Enhancing Your Relationship to Body Image and Social Media
“I allowed social media to define what I thought of my body. And now I realize that no matter how thin you are, someone will call you fat. No matter how beautiful you are, someone will call you ugly. But you can't spend your time worrying about that. You're just not going to please the world.”
It’s 6AM and your alarm is going off. The first thing you do is reach over, grab your phone, and open up the Instagram app to see what your friends were up to last night.
As you start scrolling through your feed you notice how well-put-together and happy everyone looks in their pictures and you ask yourself, “why don’t I look that good?” Suddenly, you find yourself ruthlessly critiquing the small pimple forming on your chin, or the cellulite on the back of your thighs. You might even continue thinking about how much you want to be thinner or have flawless skin throughout the rest of your day, making it difficult to stay present in your work and your relationships.
These thoughts are common amongst many people that use social media; just ask a friend what goes through their mind after scrolling through Instagram or another social media platform. Most people in society use some form of social media. Social media helps people stay connected to their friends and family, keep up to date with the latest trends, and stay entertained in their free time. However, social media sites such as Instagram also have a dark side, especially when we use it too much or let it define who we are. Frequently scrolling social media may leave you feeling:
● Inferior to the people that you follow
Thankfully, it is possible to use social media in a way that allows you to maintain a positive view of yourself and your body; read on to find out how!
Society holds certain standards for the way men and women “should” look. These standards have changed drastically over time, but currently men are expected to have a large, toned, muscular body type while women are expected to be small and slender, but also have curves. There is also an expectation for women to have shiny, silky hair and flawless makeup. These expectations can be seen in many social media ads as well as on the profiles of social media influencers.
But these ads and posts that may come across your social media feed are designed to make you feel less than so that you will buy the products they are selling. So you may notice after seeing these ads, you:
● Compare yourself to the people you see in the ads and posts
● Feel insecure about your body and appearance
● Are more critical of yourself and others
● Feel a sense of anxiety or pressure to look a certain way
● Feel like you need to buy a product, go on a diet, or alter your appearance in some way
And over time, the more you are exposed to these posts, the more likely you are to feel exhausted, dissatisfied, and maybe even anxious or depressed.
Social Media and Disordered Eating
For some people, the unrealistic standards portrayed by social media can lead to the development of an unhealthy relationship with food and body image that significantly impacts their daily functioning and may even be diagnosed as an eating disorder. While social media does not directly cause disordered eating, it definitely influences peoples’ relationships with food and their bodies.
The more people are exposed to unattainable standards of beauty, as often happens when using social media, the more likely they are to feel dissatisfied with their bodies.
Because in addition to airbrushed and/or edited images, social media is now home to accounts featuring “fitspo”. These accounts feature images of athletic bodies targeted at encouraging viewers to make “proper” decisions about what they are eating and their physical activity choices. The problem is that these accounts tend to promote a one-size-fits-all approach to physical health, and are not inclusive of all body types and sizes, medical conditions, metabolism, lifestyle or genetics. As such, they can unintentionally promote disordered eating behaviors and can be dangerous - especially for those who already struggle with their relationships to food and their bodies.
And, for those in recovery from disordered eating, or who are trying to improve their relationship with their body, social media can be a significant trigger to return to self-defeating behaviors, such as restricting food intake in some way or exercising more than is healthy for their body. So, it is especially important for those in recovery from disordered eating to be particularly mindful of their social media consumption and how it impacts their eating patterns as well as their thoughts and emotions towards food and their bodies.
Using Social Media and Honoring Your Body
Even though social media can be harmful, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to use it that keep you safe, happy, and healthy.
So here are some specific things to keep in mind when using social media:
Be aware that many of the images you see have been edited in some way. The people in the photos you see likely aren’t as “perfect” as they appear. Social media contains many airbrushed and highly edited images that may leave you criticizing your own appearance. It’s important to remember that the images you see on social media are just that - images. The pictures we see on social media do not provide a complete depiction of others’ lives, and just because an image appears “perfect” or has a lot of “likes” doesn’t mean that the person in those images is perfect or even happy. Having this awareness can help you to put your view of your own body into perspective.
Be conscious of the accounts that you follow. Do the people you follow portray an unrealistic image of themselves? Do they promote practices like extreme dieting or excessive exercise? Do their posts leave you feeling inadequate? If so, unfollow them! Seek out and follow accounts that lift you up and help improve your self-image instead. One account that is great for anyone struggling with their relationship with food and body image is @thebodylovesociety on Instagram. Their posts promote intuitive eating practices and give helpful suggestions on how to listen and respond to your body’s needs. You can check them out here.
Use your voice. One of the wonderful things about social media is that it allows people to express themselves freely to others. You can use social media as a platform to promote inspirational messages about food, your body, and emotional wellness. You can also exercise this power by refraining from criticizing others’ appearances on social media, and having conversations with others about the importance of being kind to one another on social media.
Limit your time on social media. While viewing and posting on social media is very entertaining, remember that you have a life off-screen. When you spend time scrolling through Instagram or glued to TikTok, you are disconnected from what’s going on in the space around you and are more likely to feel dissatisfied with your life. To prevent potential FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) from coming to fruition, set a time limit on your social media use each day. Many phones allow you to track how much time you spend on social media, which can help you with setting limits.
Now that you’re aware of the potential dangers that social media can pose to your body image, and you have some strategies to counteract the negative, you are better prepared to use social media safely.
Remember that instead of using social media to compare yourself to others, you can use it to speak your truth and to connect with what is truly important to you. By following accounts and posts that support having a positive self-image and genuine self-care, you can boost your self-confidence and improve the way you view your body.
Be Your Best Self + Thrive Counseling uses a holistic, non-judgmental approach to help you build an alliance with your mind, body and spirit that work together for your benefit. Elena is a therapist who is experienced in working with improving body image and self-esteem. You can find out more about her here. Book your free consultation here to discuss how we can help!