The truth of social media over body images and recovery

October 7, 2019

We live in the digital age. According to the London School of Economics and Political Science, with more than 35 percent of the world’s population being active social media users, social media today has an expansive effect over multiple aspects of society, ranging from governmental political affairs to the operation of businesses. On the micro-level, social media has also influenced how individuals compare themselves to the people they see online, affecting body images and subsequently, causing eating disorders. 

In a study completed by the Global Web Index, the average internet user spends roughly two hours and twenty-two minutes  on social media every day. During this time, people are inundated with posts from other people that showcase a “perfect” and “desirable” lifestyle. For the younger generation, according to  Magnolia Creek, a treatment center for eating disorders, these depictions of perfection plays heavily into the development of body objectification and the practice of incessantly comparing their own bodies to those of online influencers. These two effects, combined with online advertisements starring models with societally deemed “ideal figures,” ultimately negatively affects self image and mental health. 

In the case of body objectification, a person’s validation can stem from the number of likes that their post receives. A low number of likes could cause insecurities, and from there, propagate negative self images (Magnolia Creek). Moreover, social media inevitably causes users to compare themselves to the people they see online with ‘perfect’ bodies and lives. Since the images we see online are not accurate depictions of reality and are meant to be unachievable, these comparisons will also lead to an unfavorable self image. This dissatisfaction with one’s body, according to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), can create lasting effects such as “depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and eating disorders.” 

Furthermore, there is another way in which social media can cause eating disorders: cyberbullying. Social platforms have opened up gateways for fat shaming and cyberbullying to be much more prevalent in society while allowing transgressors to remain anonymous. NEDA has reported that “as many as 65% of people with eating disorders say bullying contributed to their condition.” 

However, this is not to say that social media could only cause harm. The internet provides a vast amount of resources and people can find their own support groups through social media. According to clinical psychologist Deborah R. Glasofer, “reading a diversity of stories [online] helps people feel less alone in their recovery and can help them tolerate the common experiences of recovery that are really challenging.” In this sense, social media could potentially be used to counterattack its own harms, but only if used correctly. 

Social media has both the power to cause harm and promote recovery. As in the case of body image and eating disorders, we must be mindful of how we view social media and its potentialities in affecting our lives.

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