Social Media and Body Image

Author: Anastasia Simakina

Body Image

In today’s world, we typically value looking good in one way or another. One of the most common complaints that people may have about themselves is that they wish that they would be slimmer or more toned, but they feel like achieving their dream bodies can be a hard thing to do. That is why so many diets exist like Weight Watchers, the Ketogenic diet, the Mediterranean diet, the Atkins diet and so many more. Another common complaint is that our bodies need to be modified in some way, such as having bigger busts or having slimmer waists. There are many diets that are being promoted now and more people than ever are feeling like they need to do something to change their bodies to make themselves happier, since in the modern world there is a common belief that looking a certain way will get you want in life.

Going on social media is not helpful, either. Seeing all of these heavily photoshopped pictures tends to make people feel like those bodies are real when inside we know for a fact that they are not but you can’t help but idealize whatever current trend for body shape is “in.” We just can’t help but idealize those “perfect” bodies despite knowing that they are not real. There are many Instagram fitness models who promote us lots of weight loss and beauty products and we think “does that really work? It must because she looks fantastic!” So you purchase the product and you hope and pray that it works for you, too, since social media has a way of making us feel inadequate and not pleased with our selves in one way or another. Whether we realize it or not, we tend to compare ourselves to what we see on social media.

Social Media

What can be causing a surge in so many people being unhappy about their appearances? Could it be that the use of social media is making people be worried about their looks and opinions of themselves? With the invention of modern computers and phones came the introduction of social media platforms that help people connect with each other globally. The most commonly used social media platforms are Instagram, Facebook, and Snap Chat where pictures of people are most commonly posted (Perrin & Anderson, 2019). The majority of adults who use all three of these platforms fall between the ages of 18-49 years old (Perrin & Anderson, 2019). Over half of adult Facebook users stated that they go on the website multiple times a day and 42% of Instagram users and 46% of Snap Chat users stated that they also go on those platforms numerous times a day (Perrin & Anderson, 2019). With these statistics, it is safe to say that social media is part of most people’s daily routines and an integral part of their lives.

We have all heard about theories that tell us that social media, while advantageous in many ways, is also destructive because it makes people feel bad about themselves and their lives. A study found that women viewed their own bodies negatively compared to the “perfect” bodies they saw on social media more than when they viewed models in traditional marketing media, such as print media and television (Cohen & Blaszczynski, 2015).  Another study showed that there is a positive correlation between negative body image in young women and more time spent on social media platforms like Facebook (Fardouly & Vartanian, 2015). A survey conducted by the Florida House Experience (2017) which had over 1,200 male and female participants noted that 87% of women and 65% of men compared themselves to people that they see on social media and 50% of women and 36% of men stated that they considered their bodies to be unfavorable as compared to those on social media. It is evident that social media tends to make one feel more negative about him or herself and feel inadequate when it comes to how one’s body looks like compared to peers, social medial models and celebrities.

Is It Real?

Is what we see on social media even real and how do we know what pictures are real or which bodies are natural in pictures? There are currently many phone apps and desktop software that make photoshopping and editing very easy to do, even for those people who are not well versed in photoshopping. Sometimes it is easy to spot when a person has edited something about their bodies to not be how it actually is but sometimes it is really hard to tell, especially at a glance.

To give us an example of how popular photoshopping is, let’s take a look at one of the most popular photo editing phone apps, Facetune. Since the app’s inception, it has raised over $70 million in funding as of 2019 and by 2018 it had 20 million downloads and half a million paid subscribers paying on average $40 a year (Jennings, 2019). That is a staggering number of people downloading this editing software! While we may not know the exact number of photoshopped images out there on the internet, we can guess by the number of Facetune downloads (while not forgetting the downloads that come from other photoshop apps that exist in Google Play and the Apple App Store) that we will run into many images posted on social medial platforms that are photoshopped. It is inevitable that we will see more and more photoshopped images as time goes on and as more and more people are becoming less satisfied with their bodies and want to feel with the “in crowd” on social media.

It is easy to blame celebrities and magazines for the rise in popularity of photoshop, however, nowadays anyone can do it (Kleemans et al., 2016). Anyone can download any one of those apps, like Facetune, and edit their pictures to change parts of their body that do not resemble reality. Celebrities, social medial influencers and members of the general public use photoshop to “enhance” their pictures so it can be hard to know what is real and what is not, especially if you have not seen some of these people in real life to know exactly what they look like in person. Social media is notorious for people being very selective with how they represent themselves and their lives and there are people who only post overly exaggerated pictures of themselves to portray a certain body type or lifestyle (Gonzales & Hancock, 2009). So what are we comparing ourselves to, really? Are we comparing ourselves to actual bodies or digitally altered ones that not even the people who photoshop themselves have?

What You Can Do

It is certainly understandable that it can be hard to not compare ourselves to others. After all, it is human nature to compare ourselves and our situations to others. However, we need to remember that what we see on social media may not always be as it seems in reality. Remember that most social media influencers use their body to promote you their products that may not even work for you (or even them) in the first place and remember that what you are looking at in pictures may not even be real, to begin with. The influencer selling you a ‘tummy fat-blasting tea’ may have had liposuction done in the past and you have no way of knowing if that tea is even what keeps her or his abdomen looking slim.

It may help to limit your use of social media or to unfriend/unfollow accounts that promote unrealistic bodies and to instead practice thinking more positive thoughts about yourself and your body (King University, 2019). If at the end of the day you are still wanting to change something about your body, remember that things like weight loss, while difficult at times, is attainable through altering your diet and level of physical activity.

It is good to keep in mind that any weight loss products that are promoted on social media may only be temporary and short-term fixes. After you stop taking the product, the cravings will still be there and any negative emotions that may be tied to your weight loss journey will not be fixed with any shake, drink, or food nor will they take your stress away. One of the most effective ways to lose weight is to consume less processed foods and eat more whole foods like fruits and vegetables and exercise at least 150 minutes per week (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2019). What type of diet is right for you does not have a “one size fits all” answer and it depends on what you want your diet to be like considering if you are following a vegan, vegetarian, paleo, or ketogenic diet. Your exercise regimen is also dependent on if you want to build muscle, increase endurance, or do something that is low impact. Perhaps the Cleveland Clinic (2017) gives the best tip of all: “focus on healthy behaviors, not the number on the scale.” Leading with behavior change and adjusting your dietary and exercise habits will naturally help weight loss occur (Cleveland Clinic, 2017).

SMART goal setting is another way to change your dietary and exercise behaviors gradually. A SMART goal is a bit different from your average goal. Typically, goals are pretty broad like “I want to lose weight” or “I want to be healthy” but they lack any real definition. What is healthy and how will one lose weight? However, a SMART goal is more specific than that since it is meant to be a goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound (Aghera et al., 2018). For instance, a SMART goal can be to “work out on the elliptical machine for 30 minutes five days a week” or “adding a vegetable to each of my three daily meals” or it can be anything else that you feel will help you reach your ultimate goal of losing weight. Setting a SMART goal can help you narrow down your focus so that weight loss does not seem as overwhelming of a task to do.

Takeaway

Ask yourself this: if I never had any type of social media account, how would I feel about my body? Would I feel about my body then the way I feel about it now? Remember to be kind to yourself and remember that your body is miraculous in all that it does. Keep in mind that not everything is real on social media and that lots of people may have not only photoshopped their bodies in pictures but may have also had medical procedures done to look a certain way that their bodies could not naturally. Whatever you do with your body, keep it safe, healthy, and gradual.

Keywords: Body image, social media, behavior, diet, weight loss, photoshop


References

Aghera, A., Emery, M., Bounds, R., Bush, C., Stansfield, B., Gillett, B., & Santen, S. (2018). A randomized trial of SMART goal enhanced debriefing after simulation to promote educational actions. Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, 19(1), 112-120. doi:10.5811/westjem.2017.11.36524

Blackford, M. (2019, February 14). #bodypositive: A look at body image & social media. Retrieved June 20, 2020, from https://fherehab.com/news/bodypositive/

Cleveland Clinic. (2017). The 7 Best Weight Loss Tips You’ll Ever Read. Retrieved June 2, 2020, from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/the-7-best-weight-loss-tips-youll-ever-read/

Cohen, R., & Blaszczynski, A. (2015). Comparative effects of Facebook and conventional media on body image dissatisfaction. Journal of Eating Disorders, 3(1). doi:10.1186/s40337-015-0061-3

Fardouly, J., & Vartanian, L. R. (2015). Negative comparisons about one’s appearance mediate the relationship between Facebook usage and body image concerns. Body Image, 12, 82-88. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2014.10.004

Gonzales, A. L., & Hancock, J. T. (2011). Mirror, mirror on my Facebook wall: Effects of exposure to Facebook on self-esteem. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14(1), 79-83. doi:10.1089/cyber.2009.0411

Jennings, R. (2019, July 16). Facetune and the internet’s endless pursuit of physical perfection. Retrieved June 20, 2020, from https://www.vox.com/the-
highlight/2019/7/16/20689832/instagram-photo-editing-app-facetune

King University. (2019, October 9). Link Between Social Media & Body Image. Retrieved June 16, 2020, from https://online.king.edu/news/social-media-and-body-image/

Kleemans, M., Daalmans, S., Carbaat, I., & Anschütz, D. (2016). Picture perfect: The direct effect of manipulated Instagram photos on body image in adolescent girls. Media Psychology, 21(1), 93-110. doi:10.1080/15213269.2016.1257392

Perrin, A., & Anderson, M. (2019, April 10). Share of U.S. adults using social media, including Facebook, is mostly unchanged since 2018. Retrieved June 20, 2020, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/04/10/share-of-u-s-adults-using-social-media-including-facebook-is-mostly-unchanged-since-2018/

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019). Physical Acitivty Guidelines for Americans. Retrieved June 01, 2020, from https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/be-active/physical-activity-guidelines-for-americans/index.html

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