Social Media is Not Real: The Effect of Social Media on Body Image.



CW: This article discusses topics of mental illness and eating disorders which could be distressing to some readers.


What is Body Image?


Body Image is the self-perception one has of their physical self and the positive and/or negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are a result of this. "There are 4 important factors that determine body image which are perceptual, affective, cognitive and behavioural." Perceptual body image is the way you see your body; which isn't always an accurate representation of what you actually look like. Affective body image is the way you feel about your body; these feelings can be both positive and negative and are often in relation to how you feel about your weight and shape. Cognitive body image is the way you think about your body; this can lead to becoming engrossed with your body shape and weight. Behavioural body image is your behaviour that is a result of your body image; for example, if someone is dissatisfied with the way they look, they may gravitate towards unhealthy behaviours in order to change their appearance.


What needs to be acknowledged is that how one perceives their own body may not reflect reality. A distorted perception of your own body can result in eating disorders such as; Body Dysmorphia ("a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance"). It affects both men and women and is most common in teenagers and young adults.


Body Positivity, Body Acceptance and Body Dissatisfaction.


Body Positivity is a social movement that aims for all bodies to be accepted- regardless of their shape, size, skin tone and gender; "it was created in order to advocate for people who experience discrimination based on how they look". Body Acceptance is a more neutral outlook on your body image; where you don't feel positive or negative about your body image. Instead, "you can figure out how to accept it". Body Dissatisfaction is a common symptom associated with eating disorders; it's when a person experiences negative thoughts and feelings about their body image.


The effect of Social Media on Body Image.


Social media is not real. It's made up of users sharing highlights in their life, therefore, what is shared isn't always reality- it's simply snippets and hand-picked events shared with their following. Constant exposure to this can be harmful because you begin to compare yourself to other people based on what you can see- which is only an idealised and materialistic life made public for anyone to see.


Subjection to certain body types on social media is likely to influence body shaming and body dissatisfaction. Within social media, a thin/toned body type or someone that has a certain diet is perceived as the 'ideal'. Society finds these body types and specific eating habits more attractive than others. Not only is this harmful to a person's body image, but it also encourages body objectification.


The majority of research and studies into social media and body image are still in their early days. Still, in 2019, the Mental Health Foundation found that "just over 1 in 5 adults and 40% of teenagers said images on social media caused them to worry about their body image" and that "just over 1 in 5 adults said images used in advertising had caused them to worry about their body image". Studies like this can't be proved just yet and are more 'correlational' (meaning their is a relationship or connection between social media and body image).


Eating Disorders in response to Social Media exposure.


Comparing yourself to influencers, celebrities or anyone on social media can be extremely damaging to your body image; which could lead to negative effects on your mental health and physical wellbeing. In relation to body image, eating disorders can develop in an individual. Some of the more commonly known eating disorders are, Body Dysmorphia, Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a mental health condition and is when "a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others"; this creates a distorted and toxic image of the way they look due to the difficulty of shutting these negative thoughts out. Anorexia Nervosa is a serious eating disorder and mental health condition and is when a person tries "to keep their weight as low as possible by not eating enough food or exercising too much, or both"; people with anorexia often have a distorted view of how they look which can promote starvation, eventually making them seriously ill. Bulimia Nervosa is also an eating disorder and mental health condition and is when someone "eats a lot of food in a very short amount of time (binge eating) and then make themselves sick, use laxatives (medicine to help them poo) or do excessive exercise, or a combination of these, to try to stop themselves gaining weight".


Nowadays, we may find ourselves using social media more than ever, but something to keep in mind is to avoid falling into "a cycle of negative comparison, guilt and low self-worth". Social media should be a positive place, where you can connect and engage with close friends, family and colleagues. Instead, it can be a much more negative place, so use it for what makes you happy.


Resources.


  1. The Mental Health Foundation Study expands on actions that can be taken around the topic of body image and eating disorders.

  2. The NHS Eating Disorders Webpage discusses types of eating disorders, getting help, treatment and causes in detail.

  3. The Young Minds Charity has a page that details a lot of information in relation to body image.

  4. The Beat Eating Disorders Charity Website consists of accessible services, helplines and resources surrounding eating disorders.

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