March 24, 2023

Social Media: A Culprit Behind Poor Body Image

Here’s what you can do to flip the narrative.

Whitney Palmer

Exposure to impossibly tall, chiseled models is nothing new. Thanks to social media platforms, though, how we see these images has changed a bit. Not only are there more of them, but the pictures and videos are also routinely filtered to present unrealistic body images we may envy.

“Seeing only doctored, aspira­tional content on social media can chip away at our self-image,” says Adventist Healthcare  System medical director of psychiatry Marissa Leslie, M.D. “The more pictures and videos we see of unattainable body types, the unhappier we may become with our own bodies, increasing our risk of developing an eating disorder or other harmful behaviors.”

Platforms like Facebook and Instagram offer a steady stream of easily alterable pictures, making people appear flawless. And TikTok uses a special algorithm to detect the type of videos we watch to show us more of them. We don’t have to search anymore—in a matter of seconds TikTok collects a video library for us. That means our news feed fills with content promoting hard-to-achieve physical goals, as well as unhealthy eating and exercise habits.


Some people use social media to chat and share information, but according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), many, particularly younger people, use these platforms to guide what they want to see in the mirror. It’s all about presenting an appealing appearance. Ultimately, online content influences how people think they measure up to others.

“According to the NIH, pursuing the body ideals we see online is troublesome because existing research shows regular social media use is linked to body dissatisfaction and a drive to be thinner,” explains Leslie. “Although the problem mostly affects younger people, we can experience these feelings at any age. Social media content celebrates the pursuit of having a perfect body and may use shame to motivate us to work on our own.” 

The more we scroll, the more likely we are to compare ourselves to unrealistic body images. According to a study from King University, approximately 87 percent of women and 65 percent of men evaluate themselves against the pictures they see online. And frequent comparisons can double or quadruple the risk of body dissatisfaction or push everyone to believe they should lose weight.

“Viewing appearance-based content can lead us to severely restrict how much and what kinds of foods we eat or to exercise too much. And the more we engage in those behaviors, the more vulnerable we can become to an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, binge eating, or bulimia,” says Leslie.


Fortunately, we can control how social media affects our body image. How is that possible?

  • Know You Use It: Do you scroll through Facebook or Instagram when bored or procrastinating? Or is social media your preferred way to stay in touch with friends and family?
  • Follow Accounts Promoting Healthy Approaches to Nutrition and Exercise: Look for accounts highlighting nutritious approaches to eating that include a wide variety of foods and avoid those that focus on restriction. Look for pages that promote different, enjoyable exercises. The accounts we follow shouldn’t make working out feel unattainable or a punishment for what we’ve eaten.
  • Unfollow Accounts That Prompt Us to Compare Ourselves to Others: Get away from pages that trigger a negative hyperfocus on food and exercise. If we feel worse about ourselves after seeing their content, we should remove the account from our feed.
  • Find Body-Positive Accounts to Follow: Search for accounts that post content focusing on overall good health and wellness rather than body type and appearance.
  • Celebrate Body Differences: Keep in mind the measurements for ideal body mass, bone density, and hydration are not limited to one ideal body type. Thin doesn’t always mean healthy, just as overweight doesn’t always mean unhealthy. Follow accounts that celebrate healthy bodies that come in different shapes and sizes.
  • Keep Everything in Perspective: Remember that many people posting photos and videos on social media may be in different age groups, with different genetics, or have athletic abilities different from your own. Even then, digital images can be easily altered, with only the most flattering ones making the post.Social media can be a great tool for entertainment and communication, but it’s important to remember that what you see in pictures and videos doesn’t always represent reality. Be good to yourself and take steps to keep your news feeds positive while protecting and nurturing a healthy self-image.