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.
HOW SOCIAL MEDIA AFFECTS BODY IMAGE
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.
SIX WAYS TO LIMIT SOCIAL MEDIA IMPACT
Fortunately, we can control how social media affects our body image. How is that possible?