The Body Issue - Why Social Media Controls Our Image
In her first article, writers group member Saanvi Sundaram talks of the ways in which social media can distort our perception of ourselves by promoting comparison, and what long-term harm can come from this.
I am by no means an average-heighted girl. Being seven inches taller than the average Indian woman and two inches taller than the average Indian man, I’ve been teased about my height ever since I was seven. But it never really mattered to me. Until I found social media.
As humans, it’s only natural that we want to look nice. We wear lipstick when we take photos, we find colours to wear that complement our skin. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, we are human after all. But things have changed. People we follow on Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook are always seen to be so...perfect. They seem to radiate confidence, they have a steady following, but on top of it all, they look beautiful. And this is where the problem of body image comes in.
Studies have shown that 88% of women and 65% of men compare their bodies to the people they see on social media. A survey conducted in the UK states that 66% percent of children and 61% of adults feel ‘negative’ towards their body. 85% of people under 18 reported that they thought body image was very important at their age.
But how does all this relate to social media? The same survey also asked the respondents from what source their body image was influenced. The top influencer in the under 18 category turned out to be social media, the same coming in third for adults. Instagram was noted as the most popular influencing app for both categories.
Social media does affect how we look at our body--it affects our lives as a whole, even if we don’t realise it. 10 out of every 100 women in the United States suffer from a type of eating disorder, whether it be Anorexia, Bulimia or EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified). Eating disorders are ranked as the fifth most common disorder in the world, coming in after anxiety, mood disorders, psychotic illnesses, and dementia.
90% of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 have used social media before, and 75% of them have at least one active account. 3.81 billion people worldwide use social media, Facebook being the most popular platform, with about 2.6 billion users. This number includes the common public, much like us, and influential people and celebrities, who we look up to and admire. We try to replicate what we see on social media in our own daily lives. It isn’t unusual for us to compare ourselves to them, but things have come to an extreme.
Did you know that ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’ is an actual disorder, a term coined by plastic surgeons, because they’ve had people come up to them for plastic surgery to make them look more like the filters they use in photos on their social media accounts, flawless, and beautiful?
But all those are just statistics. Take a look around you and observe. Have you ever, even once, wished you were that ‘skinny friend’ who could eat as much as they wanted and never gain a pound? Or perhaps you’ve always been told that you’re ‘too skinny’ and overeat during meals hoping to gain some weight.
There’s nothing wrong with eating healthy, but there is a limit we all tend to cross at points of time. Eating healthy and not eating at all (anorexia) are two completely different things--one which is a good habit, and one which can kill you.
A trend on Instagram that’s been around for quite some time goes with the tag #fitspiration. The initial aim of this movement was to encourage people to eat healthy and stay healthy, but more recent studies have shown that this movement increases body negativity. We never see ourselves as good enough--we’re either always too skinny or too fat. We see people on our phone screens as who we want to be, when we don’t take into account that everyone is built differently, and that is what makes us unique. Not abnormal, but unique.
We get drawn into social media; it’s just what social media does--it captures our attention for hours on end. What we don’t seem to realise is that our activity on social media also affects what we do in real life.
So the question presses, how do we stop this? We can’t ask people to stop posting photos on Instagram just because we feel bad about it. But there are so many more ways you can have a more positive perception about your body, by changing your social media habits. To start, stop following people who post photos that make you feel bad about your body. Do what you think is best for your body, not what everyone else tells you to do.
If you feel like you’re struggling with body image issues or eating disorders, or you know a friend who is, don’t be afraid to talk to people who you trust, or find professional help. And remember, body image isn’t everything. Sure, it’s important to stay healthy, but everyone is built differently, and what might work for someone else might be harmful for you, no matter what you talk about. Social media sets expectations that are too high for us to live up to, because we are, after all, humans. At the end of the day, there really is no need to compare ourselves with everyone else online.
How many teenagers use social media? Retrieved January 13, 2021, from https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Social- Media-and-Teens-100.aspx
Aacap. Worldwide Social Media Usage. Retrieved January 13, 2021, from https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Social- Media-and-Teens-100.aspx
Faking it: How selfie dysmorphia is driving people to seek surgery. (2019, January 23). Retrieved January 13, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jan/23/faking- it-how-selfie-dysmorphia-is-driving-people-to-seek-surgery
How Does Social Media Influence Body Image? (2019, February 07). Retrieved January 13, 2021, from https://emotionmatters.co.uk/2018/10/04/how-does-social-media-influence-body- image/#:~:text=Social%20media%20can%20have%20an,that%20the%20comparison%20is %20unfavourable
McMah, L. (2016, January 21). New research uncovers fitspo's failings. Retrieved January 13, 2021, from https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/fitness/inspiration/fitspo-contributing-to-negative- body-image-among-women-researchers-find/news-story/9605fc7c0740af6d542a720e6f2dd90b
Special Report. (n.d.). Retrieved January 13, 2021, from https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5801/cmselect/cmwomeq/805/80502.htm#:~:text=61%25%20of%20adults%20feel%20negative,%25%20feel%20'very%20negative'.&text=46%25%20of%20under%2018s%2Fchildren,%25%20feel%20'very%20negative'.