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The Effect of Social Media on Body Image and Eating Disorders

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    There is an epidemic spreading across the United States. Nearly 8,000,000 Americans are struggling with an eating disorder today, and half of all Americans personally know at least one of these 8,000,000. Not only is this a large section of America, but it’s also a very impressionable one, with 95% of these people being within the ages of 12 and 25. (Mysouthernhealth.com), The question has to be asked, “If 77% of all Americans have a social media account and are spending a vast amount of time on said account, how much of an impact does what they see on these accounts have on their body image and eating habits?” (statista.com) It is time to face the truth that social media does have a correlation with body image and eating disorders in many people, most of them with the ages of 12-25. This is an issue that often times, many people will not like to talk about; so they don’t, and nothing changes because of it. However, the truth of the matter is that people are dying from eating disorders. In fact, 18-20% of people with Anorexia will die within 20 years of contracting this mental disease (Mysouthernhealth.com). It must be stopped now, but how?

    Social media can be defined as “websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking” (en.oxforddictionaries.com). This form of online networking can be used by anyone, which is one of the things that many believe is so wonderful about this form form of networking. This is, however, also one of the downfalls of social media. Brands have taken a great advantage in using social media to advertise their products or services, many finding the opportunity to present extremely edited versions of models to sell a product of state of mind to their viewers. This has been become an extremely popular trend among not only brands, but also public figures- the idea of selling a certain lifestyle, one that includes a very slender body type. For many young minds that look up to these brands or public figures- mostly public figures- this is dangerous. They associate the lifestyle that they see and want and thus, develop the idea that in order to achieve that lifestyle they have to present themselves in a certain way and, more importantly, look a certain way.

    A study was conducted by Kristen Harrison and Joanne Cantor for the Journal of Communication, Volume 47, Issue 1 looking at the correlation between social media use and eating disorder symptoms and body dissatisfaction in college women. In pages 40-67, there is a discussion of the experiment in which they refer to the idea of TDP media or “thinness-depicting and promoting media” that is shown all around world and adopted by many viewers without them even having the realization that they’ve adopted it until it’s too late. In this study, a section college women in the experiment were exposed to this idea of TDP media, and the other section was exposed to social media depicting women of varying body shapes. The women that were exposed to the TDP media began to show body dissatisfaction, a strive for thinness, and shown symptoms of eating disorders among many of them. To add to the pressure of adopting unhealthy eating habits or even disorders, the same study was conducted on men in college of the same age as the women. The study exposed a section of the men to TDP media for males and the other section was shown varying male body types. The study showed that the men exposed to TDP for an extended period of time gained an endorsement of personal fitness and dieting, as well as a much more selective attitude towards women- when it comes to choosing a partner. This only adds to the pressure placed on many to adopt unhealthy eating habits, due to social media. Their final statement on the experiment was the following: “Exposure to TDP media appears to be associated with a subsequent increase in eating disorder symptomatology” (K. Harrison, J. Cantor).

    Many other scholarly resources have come to the same conclusion as K. Harrison and J. Cantor. One example is research from Vittoria Franchina and Gianluca Lo Coco for the International Journal Psychoanalysis and Education. They arrived to the same conclusion, that social media has the ability to greatly influence entire perceptions of young people in an extremely negative context. They also found that one of the reasons that social media has such a negative effect on the body images of teens and young adults is because these images on social media are so readily available. They carry them around with them in their pockets, and they go with them to school and work. The ideal follows wherever their phones go. It’s not like these people are just going to stop carrying their phones around with them, either.

    One of the arguments that presents itself is from Lauren Berninger in an article for the Huffington Post. She attempted to blame the parents of our society, saying that should be taught at a young age that social media is for the most part fake and it would be crazy to believe that you should look like the people you see on social media. To an extend- yes- the vast majority of people on social media tend to show only the best version of themselves and that is important to understand; however, even with that being said, social media still has the power to influence many people into switching to disliking their body or adopting unhealthy eating habits- it’s been proven. So, the next question is “What can be done to stop it?”.

    In an article written by J. Kevin Thompson and Leslie J. Heinburg for the Journal of Social Issues, Thompson and Heinburg discuss the fact that social media is being used as a sort of magnification of the problems that society already has with pressuring the “ideal” body standard onto young men and women. While society is the root of the problem, social media is being used to echo these problematic societal ideals. They say that researchers are beginning to find strategies to intervene and counteract these problematic viewpoints. These recommended strategies include “social activism and social marketing approaches” (J. Kevin Thompson, Leslie J. Heinburg). The argument is made that social media has the power to be the solution to the very problem that it is creating, if the right people are making an effort to do so. Thompson and Heinburg close their recommendations with the statement “The media itself is one potential vehicle for communicating productive, accurate, and deglamorized messages about eating and shape-related disorders”. Simply put, the problems presented by social media in regards to eating disorders and body dissatisfaction can be bettered by people being more genuine on their social media platforms and by brands and influencers allowing viewers to also see a deglamorized version of them.

    So, in conclusion, there is no denying the correlation between social media use, the “thinness-depicting and promoting” media, and body dissatisfaction and increased eating disorder habit in many people, most of them from the ages of 12-25. This is a problem that is increasing, however, there has been a rise in the number of people and organizations who are beginning to use social media to go against the societal ideals that it has been known to project on young people. Many are beginning to see how easy it is to lessen the projection of body ideals that are unattainable for many people and causing them these increased problems with their own bodies. Social media has so much potential for good influences, but it will take the right people to use these outlets to push against the problematic societal norms that are consistently being projected on the youth of today.

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    The Effect of Social Media on Body Image and Eating Disorders. (2021, Oct 21). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-effect-of-social-media-on-body-image-and-eating-disorders/

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