The Effects Of Social Media On Body Image – MHAW 2019

Opening up Instagram, you find yourself bombarded with images of people’s ‘ideal’ bodies. On your social media explore page, you’ll probably find some kind of ‘transformation photo’ or you’ll find an image comparing what a ‘good’ meal looks like compared to a ‘bad’ meal. I’m talking about all those accounts that try and showcase ‘healthy fixes’, which are really more detrimental to your health than they are helpful. They make it seem like it’s acceptable to label a food as bad or make it seem like we don’t need vital nutrients, like fat, in our diets. 

Social media plays a big part in our world as it is – we’re constantly engaging with it, whether it means posting images for our few followers or simply talking to friends. Most of us are active on one social platform or another – be it Facebook or Tumblr. So it’s no surprise that these constant images of people’s ‘dream bodies’ has an effect on our mental health. As if it wasn’t hard enough to try and have positive body image as it is without social media, the social platforms that we find ourselves on make it that much harder to come to terms with ourselves. 

Studies Show Social Media Influences Negative Self-Perception

A recent study led by Jennifer Mills, an associate professor at York University in Toronto, explored the effects that social media has on the body image of young women. They found that engaging with attractive peers on social media increases negative body image. 

While this does go to show that we’re constantly comparing ourselves to images that we see online, it doesn’t really showcase the effect that social media has on our mental health. Likewise, it doesn’t show the effect that social media has on the mental health of men, either. Why is that? Perhaps more inclusive surveys need to be conducted. 

Social media is a hive full of judgement, to put it lightly. People compete to get the most likes on their photo or the most followers on their account by posting images that they think people want to see. Usually, this means that people post photos of their bodies. Now, I don’t judge what either people post – it’s their account, they can do as they wish – but all of these photos just promote further comparison. We look at these images and think we’re not fit enough, we don’t have enough muscle tone, we don’t weigh the right amount, and so forth. It makes us feel completely crap, to be frank. 

For some reason, people on social media also believe they have the right to tell people how to eat, what to eat, and when to eat it. We’re told that our diets aren’t ‘healthy’ enough, or they consist of too many ‘bad’ foods, when, in reality, no food is bad! Of course this is going to make us feel worse about ourselves. Don’t even get me started on the amount of weight-loss memes there are.

We’re Held To Impossible Standards

It is also constantly promoting weight loss. We have to fit into the standards that society sets for us. We’re told we need to be skinny, but not too skinny. Tall, but not too tall. Muscular, but not so much that it’s all that noticeable. This is demeaning and belittling. Why aren’t our natural bodies enough? Why do we have to try and fit into a mould that they determine for us?

Social media is a cruel counterpart in society. The media that we see and intake reflects on our mental health. Of course, there’s no way that we can completely avoid the effects of social media on body image. Nobody’s asking everybody to stop posting photos of their bodies, but they shouldn’t be doing so to shame another person. They shouldn’t strive to make people feel bad about how they look. 

The beauty and diet industries are full of skinny, tall models that promote unhealthy habits. These models are congratulated on their bodies and they’re used to shame other people and put them down, whether they want that or not. The bodies of famous people are constantly put under scrutinisation and are continuously glorified which makes us feel like we’re trying to compete with them. We shouldn’t have to feel this way. 

But, whether we want to admit it or not, social media has a massively negative impact on our body image. Instead of working to help people come to terms with their bodies, it instead makes us feel insignificant and as if we’re not meeting the standards that society sets for us. 

There’s No Wrong ‘Body Type’

We shouldn’t have to feel the need to compare ourselves to every body that we see. We shouldn’t feel the need to justify what we’re eating just because an ‘influencer’ determines what’s a ‘healthy’ meal and what’s an ‘unhealthy meal’. We are all individuals, and there are different things that are right for all of us. 

There is no wrong way to have a body, but social media makes it seem as if there is. The only way we’re going to be able to begin combatting this stigma is to start talking about it – start sharing our experiences with the effects of social media on our body image and start calling people out for pushing unhealthy habits like cutting carbs out of your diet.

Social media isn’t the bad guy, but it definitely plays a part in negative body image. One day, hopefully that won’t be the case.

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