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The Deteriorated Body Image

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

body, body image, insecurities, body positivity

The rise of media consumption


With the increased internet and social media use, it is no surprise that many people have become over-reliant on electronics. These devices are ubiquitous, making information accessible and easy to absorb. Social media applications help establish convenience and closer connections with others. However, this is followed by the consequences of constant scrolling and high hours of screen time. What psychological effects does this have on users? Is there a correlation between social media and body image?


In 2022, there are 4.65 billion people worldwide reported to be on social media. Phones and computers are as widespread as ever and are normalized so that younger generations are increasingly exposed to the internet. As people mindlessly consume content on apps like Instagram or TikTok, they experience a release of dopamine, a type of neurotransmitter that regulates body movements and reinforces the feeling of pleasure. This can be in the form of receiving likes, comments, and validation from others or simply watching a funny video. This happy hormone is not long-lasting, as there are correlations between social media and negatively affected mental health.


Social media is highly fabricated, to say the least. People are very selective with the content they put out; they only show what they want to be seen. Many of the perfect, aesthetically pleasing photos or videos are not reality. Everyone wants to be perceived as beautiful, successful, and perfect, and it is reflected in the content of social media.


Deteriorating mental health


As you frequently visit these apps and are influenced by social media daily, it can negatively impact your mental health. Either consciously or subconsciously, you may start to compare yourself to the content you consume. This can be on multiple aspects like lifestyle, relationships, physical appearance, or happiness. There is a feeling of inadequacy and dissatisfaction with your current life. Instead of feeling inspired or motivated to achieve this level of success or looks, many often feel defeated, jealous, and worse about themselves. This toxic comparison not only lowers one's self-esteem but may also cause anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses.

Comparison is the thief of joy – Theodore Roosevelt

The perfect body


With the advancement of modern-day technology, filters and editing features are incredibly developed and seemingly realistic. In addition to the popularization of cosmetic surgeries, it is impossible to determine if something is real or not. This idealized yet unrealistic body image that is exhibited across multiple platforms leads to further comparisons and insecurities about your own body. Most commonly, it affects adolescents, who are vulnerable and easily influenced. According to the Mental Health Foundation, almost one-third of teenagers (aged 13-19) felt ashamed of their bodies. In the UK, 40% of teenagers and one in five adults blamed their insecurities on images from social media.

Higher body dissatisfaction is associated with a poorer quality of life, psychological distress and the risk of unhealthy eating behaviors and eating disorders.

The unattainable body social media portrays has led to an increase in body surveillance –preoccupation with monitoring your physical appearance– and eating disorders. Eating disorders are severe disturbances in eating habits, often causing health complications. What started as healthy eating and going to the gym could escalate into obsessing over your diet and body. Behaviors related to eating disorders include skipping meals, being conscious of calorie intake, and heavy exercise. Although social media does not directly cause mental illnesses or eating disorders, they do have a correlation. A journal published by the National Library of Medicine studied 680 females and found that higher Instagram usage was linked with a greater tendency towards orthorexia nervosa, an obsession with eating healthy foods.


Steps to healthily consume media

  1. Limit your screen time: Based on a study by the University of Pennslyvania, cutting down your media usage to 30 minutes per day can improve your mental well-being. Take a break from the internet and find other activities and hobbies to do. Leave time for self-care and social activities, with friends and family. Focus on the positives in your present life.

  2. Declutter your digital life: Reconsider the people and accounts you follow. If you find yourself constantly comparing your life or physical appearance to certain people, it is best to stop following them. Curate your social media to show content you genuinely enjoy and block out those that may affect your mental health.

  3. Practice body neutrality: Instead of objectifying our bodies, we should be grateful that it is healthy and functioning and keeps us going every day. Body neutrality encourages you to accept your body as it is. Learn to value and appreciate your body's abilities to allow you to engage in activities you love.

Conclusion


While social media can be good for establishing connections and expanding your knowledge, it may be detrimental to one's mental health. The glamorized yet unattainable societal standards are found to be associated with the development of an eating disorder. It is important to remind ourselves that online media platforms only showcase a part of someone's life. It is not realistic and justifiable to compare yourself to others, although it is easier said than done. In order to consume media healthily and protect your mental well-being, you should use social media in moderation, declutter negative influences in your digital life, and start practicing body neutrality.








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