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Social media affects body image in a variety of ways. When we look at social media, we see these beautiful highly edited images of others. It makes us conscious about our own body image. Are we too fat? Are we too thin? How to lose weight or gain more muscle mass etc. Not only does social media affects body image, it also targets our psychological well-being and throws people into a conundrum about a specific body type, skin color and physique.
With 3.6 billion users accessing social media on regular basis, social media has become a huge part of the present culture. However, consistent scrolling through the images of influencers or rather well edited images of others evokes negative feelings in most people about their own body type. Social media affects body image in the most negative manner. It makes people feel that they need to look a certain way to be happy.
Let’s go deeper and understand how social media affects body image?
How social media affects body image: mostly negatively
Body image is the perception of one’s appearance and how it compares with the current status of the society. A positive body image is when a person feel comfortable in their own skin and does not feel the need to get validation from the society about his or her looks, physique or figure.
Negative body image occurs when people start to harbor unrealistic expectations regarding their physique, figure or looks. They feel they should look a certain way to gain the approval of the society. This negative body image leads to people engaging in unhealthy habits like eating disorders et cetera.
A study conducted in 2018 observed a positive correlation between the time that people spent on social media and negative body image as well as eating disorders. This behavior was observed to common in people who were constantly viewing more of the fitness-based content or accounts of models or fitness instructors on Instagram or Facebook.
This shows that social media is one of the prime negative body image causes.
Social media is a place where everyone wants to look good. Hence it is populated by people who are trying to present themselves in the best manner. Sometimes, people go too far and put up images which are hard to achieve for the common masses. This makes other people feel inferior and negative about themselves.
Let’s focus on how exactly social media affects body image and forces people into a negative perception of themselves
A false sense of happiness
Social media affects body image by making people think that belonging to a certain body image only will bring them happiness. This is referred to as internalization of appearance ideals. People think that achieving a specific body type will grant them love, happiness, success and overall well being.
This happens mainly because social media is full of quotes, images and videos which enforce unrealistic beauty standards. Furthermore, since the beauty standards for both men and women on social media is mostly modified and unrealistic, people land up assuming that they don’t look good enough, are not fit enough or need to look a certain way to be happy in their life.
Comparison is something which cannot be avoided, be it at home or in the outside world and social media. This is one of the primary ways social media affects body image in most people. People view the images of their idols or who’s body type they admire. People mostly land of comparing their idols to themselves.
Everyone is not supposed to have the same kind of physical figure. However, when in social media, people land of creating unrealistic ideas and expectations for themselves which either is not physically possible for them or is very very difficult to achieve. When people are not able to achieve their goals pertaining to a specific type of body image, it causes them to go into depression, eating disorders or other mental health issues like anxiety and stress.
When spending time on social media, people most often land up comparing themselves to the appearance of others, specially those who are in a similar age bracket. This further causes anxiety and loneliness in the person when he or she notices that their peers or colleagues have better body image than them.
Filters and photoshops
Social media affects body image in the way that people put up false versions of themselves to gain likes and followers. Nowadays there is hardly an image on social media which has not gone through a ton of filters and photoshop editing. People can remove freckles, add freckles make their arms fat or thin, tone their legs, add highlights to their hair etc. Basically a person can go from being a normal looking person to a supermodel with the help of these filters and photoshop techniques.
Fitspiration, thinspiration as well as other body images
Fitspiration and thinspiration options which are primarily used to describe the images and social media accounts which are used to encourage the viewers to become fit and thin.
These inspirations can work great for those who need to lose weight. However, this have a very negative effect on teens and young adults. Even if the person is at his or her ideal body weight and BMI medically, they feel the need to lose more weight once they embark on this weight loss journey. Once started, it is a downhill spiral from where it is very hard to come back up without involving help from professionals. It all starts with mild form of eating disorder which progresses to become a major eating disorder. This then joins the team of depression, anxiety and stress related disorders.
It has also been observed that the accounts of people who provide fitness and motivate people to lose weight is followed by those people who either want to lose weight or are already doubtful about their body image.
The selfie love paradigm
How social media affects body image in case of men
Even though most social media and body image studies are conducted on women, a study was done in 2020 to understand how social media affects body image in case of men.
In this study, 1000 Instagram posts published by male identifying people were evaluated. The evaluation was based on checking the no of likes and comments received by the men on their posts. It was observed that the posts which showed males as lean and muscular recorded the maximum number of likes and comments.
Therefore, the researchers concluded that spending time on social media and engaging in posts on fitness has negative effects on the person’s body image.
However, more studies need to be conducted before a conclusion can be drawn about this factor.
Social media affects body image in a positive manner as well
So far I have discussed about the How social media affects body image in a negative manner. However, their are evidence which show that social media affects body image in a positive manner as well.
A study conducted in the year 2019 surveyed women within the age range of 18-30. These women viewed positive body content on Instagram. The aim of positive body content is to promote acceptance and appreciation towards all body types.
Researchers observed after viewing positive body content, the women had better overall mood and felt better about their body image and type.
People have a tendency to base the expectations of themselves to what they see and observe on social media. If they see more of positive body perception, chances are higher that they will feel positively towards their own body and physical self. However if they see more of the negative body image on social media, they will feel negatively towards themselves.
Now that you know how social media affects body image, and can be framed as one of the primary negative body image causes, it is time to see how things can be turned around for the better.
Do not let social media become a negative body image cause for you
How much time you decide to spend on social media depends entirely on you. I am not saying that you stop using social media altogether. All I am saying is to limit the time spent to a level which is healthy for you.
The following points will put more emphasis on how social media can be prevented from becoming a negative body image cause for you
Take a break
Suppose you are scrolling through your Instagram, you come across feeds which are full of fitness tips and people displaying the perfect body type. After a while, the images start to make you feel overwhelmed. This should be a sign for you to get away from social media and take a break. Do something that you enjoy, go for a walk, spend some time with your loved ones, engage in your favorite hobby, make some art etc.
Remember, the world is much bigger than what you see in social media. The time you decide to spend away from social media can be a couple of hours, days, weeks or even months. It is entirely up to you.
Unfollow the accounts which make you question your body type
Follow the influencers who promote body positivity
Understand the inner workings of social media
Become an educator on social media
How do I react to how social media affects body image?
Who do I follow on social media?
Frequently asked questions
Yes, social media affects body image. Even if people view body positive images, it may still have negative effect. Women who were shown body positive photos still ended up objectifying themselves.