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How social media affects body image?

How social media affects body image?

How social media affects body image?

Let’s understand how social media affects body image

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.

These filter and photoshopped images are what a normal person would see and compare his or her unrealistic standards to. This creates a distorted fantasy world for the person which raises the bar on what is the ‘perfect look’. Studies have shown that at least 2/3 Americans edit the photos before they post it on social media. Therefore, what ever you see on social media must be taken in with a grain of salt.

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

Selfies are the prime focus when it comes to social media. Unfortunately 90% of the time these selfies are highly edited. Selfies also belong to the major category of post types through which social media affects body image.
A study conducted at the York University asked female undergraduate students to click a selfie on an iPad and upload it on social media like Facebook or Instagram. The students were divided into two groups. One group was asked to upload the selfie without any editing while the other was allowed to do as much editing as they wanted.
It was observed that almost all students felt less attractive and confident after uploading the selfie compared to the time when they entered the experiment. The results were similar across both groups. This indicates that even though people have the ability to make the end image look better, they are still fixated on the aspects of themselves they do not like or feel inferior about.

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

You must be well aware of the accounts which make you feel inferior or bring up your insecurities about your own body. Simply unfollow these accounts. Document your feeling after you have unfollowed such accounts for the period of a week. Take the time to analyze if you are feeling any better now or if your perception towards yourself has changed.

Follow the influencers who promote body positivity

How social media affects body image depends on you to a certain extent as well. Follow those influencers who activity promote self love and body positivity. You may also choose to not follow body positivity at all. Follow other things which are of interest to you like animals, science etc. The focus here should be to reduce your exposure towards appearance ideals which make you feel uncomfortable.

Understand the inner workings of social media

Take some time out and learn more about social media. Understand how it is manipulated to hook the audience in and its inner workings. Having this knowledge will keep you from getting persuaded by others unrealistic portrayal of their bodies.

Become an educator on social media

Social media can be a boon or a curse depending on how you choose to use it. You can change how social media affects body image. Become a person who motivates others on social media. You can become an influencer yourself and promote body positivity. It will not only make you feel better, it may also motivate someone else to look at themselves in a different light.

Personal experience

To be honest, I am not a big fan of social media neither am I a fan of how social media affects body image. For me social media is a necessary evil. I need it to stay in touch with my friends, for the promotion of my YouTube channels and my blogs.

How do I react to how social media affects body image?

I don’t follow any influencers on social media. Funny! right? However, as I said, I am not a big fan of social media. My account is filled with content which I am promoting. My purpose is to use social media as a means of spreading information, be it regarding dog care or mental health.

Who do I follow on social media?

I follow dogs, cats and science and world culture on social media. However, my favorite would be dogs,  cats and their hilarious actions. When I use social media for relaxation, I look for dog and cat videos or painting techniques. They make me smile, laugh and help me relax my mind. Watching a painting in progress, digital or traditional, helps me calm my mind and lose myself in the work of art. I am a firm believer of art therapy.



Which influencers do you follow on social media? How does social media affects body image as per you? Has your experience with social media been good or bad? I would love to know about all this. So, leave your experiences in the comment section below. If you have any queries or wish to get in touch with me, feel free to reach out to me on any of my social media channels. I will be happy to help you.
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Frequently asked questions

How does media affect your body image negatively?
Media includes television, advertisements, movies etc. Unfortunately in advertisements and movies, an unrealistic image of a healthy body is projected. People follow what they see on television. When they come across such advertisements and movies portraying false body images, they believe this is how they should look to achieve happiness and success in life.
Is there a link between social media and mental health?
Social media affects body image by false portrayal. These superficial and false body images force people to look a certain way. Those who fall in the trap of false body images, try to lose weight or gain muscle by either over exercising or starving themselves. Inability to achieve a specific body type forces these people to go into depression. It has also been known to be one of the causes behind increased suicide rates in recent years.
Is there a downside to body positive photos?
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.

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