Teens, Body Image, and Social Media

A Gateway to Eating Disorders

image of girls taking a selfieGone are the days when we worried about getting caught at the grocery store in sweatpants with unwashed hair. These days, social media plays a central role in how we are seen by the world. Thanks to continued advances in communications, some of us are seen virtually as much, or more, than we are actually seen in person. Will the image you upload bring enough likes? Will it earn more followers? Social media platforms offer numerous, creative camera filters to soften and refine our image. Photo and video editing software is standard on smartphones. At the push of a button, we can have clearer skin, softer hair, a thinner jawline, or a shapelier figure. How we present ourselves online and what we look like in real life may be very different. Today’s teens are the first generation to grow up with no memory of “before the internet.” They cannot imagine life without social media. As eating disorder behaviors often develop in adolescence, how are teens who wrestle with body image impacted?

Constant Approval Contributes to Self-Esteem and Self-Image

All teens go through profound emotional, psychological, and physical changes. With puberty comes social development and, for today’s teens, who spend 6-8 hours per day on social media, social interaction is largely online. Web access offers saturated, broad exposure to media and marketing targeted by demographics. Though some teens may be more at risk from the effects of social media and marketing, as other factors also contribute to disordered eating and body image, the physical representation of one’s image on social media has become the new first impression. Teens spend hours every day taking, editing, and posting selfies. The focus on constant approval translates directly into self-esteem and self-image.

Social Media Can Trigger Eating Disorders

On the school campus, teens interact with a set number of peers. Social media offers an unlimited audience, creating unpredictable and unmeasurable peer pressure. Though social media can bring a sense of community, for teens who struggle with body image, the approval or disapproval of others can directly affect the development or increase of eating disorder behaviors. Additionally, social media platforms flood screens with marketing and advertising populated specifically for each individual based upon their web use history. Every social media screen is saturated with images that impress upon us distorted, unrealistic representations of how we should look. Our expectations and acceptance of ourselves can be distorted. Though social media does not cause eating disorders, it can be a trigger for those who struggle with body image.

How Can Adults Help?

How can parents and guardians help? Understand the profound effects social media can have on the development and health of their teens. Talk openly about social media use. Discuss peer pressure, cyber bullying, body shaming, competition, comparing yourself to others, and the trappings of seeking approval and popularity.

If you have a teen who may be struggling with body image, please give us a call. We can help.

Haven Hills Recovery – Trauma Informed Care for Women