How Facebook Fuels Negative Body Image and What We Can Do About It
If you’ve compared yourself to one too many frenemies on Facebook lately, here’s why you’re doing it and how we can all get more body-positive.
As you’re reading this, chances are your Facebook page is waiting for you on the next tab. And you’re not alone: This social media website boasts approximately 483 million daily users.
Unsurprisingly, along with millions of members come constant comparisons over physical appearance. Thanks to social networking, everyone knows who lost weight, who can’t fit into her bridesmaid dress, and how many different types of diet pills a frenemy needs to stay thin.
According to an online survey conducted by The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, this constant comparison can take a serious toll on our self-esteem. In February of this year, researchers polled 600 male and female Facebook users from the ages of 16 to 40. The survey found that approximately 51 percent of respondents claimed that looking at Facebook photos of themselves and others made them more insecure about their own bodies. In addition, nearly half of us secretly covet a friend’s body or wish we could attain her weight. Sound familiar?
But guess how many of those surveyed said that they were satisfied with their body and weight? Only 25 percent. Ouch.
“We live in a society where there is a pervasive and normalized discontent for our bodies,” Dr. Steven Crawford, Associate Director of The Center for Eating Disorders, told us. “The concerns with Facebook and online social media sharing, however, are unique. There is immediate and constant access to it. Even when you are by yourself or home alone, you have hundreds of Facebook friends (and their photos) online. This can remind you of what you don’t like about your own body. Additionally, people seem more willing to post negative comments online when they might think twice about saying them in person.”
The statistics only back this up: 69 percent of respondents said they’d like to lose weight and 17 percent used binge eating to achieve that goal.
“In hearing from our patients, Facebook kept coming up as a very triggering online atmosphere,” Crawford said. “It’s different from Twitter in that it has much more visual content with personal photos. Negative thoughts about weight and appearance very often lead people down a path of dieting. Dieting has been identified time and again within the research to be the most common precipitating factor in the development of eating disorders.”
And with new developments like Timeline, it’s easier than ever to watch your weight fluctuate through the years. The Center’s study found that 53 percent of users have compared their current weight to their weight in photos from the past. This packs on the pressure to show your fittest figure to the world. Distressingly, your friends –or even the guy you’re dating– can do a little online stalking of their own.