What Does the Research Tell Us About Social Media and Body Image?

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Diana Denza, Communications Associate

There’s been no lack of speculation about the effects of social media on body image and eating disorder recovery. On one hand, social media has fostered a diverse and vibrant body-positive and recovery community. On the other, social media often serves as a platform for anonymous bullying and face-and-body-altering filters.

But what does research actually say about the impact of social media on body image?

1. Fitspo Isn’t All That Inspirational

A recent study of women between the ages of 18 and 25 indicated that greater Instagram use was linked to increased self-objectification and body image concerns, especially among those who frequently viewed fitspiration images.

While most of us won’t be saying goodbye to Instagram anytime soon, there are steps we can take to reduce negative exposure to images. First, replace #fitspo searches with #bodypositive, #edwarrior, and #recovery hashtags. Second, follow accounts like NEDA, Body Posi Panda, and Nourish and Eat, which post body-positive and pro-recovery content. Third, remind yourself that Instagram often showcases people’s highlights reel, and doesn’t necessarily reflect their everyday lives. You are who you are, and that should be celebrated!

2. Cyberbullying is Real – and Has Serious Consequences

According to research, school-age girls are three times more likely than boys to consider their bodies “too fat.” Moreover, adolescents who were cyberbullied were nearly twice as likely to refer to themselves as “too fat” than those who didn’t experience cyberbullying.

Want to be a part of the solution? Avoid critiquing friends’ bodies; instead, compliment their other qualities that aren’t appearance-related (and check out our 5 Ways to Challenge Body Bullying post for more ideas!). If you’re experiencing cyberbullying, talk to a trusted friend, family member, or guidance counselor and don’t be afraid to use the block button. And if you’re a parent or educator, talk to kids about the harmful effects of bullying.

3. The Thin Ideal is Damaging to Women Around the Globe

Similar to their European and American counterparts, exposure to thin-ideal media images was related to a significant increase in body dissatisfaction among young adult Indian women, according to a recent study. While some advertisers and media professionals have demonstrated commitment to show women of all shapes and sizes in their campaigns, we have a long way to go until we see full representation across the board.

Until then, we’ll be surrounding ourselves with positive messaging that features all bodies!