Social Media and the Number on the Scale
In a day and age where social media is on the rise, the subsequent onset of cultural globalisation has led to redefining of societal standards – good, and bad. Beauty, in particular, being among the first undergo this change. We see it through products, advertisements, TV shows that over over years come to represent more homogeneous standards of attractiveness. The consequences? The narrower the criteria for beauty becomes, the more pressure our younger generation feels to fit that mold.
Eating Disorders and Social Media
Being an illness with the highest mortality rate across all mental disorders, addressing the root of the cause is imperative to treating its patients effectively. Recognizing social media’s crucial role in self-image is our first step to evaluating what needs to be done to combat the extreme measures young women take to achieve these unrealistic goals. It’s no surprise that a University of Pittsburgh study of over 1500+ young adults indicated a direct positive correlation between social media usage and body-image dissatisfaction.
Anorexia Nervosa and OS-FED
It’s no shock that a link between anorexia and social media is inevitable; The heart of this mental-health condition revolves around distorted self-image. This eating disorder is characterized as meeting, at minimum, the following criteria:
– restriction of energy intake resulting in significantly low BMI
– intense fear of weight gain
– lack of awareness of the severity of one’s own condition
However, this criteria is exclusive to Anorexia Nervosa alone, and does not apply to the plethora of other eating disorders that afflict our youth today. EDNOS/OS-FED still remains a diagnosis responsible for disproportionate chunk of ED-related cases. Conditions reminiscent of this include spiraled/out-of-control dieting, as well as cases similar but lacking one or two critical criterion that qualify for the diagnosis of Anorexia/Bulimia. Typically, observable characteristics of eating disorders include but are not limited to:
-preoccupation with food
-preoccupation with appearance
-frequent weighing of oneself
-lying about eating habits, secretive about eating habits
-refusal to eat in public
In an era where the number of likes we receive on our profile picture has come to equate the attention we deserve, the excessive consumption of social media has fostered a toxic mentality with which we quantify our self-worth. Preexistent insecurities are now amplified by comments, read receipts and other forms digital feedback with which we’ve dictated our external realities.
Social Psychologist Michael Argyle defined 4 major components to self-esteem: two of these being our comparison to others, as well as how others react to us. It’s no surprise these two notions are heavily involved in the workings of social media, which provide us a platform to do this interminably.
It’s well-established in the world of psychology that under circumstances that prompt comparison, our self-image comes under scrutiny. A 1970 study conducted by Morse and Gergen demonstrated this when participants queueing for an interview were made to wait under two conditions: a) alongside alternative candidate A, ‘Mr. Clean’ and candidate B, ‘Mr. Dirty’. Mr. Clean, as his moniker suggests displays a well put-together demeanor whilst Mr. Dirty arrives late, unkempt and unprepared. To little surprise, those under the former testing conditions reported lower self-esteem while the latter reported a higher one.
Renown humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers developed a theory in which one’s self-concept is composed of three components: self-image, self-worth and the ideal self. Our self worth comprises of our thoughts of ourselves and how much we value ourselves. Our self image is how we view ourselves. The ideal self, as it suggests is the ideal version of ourselves we wish to embody. The existence of a discrepancy between our ideal self and our self image is known as incongruence. It’s understood that incongruence results in lower self worth resulting in the destructive behavior and defense mechanisms that arise from low self-esteem.
Among the multiple established psychological defense mechanisms, denial comes to mind as being particularly notable one among patients with Eating Disorders as they often suppress awareness the severity of the state they’re in.
Populations suffering from pre-existing psychiatric disorders are more susceptible to developing eating disorders. Research indicates that somewhere between 55% to 97% of those diagnosed with eating disorders suffer from at least one co-morbid mental illness alongside their diagnosis. Major Depressive Disorder, various anxiety disorders, Social Anxiety Disorder and PTSD are among the most common of these. Recognizing the influence these conditions have on a patient’s overall diagnosis is imperative to the individualized treatment of victims – addressing the root of the problem is key to effective recovery.
Considering how physical consequences don’t start to manifest themselves until the later stages of an eating disorder, often times they can be referred to as a silent killer. Identifying symptoms early on is crucial to preventing the onset of them in their fatal forms. Consider seeking professional help if you suspect a loved one around you of displaying any of the following questionable behavior:
- Has he/she been avoiding social events/gatherings at the notion of eating?
- Denies hunger
- Rarely ever encountered eating
- Preoccupation with food/weight related activities (obsessive weighing, measuring, calorie-counting)
- Sudden excessive exercising, despite illness/fatigue
- Change in attire, more figure-concealing clothes
- Use of laxatives and diuretics
- Withdrawal from usual activities
- Loss in energy
- Binging episodes
- Evidence of purging (scent of vomit)
- Lifestyle adjustments to accommodate for disordered eating habits
Redefining Body Goals
How can we initiate change? Perhaps a first step would be to become comfortable with exposing our unfiltered selves on social media. We can collectively make an effort to dismiss the standards that have been implicitly set in place, and mitigate its influence.
The Perfect People Project instagram page is a platform promoting body positivity through a series of unfiltered candids of young women and body-positive slogans.
Taking action from the very root of the problem is the key to tackling body-image issues arising from social media – it isn’t the tool itself, but rather how we choose to use it. If we train ourselves become consciously aware of our actions and learn to utilize the platform for the greater good, perhaps some day we can come to re-define our own standards of beauty in such a way that will be beneficial to our generation’s well-being.
American Psychiatric Association (1998), Eating Disorders.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (4th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1994.
Freud, A. (1937). The Ego and the mechanisms of defense, London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis.
Margalit, Liraz. “The Psychology Behind Social Media Interactions.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 29 Aug. 2014,
The Association between Social Media Use and Eating Concerns among US Young Adults. Sidani J.E., Shensa A., Hoffman B., Hanmer J., Primack B.A. (2016) Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116 (9) , pp. 1465-1472.
Rogers, C. (1959). A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centered framework. In (ed.) S. Koch, Psychology: A study of a science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the person and the social context. New York: McGraw Hill.
“Comorbidity.” National Eating Disorders Collaboration, Australian Government Department of Health.