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The Perfect People Project

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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
-irritability
-preoccupation with appearance
-frequent weighing of oneself
-lying about eating habits, secretive about eating habits
-refusal to eat in public
-flat mood
-baggy/concealing attire
-social withdrawal
-fatigue

Self-worth, quantified

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.

Incongruence

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.

Co-morbidity

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.

Warning Signs

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.

Works Cited:

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.

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COMMENTS: 8
  1. April 29, 2019 by Anika Stenberg

    This is a really interesting topic! I’m not surprised that social media has contributed to eating disorders and lowered self esteem, because everything is touched up and only portrayed how you want it to be on social media. I love the idea of the perfect people project and can’t wait to check out the instagram page

  2. April 29, 2019 by Rebecca

    Hi Mai! I love how you included many facts and statistics, but didn’t stop there and went on to describe how we can initiate change. The perfect people project sounds great as well. Are there other projects taking place on different social media platforms as well?

    • May 02, 2019 by Mai

      Thank you so much! Not that I’m involved in, however I took inspiration from the feeds fitness trainers who would post side-by-side comparisons of their ‘true/unfiltered’ bodies vs. their embellished pictures and thought taking the crux of their message and starting something similar would be useful for my project 🙂

  3. April 30, 2019 by Olivia Reichl

    Mai, this is a super cool topic to have chosen for this project. Your visuals and information were especially helpful and I learned a lot about how I can redefine the way I think about myself. I also think incorporating social media into your presentation was really helpful especially since that is something that affects many people in the younger generations. Overall great job and thank you for sharing!

  4. April 30, 2019 by Levith Andrade Cuellar

    Hi Mai!
    Your project is very well structured and easy to follow through, at a first glance I love it! What I specifically liked about it though was your social media talk and approach, that is definitely a big area our global community needs to improve on in relation to this topic. Your Perfect People Project Instagram page intrigues me, it certainly seems like something that can well take off and become into a strong method of communication to spread awareness about this topic. I would love to see how this project evolves over time!
    Good luck!

  5. May 02, 2019 by Yoska Guta

    Hi Mai! Your topic is so relevant to our current society and especially relevant amongst high schoolers. You did such a great job of addressing a very sensitive topic while also providing all of the necessary facts and opinions. Your background images for each section connected to the titles, which in and of themselves were good. And like you mentioned, the media plays such a huge role in self-worth and confidence. With every swipe we make, we are presented with another image of a “perfect” person with a “perfects” body/face. This often leads us to start questioning our appearance and to base our worth on how we look. Therefore, it is so important and great that you decided to address this topic in a conference that consists of so many high school students who can probably relate! Like I said, you did an amazing job I enjoyed reading your page!

  6. May 02, 2019 by Taichi Kakitani

    The way you split your massive information into sections helped me understand pretty well. You explained the connections with different mental disorders and struggles well. I think the issue around social media is really big and should be considered more. I liked you explained all the causes and how it affects the patient. The presentation of the three components was very clear and interesting. Good job.

  7. May 06, 2019 by Hana

    This is very relevant and it is important that you mentioned how social media is a large contributor to low self-esteem. Although it is a widely talked about subject, it is great to hear about it again especially from someone who is a teen themselves. The way you organized the information was very easy to follow and understand each aspect of this issue.

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