How does social media impact body image?

CONTENT WARNING: article includes themes of eating disorders.

Social media

What is body image?


Body image is probably something you’ve heard a lot about online, especially if you like to scroll on social media, but what actually is body image? And what does it mean?


To put it simply, body image is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you try to picture yourself in your mind. This also includes what you believe about your own appearance and how you feel about your body. (Including height, weight and body shape.)


A positive body image is seeing your body for the way it is, accepting and being happy with the way you look and how you feel. Body positivity includes feeling comfortable and confident in your body and realising that physical appearance is just one small part of a person’s character.


A negative body image, on the other hand, is when someone sees a distorted version of themselves they aren’t happy with. Negative body image can be a very serious issue that causes severe harm to a person. Feelings of shame, fear, anxiety, self-consciousness are all common with people who suffer from a negative body image, these people are also more likely to develop medical conditions such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders and low self-esteem.


Negative body image is usually caused by changes in the body or comparisons to other people’s bodies that we may consider to be more ‘atheistically pleasing’, however it’s important to learn why comparing yourself to others (especially those on social media) isn’t exactly fair and is leading to a rise in unrealistic body standards.



Where does social media come in?


From a young age we’re constantly told to be ourselves and not to compare ourselves with others, however in a society driven by likes, followers and social media fame it seems each and every day more and more people are comparing themselves to Instagram models, athletes and influencers, shattering their self-esteem and body confidence in the process.


Being brought up in the age of social media can be tough for young adults and teenagers. With an unlimited Instagram feed of digitally edited photos and unrealistic beauty standards becoming the new norm, unattainable body standards are impacting the self-esteem and body confidence of young people.


A 2018 study found a strong link between time spent on social media, negative body image, and those most vulnerable to eating disorders. This was especially true if participants were scrolling through health/fitness content.


This just goes to show how social media can really affect someone’s body image by repeatedly exposing them to images of ‘idealised’ body types, causing users to compare themselves to most likely photoshopped pictures.


"People end up creating unrealistic ideals for themselves based on what they see and feel distressed when they aren't able to meet those ideas or self-expectations."

- Neha Chaudhary, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.



Athletes and Celebrities


Okay now let’s quickly think about the footballers, athletes and celebrities of the world who always look in great shape. If I asked you to name me someone who fit that description you’d maybe say Cristiano Ronaldo or Mo Farah right? Well, here’s the thing, athletes have their whole lives and careers based around how they look and perform. Athletes and sports players continuously put their bodies through hell and back, all because they want to be the best at what they do and they need to stay match fit all year round to perform at the highest level! They live incredibly disciplined lives with massive teams of doctors, personal trainers, physios and dietitians all working round the clock to help them achieve this!


Celebrities and actors also have to stay in shape all year round, whether you’re an actor looking for a new role, a fitness influencer trying to sell fitness programmes or a Kardashian making new TV shows being in great shape is part of the job! Much like athletes, celebrities will also work with a team of chefs, dietitians and personal trainers who help them remain in great shape all year round. All things the average person wouldn’t have access to!



Is it all bad?


After reading the article so far it probably sounds like social media is a terrible thing for body image and it’s no good at all right? Well while the negative impacts of social media on body image are well documented, social media can also be a great tool to help to motivate and inspire people who are struggling with their own personal body image.


Social media has the power to do so many great things, and with millions of Health and wellness, fitness, and body positivity accounts on every platform it also has the power to be an inspirational model for those looking for support. Through these positive frameworks, social media consumers can maintain a healthy and positive relationship with their body image.


Organisations like ‘Eating Disorder Hope’ have also claimed how social media can positively benefit the way people feel about their body image. They believe that the landscape of body positivity on the internet has created a better understanding and more inclusive space for all body types.


“Body image advocacy on social media can make a huge impact on individuals actively struggling with eating disorders.”

Furthermore, social media can be a great way to interact and connect with different body positivity support groups available across different platforms.


In conclusion, it’s important to remember what you see on social media is only what people WANT you to see! Images are often edited and photoshopped to look more aesthetic pleasing and reality can often be quite different to what you see on social media.


One last thing to remember; be proud of yourself and embrace who you are, our imperfections are what make us human and in a world where every other person already exists, be yourself and be kind!