Technology has given us the ability to connect instantly with the world in ways we never imagined; in the blink of an eye we can answer a question, check the weather, talk to a loved one, post a picture, or update our status. Our lives are on full display if we choose. For those suffering from an eating disorder, the constant feed of filtered images, body shaming comments, dieting, and weight loss tips, and the plethora of inaccurate information can be detrimental. While social media alone is not the only source for developing an eating disorder, it can play a role in those susceptible to eating disordered behaviors.
What is the connection?
Social media has opened the door to images that show a level of perfection that simply doesn’t exist in real life. We live in a society where what we see as the “perfect” body and what people say about it is the norm and we base our values on it. Research shows that continuous viewing of images such as these leads to poor body image because of the constant comparison to others. One study that researched the relationship between Instagram usage and body image, revealed that just 30 minutes of viewing images can lead to women fixating negatively on their weight and appearance. It is human nature to compare ourselves to others and to even feel jealous at times and social media has made that easier.
There are several key ways in which social media has had a significant influence on negative body image:
- Body Objectification: We often validate ourselves and others by the number of “likes” or comments that are received on a post. So often we let these images and comments determine our self-worth.
- Comparison: Judging ourselves against others’ success and happiness are natural; social media lends itself to the constant comparison. For someone who struggles with an eating disorder, this can be toxic as they compare their body image to others. So many of the images on social media paint an unrealistic picture of how we think we should look.
- Triggers: Social media can easily trigger individuals to engage in eating disordered behaviors, often from posts about diets, weight loss, exercise, and images. With the endless before and after those in recovery, social media offers triggers to engage in eating disordered behaviors. One example is endless before and after weight loss photos that can trigger and contribute to losing weight by any means necessary.
Social media images are not the only contributing sources. The internet is full of communities promoting eating disorders, commonly known as “pro-ana” (pro-anorexia), “pro-mia” (pro-bulimia), “fitspiration”, “thinspiration”, or “thintention”. Often in a blog structure, these sites allow users to document weight loss, post pictures and interact or inspire others to achieve their weight loss goals via a community board. Many users on these sites refer to their eating disorder in the first person – ana, mia, etc and advocate for the disorder as a choice rather than a mental illness. Research shows that viewing the sites for only a few minutes can cause an increase in dieting, low self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction.
How can you be a positive role model?
Many of us want to engage in social media and share, but there are ways to do it positively and to limit any negative effects.
- Model self-compassion and respect. Ask yourself before you post, “Does this show self-respect, self-kindness, and self-care?” Individuals struggling with an eating disorder may lack a true vision of what recovery can be or that being kind to oneself is possible. Seeing someone else live a life of self-care and self-respect can give them hope and desire for the same.
- Post an unfiltered selfie. We all have days when we don’t feel we look our best, and posting an unfiltered photo can be difficult, but it is important. In doing so, you are showing others you need not change your photo to make it worthy for posting. Be proud of who you are.
- Encourage self-respect. When you see something positive and healthy, praise it online. End the negative talk, instead of commenting on someone’s external beauty, complement their internal beauty.
If you have a personal connection with an eating disorder, you are in a unique position to offer hope and inspiration, but it is important to understand the impact on others. It is important to focus on the mental and physical consequences of the eating disorder, such as isolation, fear, depression, and medical complications, rather than specific behaviors or calorie counting that led to the disorder.
When sharing your story, it is important to make sure you:
- Protect your personal well-being
- Present an effective story of recovery that leads others towards health, hope, and understanding
- Don’t focus on graphic images or descriptions of your body at its unhealthiest
- Don’t outline your disordered behavior or share exact numbers
- Remind others that eating disorders are not a phase or a choice
- Emphasize that recovery is achievable
Selah House offers hope.
The constant feeds of perceived perfection can leave us feeling negative about ourselves. For our well-being, it is vital we are careful about what we allow our minds to take in. It is essential we take time to appreciate our beauty, our body, and who we are. Remember, despite the “perfection” on a screen, everyone struggles.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, help is available. Selah House offers Christ-centered, clinically excellent eating disorder treatment for women and girls ages 12 and up. Our certified professionals provide care in a homelike environment at all levels of care–inpatient, residential, or partial hospitalization. We are committed to providing each client with the spiritual, emotional, and physical recovery from their eating disorder. For more information, please call us at 866-324-8081 or complete our contact form.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:2