Body Image and Mental Health: Impact of Social Media
Technology is quickly rising and upgrading every day and social media has become one of the most-used forms of technology. Social media such as Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat are digital platforms which allow users to upload and share their content with others and also make social networks. These platforms can be used as a way to spread positive messages as well as negative and hateful ones. However, social media has more negative effects than positive effects because it could cause harm to one’s mental well-being, bring about body dysmorphia and lead to eating disorders.
Firstly, social media is detrimental to one’s mental well-being as it causes anxiety and depression in users who use it too much or without caution. The compulsive use of social media promotes negative emotional states such as anxiety because users constantly worry about the content that they are putting on their social media, especially if they have a large number of people following them. Users often find themselves limiting the content they post according to how their followers feel about them, causing the users to feel anxiety when deciding on what to post and also when waiting for the followers’ interactions with their posts. When social media is used without caution or control, it can cause depression in users. Depression can start forming when people use social media to check up on other people constantly and compare themselves to people who seem to be doing better them. The University of Missouri found, through a study conducted in 2015, that frequently using Facebook could result in symptoms of depression especially if users viewed content on Facebook provoked envy in them. (‘Fact Check: How Social Media Affects Your Mental Health’) Hence, social media users who choose to continuously expose themselves to social media content that stresses them out are more likely to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression than users who use social media sparingly and block out stressful content.
Besides causing harm to mental health, use of social media can also cause users to feel insecure about themselves and constantly worry about how they look which results in Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), BDD is a “body-image disorder charcaterized by persistent and intrusive preoccupations with an imagined or slight defect in one’s appearance”. (‘Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)’) Users start to feel insecure about their own body image when they compare their bodies to what they see on their social media, even though most pictures are photoshopped or filtered. Social media presents “ideal appearances” to users through the posts of models. Every model looks the same, presenting the idea that everyone should have the appearance of a model to users. As a result, users who repeatedly view these kinds of posts will get the idea that they should have a model-like body if they want to fit into society even though it may not be possible for everyone. Hence, they start to develop insecurities about their body as they feel like they can never be good enough. These insecurities also cause users to constantly worry about their appearance. With the creation of social media platforms such as Snapchat, along came face filters. Face filters use augmented reality technology to detect the user’s face and add a filter to it. Certain face filters can be used for fun such as a puppy filter or a cat filter. However, other filters can be used to make you look better than you actually do by applying a smoothing effect to your skin and also making your face shape smaller. It might all seem like harmless fun but when people see themselves on their phone screen with a filter that makes them look better, they start picking out parts of themselves that they want to change so that they can look like the altered picture. Users feel like these filters can lessen their insecurities a little by making them look better and hence, frequently use them in their posts. Apart from simple face filters, there are also applications such as Facetune which allows users to edit everything about themselves. They can edit their skin colour to become brighter, more pale or darker. Facetune also allows users to edit their body, adding on abs or making their waists smaller. Plastic surgeons are noticing a rise in clients “who are bringing Facetuned, filtered and otherwise altered photos into their offices, or pulling up unaltered selfies to point out what they want fixed” and they have named it “Snapchat dysmorphia”. (Willingham) Without the influence of social media and the body image that is presented on it, users would not feel inadequate about themselves. Therefore, social media causes insecurity and brings about body dysmorphic disorder in users since it pushes the ideal appearance of unrealistic body types through the misrepresentation of body image which in turn encourages users to change their own appearance if they want to fit into society.
The misrepresentation of body image in social media can also cause users who are exposed to these images to go to extreme lengths to attain the same type of body figure. Social media users may start developing eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, or anorexia and bulimia for short respectively, when they try to achieve the body figures that are presented in social media. Instead of choosing a healthy way to lose or gain weight, people may choose to stop themselves from eating or even throw up whatever they have eaten. Anorexia is
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