Social Media and Body Image Pressures

Body image plays a significant role in our emotional and psychological wellbeing. Feeling unhappy with how we look and spending a significant amount of time preoccupied with worry or anxiety about our appearance can lead to disordered eating and unsafe dieting and exercise practices, as well as feelings of depression and anxiety.

Many factors contribute to the development of our body image and sense of self, one of which is the media. ‘Traditional’ media, such as TV shows, movies and magazines have undoubtedly played a role, but current research suggests that increased use of social media warrants further attention. It plays a huge role in shaping gender and appearance norms and leading consumers to feel negative about their bodies.

Beauty and Success

Appearance ideals have nearly always emphasised the link between beauty and success, pushing the narrative that to be conventionally attractive is to be happy and confident. Unfortunately, the ideals presented to us tend to be unrealistic. This message has been around for a long time, but conveyed through social media, may be even more damaging due to the level of image and video manipulation, causing the ideals to go from unrealistic to unobtainable.

We have become increasingly exposed to content that depicts bodies and faces as flawless, beyond the limits of what is real. Additionally, algorithms tend to lean towards pushing content depicting thinner bodies for women, and muscular, lean bodies for men.

Alongside content we consume, what we post of ourselves online can have an impact. An increased focus on appearance and pressure to look a certain way can promote the use of appearance-alteration tools which can alter self-perception, increase our preoccupation with our bodies and be a form of self-objectification. All of these things can negatively impact our body image and self-esteem.

Unsurprisingly, this has led to a lot of us feeling inadequate and negative about our bodies, frequently comparing ourselves to others online and being disappointed in how distant we feel we are from the ideal.

So, what can we do to take action?

First of all, becoming aware of how bodies are being depicted online can help you develop a more critical eye on the messaging around how we’re told we should look. This can help you to build a healthier relationship with social media and help you to reduce comparison and overall consumption of content that may be fuelling your body image concerns.

What do I recommend?

  • Curate your Instagram feed: by now we’re all aware that algorithms push certain content towards us, based on what they notice us paying attention to when we’re scrolling. So if you’re often viewing content featuring dieting advice, fitspo and smaller/leaner bodies, I’d recommend taking back control of what you see, by removing accounts that trigger your negative body image and following accounts that celebrate diverse body types and interests, promoting body positivity and self-acceptance.

  • Place limits on your screen time: by setting yourself boundaries around your use of social media, you’re less prone to body anxiety and comparison, and able to have a healthier balance in your life outside of the internet.
  • Practice self-compassion: remind yourself that it’s a normal part of the human experience to compare yourself to others and to find negative body image difficult, but it is possible to change how you feel with a bit of practice.
  • Functionality appreciation: engage in activities that bring you joy and fulfilment, where you get to use your body in ways that empower you and allow you to enjoy your life.
  • Use social media to help break harmful stereotypes: stop using filters, and create content that presents a more realistic view of yourself and your life, which will help to encourage others to do the same. Remember that social media can be used for good, and you can have a healthy relationship with it.
  • Seek support: you don’t have to experience this alone. A lot of people feel the same way you do! Sharing your experiences with a trusted friend or family member can help you to reduce the shame you have about your body and discuss the pressures that you’re both experiencing from the body content you see on social media.

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