Social media, body image, and self-acceptance.
For decades there has been a negative connotation on bodies, female and male, that don’t fit within the scheme of what society condones as ‘the norm.’ Though research shows that most of the strain on physical appearance is mainly on women, there is a considerable percentage of men that are not satisfied with the way they look. According to statistics shown by Park Nicollet Melrose Center, 80% of women and 34% of men in the U.S. are not satisfied with their body image; more often than not, the dissatisfaction on physical appearance causes self-esteem to plummet. The devalue in self-esteem is due to the misconception on body image. It is important to remember that body image is not self-esteem but rather a component of it. For many of us, there is a direct influence on body image by comments made by peers and family members on our physical appearance. Most of us have heard comments such as “Omg! You’ve lost weight, you look great!” or “You’d look so much prettier if you lost some weight.” It’s also quite common to hear a flattering comment towards a perceivably ‘thin’ or “tiny” body vs. a not so ‘thin’ one.
Studies show that while the average woman is 5’4″ and weighs around 144lbs, and an average model is 5’10” and weighs about 110lbs, females from ages 9 and up want to be thinner and engage in some form of unhealthy weight control method (Gallivan). With the rise of social media and its rapid growth, there have been strong correlations on the increase of tethering body image to self-acceptance. Furthermore, the idea of being skinny and beautiful is quickly spread through forums such as Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr. A large percentage of the ideals promoted through social media revolve around ‘thinspiration,’ ‘fitspiration,’ fashion, hunger suppressants, and different ways to alter our bodies so that they match the images of the ‘perfectly-thin’ bodies usually praised by society and often promoted by celebrities. Tweets like “5 Hacks to Look Thin AF in Pics” by Khloé Kardashian, where she shares with her readers different techniques to look thin in pictures, are examples of the type of mentality that some celebrities choose to promote. Not only does her message promote a slim body is best for photos, but it implies that not looking ‘thin’ in pictures is unacceptable. Children, teens, and young women and men perceive this ill-guided message as ‘being thin’ is the best way to be socially accepted. Furthermore, social media has been used to promote Eating Disorders as a way of life. A 2006 study done by Stanford University showed that 96% of girls who had Eating Disorders relied on these sorts of websites to learn about weight loss tips and other ‘advice’ on how to stay thin and beautiful. Websites such as pro-ana and pro-mia are dedicated to promoting weight loss, a ‘never thin enough’ mentality, and they encourage teens and young women and men to dive deeper and deeper into their condition (ANAD).
But Eating Disorders only affect women.
A very prominent misconception is that Eating Disorders (ED) only affect the female population. The general statistics of the American Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders show that at “least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder”. Another misconception about ED is that they are physiological conditions – related to the physic of a person, – in truth, the physical appearance of a person is just part of the symptoms. Eating Disorders are mental illnesses characterized by an irregular eating behavior and severe fear and distress about body weight and shape (NEDA). While Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa are the most well-known types of ED, there are more types of eating disorders that affect a large number of the population and that “have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness” (ANAD).
So, is social media bad?
While studies show a strong correlation between the use of social media as being a trigger for people with ED, people that engage in body checking, and people with body dysmorphia, no one is appointing social media as the ‘bad guy;’ the issue arises in the way it is used (Bullimia.com). Active since 1996, body positivity movements ‘became mainstream’ rather recently. Bustle.com explained in an article how 2015 was the year in which the movement got momentum. The movement, promoted by websites such as thebodypositive and accounts such as Bodyposipanda, are dedicated to replacing the self-loathing, ‘thin makes you worthy’ type of mentality with self-acceptance and self-love. It’s about loving the body you have, regardless of its gender, shape, form or color.
In reality, the choice on which side of social media to follow is up to you. Will you use it and allow it to feed and consume you in self-destructive patterns or will you use social media to fuel yourself love and acceptance?
It is imperative to remember that self-love and self-acceptance have nothing to do with your physical appearance or social media. It’s about the emotional peace and balance that you get by being in a healthy mental, spiritual, and physical state; always remember, it depends solely on your daily and at-the-present-moment choices.