The rise of social media usage in today’s society can have many different effects on body image and the later development of eating disorders in many individuals. Research clearly shows that media exposure contributes to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Social media is unfortunately shaping our concept of beauty. With constant exposure to images posted online, it is evident that there is a link to how individuals compare themselves and perceive their own body. There are an estimated 3.6 billion users worldwide on social media, therefore there must be negative and positive effects linked with social media users.

A negative body image can cause unrealistic expectations of how your body should look and can lead to unhealthy eating behaviors and disordered eating. Studies have found a correlation between the time spent on social media and a negative body image. The correlation is especially true when participants were scrolling through appearance-related content, like accounts of a fitness instructor or model on Instagram. Social media images are filled with people presenting the best version of themselves. Social media can then hurt your body image by constantly exposing yourself to the ideal body type, leading to constant comparison of yourself to unrealistic standards. Additionally, photoshop and filters are readily available to users playing into the unrealistic body image.

However, social media can also have positive effects on body image and can promote body positivity. Viewing body-positive content on social media platforms can help individuals become more accepting and appreciative of their bodies. Additionally, social media can connect you with others to build a body-accepting community.

It is important to examine ways to use social media in a positive way to avoid a negative body image. It is important to take a break from social media if you feel worse after using it. Additionally, examine who you are following on social media and unfollow accounts if they do not make you feel good. Instead, pay attention to accounts, people, and images that lift you up. Follow accounts that promote body positivity that does not agree with the beauty standards set by society. (A great account to follow to begin your search for body positivity accounts is @realistic.body.therapist on Instagram.)  Finding body-positive accounts and joining support groups can help shift your mindset about the ideal body image set by society. Furthermore, you can use your own social media to be an advocate for positive body talk. Shout out to media outlets, retailers, advertisers, and celebrity product endorsers who celebrate and promote natural looks, healthy body size, and diverse body shapes. You can take a stand and refuse to read, view, or listen to media or buy advertised products that do not promote a healthy and diverse body image.

Students should also consider participating in The Body Project or More Than Muscles programs offered through Student Counseling Services. These workshops help students develop and maintain a positive body image and are scientifically supported eating disorder prevention programs. Students will get a chance to dive deeper in conversations about the body image ideal set by society and promoted to us by the media.

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