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Social Media, Mental Health and Their Relationship With Body Image



Social media can be a catalyst that has the power to worsen people’s body image and consequently affect their mental health. Many suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder, an obsessive-compulsive disorder characterised by excessive preoccupation with one’s perceived flaws. Typical behaviours of this mental disorder range from consistent mirror checking to avoidance of social situations.


Chasing mirages


Social Comparison Theory explains the mechanisms by which people internalise the different societal messages of what it means to have a favourable social standing amongst others. This enables the development of behaviours such as compulsive self-scrutiny and comparisons of the self against the other to estimate one’s own social success. This happens particularly in the case in which women compare their own body weight to those of other women by referring to the proposed societal ideal of thinness. However, to satisfy certain ideals, changing weight may not be considered enough. I


n fact, studies have found that women whose social media engagement with beauty content was high, had a propensity in chasing unattainable ideals of beauty and to seek plastic surgery in order to satisfy the presupposed beauty requirements for social success. This was particularly evident during the pandemic when increasing levels of screen time and consumption of targeted beauty content sought an increase in cosmetic procedures. Already existing body dysmorphic tendencies can be exacerbated in cases of post-procedural dissatisfaction, leading to a vicious cycle of constant and potentially damaging beauty treatments.


Beyond the female


The majority of past literature has focused on this subject by making it a prerogative of women. However, the findings from new rising research brought to light the negative effects that society’s beauty standards have had on the body image of those of different demographics. In fact, it has been observed throughout the years a narrowing of the gap between the cases of men and women suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Non-heterosexual women have been found to be at higher risk of disordered eating compared to their heterosexual counterparts.


Men whose sexual orientation is not heterosexual are more at risk compared to those who are not part of the LGBTQ community. Excessive preoccupation with muscularity has been observed in men suffering from the condition, with behaviours such as spending an excessive amount of time in the gym, hiding their bodies in public and taking anabolic steroids to the detriment of social and occupational relationships.


Many who seek these treatments get stuck in the never-ending chase towards a fictitious ideal of beauty. This incessant run towards a model of beauty that does not exist in many cases outweighs the benefits of such a quest and can pose a threat, especially when exacerbated by already existing poor mental. It can become costly not solely based on finance but also on individuals’ well-being, quality of life, social relationships and bodies with risks of disfigurement and injury.


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