How does the thin-ideal media impact eating habits and body image in females?

Awards

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The Context

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!

Bissel. Tik Tok and Eating Habits.

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.

Peterson. A Victoria’s Secret Campaign from 2014.

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.

Maloff. Struggles with body dissatisfaction.

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.

Simoni-Walters. Living with disordered eating.

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!

Simoni-Walters. Looking Forward.

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.

Reese. In da woods.

Resources

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!

Simoni-Walters. Hydrangea in the garden.

Feedback 🙂

I hope you enjoyed this project and I would really appreciate you taking the time to fill out this feedback form :). Thanks!

Bibliography

4 Comments
Amaya_344

Amaya_344

Hi! I am an 18-year-old, Native American girl and I have lived in Lake Forest Park with my two moms and dog, Koda, my entire life. I am going into my senior year at Lakeside School and I play competitive soccer for Crossfire Premier. I really enjoy spending time outdoors and frequently backpack with friends and family.

4 comments

  1. Hey Amaya! I really appreciated your project as I am not the stereotypical ‘skinny girl.’ This topic is one that is extremely relevant to other females, if not almost all of us. I found this extremely telling of how social media can be extremely toxic with just looking at the images, not even the comments of posts. Thank you so much for this post, I really enjoyed reading through it.

  2. Hi Amaya, I really enjoyed your topic! I found the statistic that 3 out of 4 women have disordered eating; it’s shocking how high it is. This issue is extremely relevant today due to the messages that brands, influencers, and society have about body image. Also, the use of social media by young girls in middle school magnifies this impact.

  3. Hi Amaya! The statistics that you shared were shocking, and I agree that there is good reason to blame social media for the rise in eating disorder cases and the pressure women feel to morph their body into whatever society has deemed the “ideal body.” I completely agree that we need to create a kinder culture on social media, and it is disappointing that apps like Instagram have made us completely out of touch with reality. People choose what they share, and it is so easy to compare yourself to a strategically posed version of a model or even friend. On the bright side, I’ve been seeing more support and posts encouraging self-acceptance which is definitely a step in the right direction! Great work, I enjoyed viewing your project.

  4. Hey Amaya! I really enjoyed reading your presentation. You really did a lot of great research to back up how social media affects girls body image and mental health. I think that the same thing applies for boys but just is not seen at such large numbers. I think that there are definitely boys who look at social media and then don’t see themselves as fit enough or lean enough and this may lead to unhealthy workout or eating habits. I really think that social media played a role in my mental health during the majority of quarantine and I took some time away from it and found myself much happier overall. Thank you so much for sharing this presentation!

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