Social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have significantly changed the way in which we communicate, obtain our news, and even live our lives. In many cases, social media provides a number of benefits such as keeping family members in touch or being able to “check-in” when a natural disaster or terrorist attacks occurs. However, social media can also produce extremely negative effects on those who use it, including pushing people into viewing the behaviors and outcomes associated with eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia as acceptable.

The Basics of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are highly complex conditions. And while there is no specific cause for the development of an eating disorder, there are risk factors. These include low serotonin levels in the brain, family history, genetics, and transitions such as moving, starting a new job, or ending a relationship.

Societal pressure has always remained one of the top risk factors for the development of anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders. The increased presence of social media in our lives has caused this risk factor to become much more influential.

The Social Media Effect

For decades, both women and men (however, primarily women) have been exposed to “socially acceptable” body types through television and magazines. Prior to the emergence of social media, those influences could be better controlled by not watching as much television or skipping on reading the latest beauty magazine.

Now, it is nearly impossible to escape society’s projected images of what body types are deemed “beautiful.” People can be exposed to these body image messages everywhere – while driving down the road (billboards), sitting in a waiting room (health and beauty magazines), flipping through TV channels (commercials for products that claim to improve your appearance or help you lose weight), or going to the grocery store (cue the buzzwords “organic,” “light,” and “super foods”). They are also continuously exposed to body image messages through social media.

Those who tend to be most vulnerable to these messages are adolescent girls; however, anyone who is connected to social media is at risk for experiencing self-deprecating thoughts about his or her body. For instance, one of the most followed individuals on Instagram is Kylie Jenner, with a whopping 95.6 million followers. Flooding her feed are images of herself with admittedly plumped up lips, tight dresses, bikini shots, and ads for her makeup line. She is just one of the many public figures who has gained fame through her appearance, which is extremely dangerous for those who are looking on and looking to replicate the behaviors.

Adolescents specifically are still experiencing brain development and emotional regulation development during this time in their lives, meaning that they are more likely to give into peer pressure and begin changing their eating behaviors to mimic the looks of those like Jenner to gain attention.

While adolescents are at great risk, no one is safe from the many body image messages that are constantly flooding these mediums, subliminally (and sometimes overtly) telling us that our bodies are simply not good enough.

Photo by Martin Kníže on Unsplash