Health Care

The Relationship Between Social Media and Body Image

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Body image refers to our perception of our body and appearance. There are many contributors to body image — individually and collectively — including social trends and what’s perceived as the “standard” or most desired body type at any given time.

Increasing internet usage over the past several decades has been and continues to be a major influence on societal standards of body image. One of the ways this happens is over-exposure to “ideal” body types, leading social media users to compare their own bodies to unachievable, unrealistic, and often unhealthy bodies.

Read on to learn more about the relationship between body image and social media, the consequences poor body image can have on our health, and how to combat the negativity and spark joy.

How Overconsumption of Social Media Can Lead to Poor Body Image

Developing a negative body image can happen to anyone of any age and any gender. But children, teens and college-age students are particularly vulnerable at their impressionable developmental stages.

Social media, and other forms of media, can lead to unhealthy comparisons between our bodies and the ideals they are selling. They even glamorize eating disorders by promoting impossible beauty standards and achieving them through self-deprivation. But what they don’t tell us is that the images they show us are highly edited or created by artificial intelligence. People also tend to present the “best-looking” versions of themselves on social media, which are difficult to achieve in everyday life.

Sometimes, a good intention can become unhealthy when taken to the extreme. Internet users may seek out concepts like “Fitspiration” and “Thinspiration” to try and get healthy fast, but they only end up feeling bad about themselves and engaging in unhealthy behaviors as they try to live up to impossible standards. It’s vital to be mindful of our social media consumption, while making sure we’re consuming the right things for our well-being, like copious amounts of nutritious foods, fresh air and physical activity that rejuvenates our bodies, minds and spirits.

Poor Body Image and Eating Disorders

Disordered eating is a common problem that can result from a poor body image. There are many types of eating disorders, but they tend to manifest in similar ways and for the same reasons.

If you notice any of these warning signs associated with eating in yourself, a loved one or a child, don’t hesitate to reach out for help:

  • Anxiety surrounding eating (saying “I’m full,” or “I’m not hungry,” a lot)
  • Avoiding meals
  • Binge eating
  • Eating in secret
  • Excessive exercising (for multiple hours a day)
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fixating on perceived, but untrue, body flaws (calling themselves “fat”)
  • Forcing oneself to vomit and spending too much time in the bathroom
  • Looking in the mirror excessively
  • Missing one or more menstrual cycles (females)
  • Palpitations
  • Purging with laxatives 
  • Restricting food or calorie intake
  • Talking a lot about weight
  • Using weight-loss supplements or diuretics
  • Wearing oversized, baggy clothing
  • Weight loss or weight fluctuations

There can be many dangerous health consequences of disordered eating, including and not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Elevated risk of heart failure
  • Gastrointestinal issue
  • Increased risk of infections
  • Loss of vital electrolytes
  • Malnutrition
  • Nutrient deficiency
  • Sleeping difficulties

We all need help at different times in our lives. And if your child is struggling with the above symptoms and side effects of an eating disorder, professional help might be your best solution to help them get healthy again — in body, mind and spirit. Psychotherapy, for instance, is a safe and effective outlet for processing the impact of social media on body image and other components of mental health.

“Talking to a therapist can help identify the psychological consequences of social media that are unique to each person and corresponding strategies for resolving those negative outcomes,” says AdventHealth Medical Group pediatric psychiatry expert, Caroline Muster, LCSW.

Types of Eating Disorders

Here are the main eating disorders that affect children, teens and adults. Reach out for help if any of these are impacting your family.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is where someone refuses to eat enough calories out of an intense and illogical fear of becoming fat. Those with anorexia have a distorted body image. Obsessed with being thin, they see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously skinny.

Bulimia Nervosa

With bulimia, the sufferer overeats to the extreme, also called bingeing, and then purges the food by vomiting. They overcompensate with exercise or using laxatives to prevent weight gain. As with anorexia, bulimic people also fear gaining weight and feel unhappy with their bodies.

Orthorexia Nervosa

Orthorexia is a bit different than anorexia and bulimia in that weight isn’t necessarily the focus, but it still results in restrictive caloric intake and unhealthy outcomes. Those with orthorexia develop an obsession with healthy eating. Ironically, being extreme about one’s health can quickly turn unhealthy through overly restrictive behaviors and irrational thinking about food.

Body Dysmorphia Disorder

People with body dysmorphia disorder might not be concerned specifically about their weight, but there is a particular part (or parts) of their body that they focus on and perceive as flawed. Whether there is no flaw or a minor one, their perception of themselves is way out of proportion to reality. They spend an excessive amount of time and energy thinking about what they don’t like about themselves.

Combat Negativity, Spark Joy

It’s easy to get caught up in the modern whirlwind of social media, and it can have some serious consequences on our whole health. However, awareness is the first step to free yourself from impossible body expectations.

Here are some tips to help combat negative body image from overuse of social media:

  • Avoid passing judgments on anyone’s body, including your own
  • Block or unfollow social media users who post negative or judgmental content
  • Develop self-confidence
  • Differentiate and diversify your social media feed
  • Limit time spent on social media
  • Remember that not everything you see on the internet is real
  • Seek out positive content

You Are Beautifully and Wonderfully Made

A healthy body, mind and spirit is what God intended when you were created. That should be your goal, not a specific, unachievable ideal that makes you miserable and sick. If your lifestyle doesn’t spark joy, make the changes necessary to make your eyes sparkle when you smile.

To learn more or get connected visit You deserve to feel whole.

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