ferguson). This means that young girls and women in America feel in constant competition, for males or other females, attention, etc, with the people around them. It is not necessarily the models and influencers that are affecting people, it is their classmates, friends, and teammates. Additionally, social media opens more avenues for this peer competition, while simultaneously making it more intense. This peer competition with the addition of social media creates an environment where young girls and women are willing to go to extreme lengths to achieve the unrealistic body standards our society promotes.
In the United States, 50% of girls and women are dissatisfied with their bodies, and every three of out four women have disordered eating. These statistics are shocking. Though, what’s more alarming is that how women and young girls think they look is more often than not nowhere near the reality; although, they are willing to do almost anything to achieve the look they want. A survey conducted by professors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that 67% of the women (not including those with actual eating disorders) were actively trying to lose weight, 53% of people who are actively trying to lose weight are already at a healthy weight, 37% of the respondents said they regularly skip meals to try and lose weight, and 39% of the women said concerns about what they eat or how much they weigh interfere with their happiness (Bulik). I believe that these statistics are related to the increase in the use of social media. More and more and younger and younger girls are being exposed to the thin-ideal content present on all media platforms and this is leading to the body dissatisfaction and disordered eating we see in adolescent girls and women.
Call to Action
Start with yourself…Whatever you look like, you are BEAUTIFUL!!
We live in a world full of access to endless media and this can be overwhelming. So, take a break from it. Delete social media for a little while and see how it makes you feel! It is really easy to internalize the things we see on social media, but we cannot let those things determine how we feel about ourselves and impact our well-being. We have the power to challenge and/or disregard the messages we see online and instead celebrate the beautiful people we are!
Then help others…We need to start normalizing ALL body types and not just the “thin-ideal”.
We NEED to create a kinder culture on social media where people are genuinely inclined to uplift everyone and improve their well-being. Celebrate and encourage people who are posting unedited, unfiltered pictures of themselves and look to call out people who are body-shaming themselves or another person. Unfollow and disregard accounts that post/share videos and images that you do not want to see. This will help you challenge your own beliefs about your body and get you to reflect on your true values and beliefs. Let everyone know that they are BEAUTIFUL! The more we support each other and challenge these toxic messages the more change we will see not only on social media but in ourselves.
There is definitely no solution for eating disorders or how social media affects your well-being, but know there are many great resources that can get you on the right path. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder reach out for support, resources, and treatment. Contact the NEDA Helpline by calling, texting, or chatting, visit the Eating Disorders Hope Website, or reach out to a trusted adult or friend. True confidence comes from accepting yourself for who you truly are – and seeking help is the first step!
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