Social media can negatively impact how young people and adults view their bodies. But there’s also encouraging content that aims to promote healthy lifestyles.
Social media can have a significant impact on body image, both positive and negative.
On one hand, social media can provide a platform for body positivity, community support, and health and fitness inspiration. But it can also contribute to unrealistic beauty standards and unhealthy comparisons.
Understanding how certain content can affect your relationship with your body may help you decide which profiles and platforms best support your well-being.
Unrealistic beauty standards
Social media platforms often feature images of people with seemingly perfect faces and bodies, often using filters and photo editing tools to enhance their appearance. This can create unrealistic beauty standards, leading to body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem in both women and men.
In fact, social media filters have led to a condition known as “snapchat dysphoria,” in which people become desperate to look like the filtered version of themselves. The authors of a
Comparison and competition
Social media can create a toxic culture of comparison and competition, where individuals compare their bodies to others and strive to meet the same beauty standards.
Many people tend to post only their best photos, which may not be representative of their everyday appearance. For both men and women, this can contribute to negative body image and even lead to mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.
Social media can be a breeding ground for cyberbullying where people are attacked for their body size, shape, or appearance. This can have a damaging effect on body image and self-esteem.
A 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that 59% of U.S. teens have personally experienced cyberbullying. This includes offensive name calling and the spreading of false rumors, among other types of bullying.
Worsening of body-image disorders
Social media can make just about anyone feel like they don’t measure up, but it’s even more detrimental for people with eating or body-image disorders, such as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). According to the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), this is a serious condition affecting about one in 50 people in the United States.
People living with BDD are typically preoccupied with at least one nonexistent or slight defect in their physical appearance, and experience repetitive and compulsive behaviors around their appearance, such as mirror checking and reassurance seeking. These symptoms can be excessively worsened by social media.
Research shows that sexual minority men experience elevated rates of psychiatric disorders for which body dissatisfaction is a central component, including eating disorder and BDD.
- social media use and body dissatisfaction
- eating disorder symptoms
- thoughts about using anabolic steroids
When social media is used in a healthy way, it can be a platform for promoting body positivity, where people share images of their bodies as they are, promoting self-love and acceptance.
Body-positive content often portrays non-enhanced, non-sexualized images of people with diverse bodies. These images feature various body shapes and sizes, races, physical abilities, and gender identities.
In a 2021 study, researchers looked at whether body-positive social media can lead to improvements in body image.
The experiment involved 233 female-identifying participants who were randomly assigned to one of the following groups:
- The body-positive group: This group viewed a number of Instagram images reflecting the body-positive movement.
- The body-positive group with captions. This group viewed the same Instagram images, but with accompanying captions and hashtags.
- The control group. This group viewed a series of Instagram images containing only cityscapes, without people and without captions.
Based on the findings, participants who observed body-positive social media—either with or without captions—experienced improvements in body satisfaction. These effects were slightly stronger for the images with captions, suggesting that words and phrases reinforcing these ideals may intensify the positive impact.
Health and fitness inspiration
Social media can provide inspiration for leading a healthy and active lifestyle. There are numerous accounts promoting healthy living, exercise, and nutritious food choices to encourage people to take care of their bodies.
Community and support
Social media can host supportive communities for people working through body image disorders. Support groups and online communities can provide empathy, understanding, and encouragement to help people in their journey toward body positivity.
If you’re experiencing body dissatisfaction, here are some tips that may help you cope with these feelings:
- Focus on your strengths. Rather than focusing on your perceived flaws, focus on your strengths and what you like about yourself. This can help shift your focus away from negative thoughts and improve your overall self-esteem.
- Practice self-care. Taking care of yourself can help improve your mood and help you feel better about your body. This can include engaging in regular physical activity, getting enough sleep, and eating a healthy diet.
- Challenge negative thoughts. Try to identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs that you have about your body. Ask yourself if these thoughts are realistic or if there’s evidence to support them. You can also try to reframe negative thoughts into more positive ones.
- Surround yourself with positive influences. Surround yourself with people who support and uplift you. Avoid people or social media accounts that make you feel bad about your body.
Tips for parents
Here are some tips for parents who suspect their child may be experiencing body dissatisfaction via social media:
- Talk about media literacy. Teach your child about media literacy and how images on social media can be altered or manipulated. Help them understand that the images they see are not always realistic.
- Be a positive role model. Try to model healthy behaviors around body image and self-esteem. Encourage your child to focus on their strengths and positive qualities, rather than their perceived flaws.
- Monitor social media use. Monitor your child’s use of social media and limit exposure to images that may trigger a poor body image. Encourage your child to take breaks from social media and engage in other activities that promote positive body image and self-esteem.
- Encourage positive self-talk. Encourage your child to focus on their positive qualities and achievements rather than their appearance. Encourage positive self-talk and help them develop a more positive self-image.
Social media can affect body image in complex and multifaceted ways. It’s important to be aware of these potential effects and to use social media mindfully.
It’s helpful to reduce your overall use of social media, seek out body-positive images, focus on your strengths, and engage in self-care practices.