Countless research studies have shown that women are at a higher risk of developing eating disorders than men. Although men are not immune to having an eating disorder, eating disorders and body image issues are considered to be a woman’s problem.
With the rise of social media, and social media influencers, exposure to the “thin ideal” is at an all-time high. The perk of social media is immediate access, which means body image content is literally at our fingertips. For teens, women, and men alike – constant exposure to a thin ideal can be incredibly harmful.
What are Eating Disorders?
I’ll keep this portion sweet and simple. An eating disorder is considered to be a disruption between thoughts and emotions, and their relationship to one’s eating behavior. Common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
How Does Social Media Affect My Body Image?
It’s become almost normal to scan through a consistent feed of photos showing diet regimes and the “ideal” body type. These photos can have lots of “likes,” which implies they have value. If we assume they have value, then we’re at risk for comparing ourselves. If our comparison decides we’re not as thin as the photo we’re “liking,” then we’re at risk for devaluing ourselves. This then creates an unwinnable cycle of believing we’re not thin enough, pretty enough, etc.
Comparing ourselves, devaluing our own worth, and believing we’re not enough is a process that happens over time. We won’t automatically become affected if we see one photo, but we can become affected if we see multiple photos each day, every day.
What Happens When I’m Affected?
If you find yourself negatively affected by social media and its portrayal of body image, then we typically find ourselves feeling ashamed of our appearance. This shame has the potential to form some pretty harmful habits.
These habits can include those of an eating disorder or acts of self-harm, and research even suggests that we can develop severe anxiety and depression. Not to mention, there is an incredible emotional, mental, and physical toll that affects our growth, functioning, and overall health.
How Can I Prevent This?
In a perfect world, this wouldn’t be a discussion. It’s 2019 and body positivity is becoming a powerful movement, but there’s still a long road ahead of us.
Listed below are tips to help combat the shame we feel from social media, peers, magazines, celebrities, etc.
1. Follow Positive Social Media Accounts – Make sure you’re following accounts and “friending” people who promote a healthy body image. If you notice someone you follow posts unhealthy content, don’t be afraid to unfollow them. It’s good self-care for you!
2. Practice Good Self-Talk – Regardless of where you are in your health journey, don’t forget it’s your journey. It doesn’t have to be identical to someone else’s to be worthy. Give yourself praise for even trying – you’re already ahead of everyone else who hasn’t tried!
3. Don’t Give Up – When things get hard, we want to quit. We can make up a million excuses as to why we’re not good enough, why it won’t work, etc. But you have to remember – they’re only excuses! You are capable of accomplishing whatever you put your mind to!
4. Lean on Your Support System – If you ever feel as though you’re falling into the social media shame storm, don’t forget to lean on your support system. Whether that be a trusted friend, counselor, coach, or family member – use them! Surrounding yourself with positive, healthy people is so important!
5. Put Your Phone Away – Enjoy the moment! Part of the problem is our need to check social media 24/7. If you can practice less screen time, then you’ll be minimizing your exposure to harmful content. Spend time with friends, read a book, or relax – but don’t use your phone!
What Does a Positive Body Image Look Like?
That’s a hard question, especially since I think we all struggle with body image from time-to-time. However, it’s important to remember that there’s only one of you. No matter how you look, what you wear, or how you act – you’re you! To achieve a positive body image, I think it’s essential to accept what makes you, you. Loving yourself is the key to maintaining a positive body image. I know it isn’t as easy as it sounds, and it’ll take work, but don’t be afraid to try.
If you need more than that, think of it like this: How would you speak to 5-year-old you? Would you shame them for not fitting into an unrealistic ideal or would you encourage them to love themselves as they are?