By The Collegiate Staff
Society’s idea of the ideal body type has contributed to self-esteem issues and insecurities for centuries, but it is undeniable that, since its creation, social media has also had a hand in promoting the immensely toxic and harmful mindset of there being one “perfect” body type.
Its users continue to get younger and in turn, more impressionable every day, leaving them more susceptible to the possibility of developing an unrealistic perception of body image and as a result, an unhealthy relationship with their own body.
While body dissatisfaction and self-esteem issues aren’t the sole cause of eating disorders, they can be a harmful stepping stone to developing one. Those who are predisposed to eating disorders can be easily triggered by virtually anything, especially things that provoke the idea of body image. Those with no predisposition present can develop one completely anew as body dissatisfaction can often lead to strict dieting, depression, and/or social anxiety and isolation which can all be factored in developing an ED.
So where does social media come in? Social media platforms can impact the way that users view body shape and weight as well as their relationship with food.
No matter the platform, we are constantly bombarded with images and videos of what society deems the ideal body is. Social media is packed full of seemingly thin, fit influencers with the perfect size breasts and butts. But the majority of what we see isn’t real. It’s often distorted by photoshop, filters, or plastic surgery to fit these impossible beauty standards. This is harmful for impressionable minds to see, because they often cannot tell what is real and what is not. They are looking at these unrealistic bodies and then looking at their own in the mirror and judging themselves for not fitting this impossible standard.
They look in the mirror and they are disappointed, dissatisfied, disgusted. They want more than anything to have that perfect, dream body and they just might do anything to get it. They might skip meals, they might binge and then purge meals out of their system, they might push themselves to over-exercise. This unhealthy relationship with one’s body and confusing it with their own self-worth can become an obsession that develops over time into a full-fledged disorder and if they are already predisposed it can trigger the disorder to present itself immediately.
This is a good place to discuss the so-called “healthy living and lifestyle” side of social media that has its own toxic issues. Influencers and social media users who have no professional experience in fitness or nutrition are consistently providing their followers with fad diet after fad diet, and workout after workout that they are not qualified to say is healthy for their followers to participate in. Those who are adamantly seeking answers to how they can achieve the perfect beach body turn to this damaging diet culture and they may not even realize how harmful it is. They may think that these ridiculously restrictive diets or potentially hurtful workout habits are healthy because that is what these influencers are perpetuating. Both the influencers and the viewers may not realize that what they are actually doing is contributing to the development of an eating disorder, or at the very least, disordered eating.
There is, of course, a responsibility that falls on the individual user. Trigger warnings are something that could be beneficial to add to posts concerning body image. While it may be a stretch for social media platforms to apply these to all posts related to body shape or weight, it is plausible that the user could consider putting them in some of the captions of their photos or videos in order to protect those who are more susceptible. It is also important for people to examine who they follow and determine whether or not viewing their posts is helpful or harmful to their mental health. If an account’s posts are consistently contributing to feelings of dissatisfaction, it is up to us to remove that negativity ourselves. However, some may not be in the correct mindset to filter through the posts they should and shouldn’t be seeing and some may not even realize that what they are viewing is harmful. Also, thanks to social media algorithms, random content that could potentially be harmful can make its way to someone’s feed without any prompting.
Obviously, social media platforms are not responsible for what people decide to post on their own accounts, or who people decide to follow, but platform owners shouldn’t sit idly by, allowing false and harmful information to be spread with no sort of warning or fact check. In light of our recent political climate, several social media platforms have begun to fact-check political posts in order to prevent the spread of false information. The same should be done for posts involving nutrition and healthy living as it is an actual science with professional, educated, qualified people behind it. Triggering “health” posts by unqualified and unlicensed, non-experts should be flagged with disclaimers. In extreme cases when concerning posts are deemed harmful by medical experts who review platform content, the posts should be removed immediately. It is concerning and disgusting that platform owners can profit off of content that is extremely harmful while making no attempt to step in and protect their most vulnerable users.