How Does Social Media Influence Body Image?

body image

Social media can have an impact on your body image and relationship to food due to the increased exposure to thin and toned body types and particular diets. Studies show that 88% of women compare themselves to images they observe on social media, with over half of them emphasising that the comparison is unfavourable. Whereas, 65% of men compare themselves to images on social media with 37% indicating that the comparison is unfavourable. This is extremely problematic as this can lead to lower self-esteem, unbalanced diet, deficiencies of vitamins and minerals and possibly eating disorders. 


What Is Body Image?  

The perception you have of your physical self and the thoughts and emotions that result from this perception is known as body image.


There are 4 important factors that can determine body image:

  • Perceptual body image (how you perceive your body)
  • Affective body image (how you feel about your body)
  • Cognitive body image (how you think about you body image)
  • Behavioural body image (how you behave as a result of your body image)


Nevertheless, it is crucial to acknowledge that how you experience your body might not always reflect reality. A distorted perception of your own body can manifest as body image distortions, which might result to eating disorders



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The Role Of Social Media On Your Body Image Concerns

You are more likely than before to be influenced and experience body shame due to the constant exposure to particular body types on social media. 


The #fitspiration and the eating healthy movement on Instagram:

Especially on Instagram, it is expected that you will remember images more than words due the image focused nature of the social network. Social media in general, allows you to decide what accounts to follow and by doing so, you are influenced by a particular content the accounts produce. For instance, the #fitspiration tag on Instagram is used to show pictures of thin and toned body types. Although the intention of this tag is to inspire you to become more healthy and fit, research of the #fitspiration tag on Instagram shows that these objectifying features of bodies have a negative impact on people’s body image and self-esteem.


Recently, the “eating healthy movement” has become popular on Instagram. Some influencers might not provide any scientific evidence when they encourage you to cut out particular food groups, or to follow a certain diet to achieve an ideal body type.  This is extremely problematic as it could lead to unbalanced diet and deficiencies in minerals and vitamins, in addition to psychological issues regarding food and possibly eating disorders such anorexia nervosa or orthorexia nervosa.  In fact, recent research shows that greater Intagram use is associated with greater symptoms of orthorexia nervosa.


Negative social pressures-and comparisons

Social media allows you to feel like you have a personal connection to the people that share certain content (e.g. thin/toned bodies and healthy food) which makes it easier to be influenced. The selected exposure and influence of particular content can make you believe that a thin/toned body type or a certain diet is more natural than what it actually is.


For instance, visual body processing of others’ bodies also involves processing of your own body, and body image is related with perception and action of the mental representation of a body. On social media, particular body types are prioritised as ideal body types and for that reason the society may perceive thin or toned body types, or particular diets to be more attractive and healthier than other ones.  Majority of social media allows the users to like content produced by others; often idealised bodies and certain trendy diets receive many likes. In other words, certain bodies and diets are perceived as more attractive. This does also encourage objectification of bodies, in which bodies that are observed on social media are processed like objects and not human bodies.  These social norms may impact how you view your body because humans have a general need to gain approval of others and avoid their disproval, as a result you might conform to the social norms related to appearance.


What Can You Do?

Social media negatively influences several people and this can affect self-esteem, body image, and relationship to food. Unhealthy eating patterns and behaviours can result to different mental-and physical health issues.


You can try to unfollow accounts that have a negative impact on your mental health. However, if you think you are struggling with mental health issues due to social media, our staff at EmotionMatters is here to help you.