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Social media and body image: friend or foe?

Lucy Waldron

Several studies have linked social media to the development of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, envy and loneliness in its users.

Comparison theory and objectification theory suggest that media consumption causes its users to compare themselves or self-objectify to those they believe are more attractive.

87% of women and 65% of men compare themselves to others on social media.

But is it social media or is it you?

By the age of three, a child knows skinny is good and fat is bad; by the age of five, some children show signs of body dissatisfaction and 77% of adolescents report body image distress.  

Executive Director of Body Confident Collective, Zali Yager, said family is thought to have the main influence on body image until kids are around 10, when it shifts over to peers.

“We really believe that from very early on it is important to have a body confident home environment and we are encouraging parents not to say negative things about their own bodies and other people’s bodies and really accept their children and create a space for their kids to accept and embrace their own bodies,” Ms Yager said.

A child is capable of picking up on the facial expressions their parent pulls when looking at themselves or the comments made about food.

woman facing vanity mirror
Photo by Min An on

This behaviour may be transferred to the kid, and it may affect their perception of body image, or they might push it onto their peers.

So, is it still social media?

Postdoctoral researcher from Macquarie University’s Centre for Emotional Health, Jasmine Fardouly said that social media is a platform that perpetuates beauty ideals that are also offline.

“Keep in mind social media is a tool, when you sign up it’s a blank slate.”

“We take all of our offline experiences, motivations and desires and bring that into the online world.”

Dr Jasmine Fardouly, Macquarie University Centre for Emotional Health

Therefore, like anything, it is algorithm based.

Who you follow determines the content you see and if you follow influencers who post idealised and edited content you will find yourself longing for something unobtainable.

Body positivity content is on the rise with more celebrities and influencers pushing back against the beauty standards.

Musician Lizzo has spoken out about body positivity on her social media and on the red carpet.

She told People Magazine that “what I’m doing is stepping into my confidence and my power to create my own beauty standard, and one day that will just be the standard.”

Plus-size Instagram influencer, Kels, said that she didn’t set out to be an influencer but fell into the role when she saw her content was a must.

“I think the reason I have such a following is because plus-size people are so under-represented in the fashion industry,” Kels said.

The representation that plus-size people get from the media is anything but good – they are labelled as the villains, lazy slobs or the butt of a joke.

These ideas are so engrained into society that their impacts are often overlooked

Kels explained that social media can be so powerful yet dangerous, the number of images that are edited and the extent of these alterations are astounding.

“It’s important for young people to remember that what we see on social media is not always real and we should be careful when comparing ourselves to someone’s highlight reel.”

Kels, social media influencer and body positivity advocate

Someone’s following on social media is what gives them power to influence their audience, as a user choosing who to follow and what content to engage with gives you the power to influence your own life.

Social media is just the platform – you are the one who decides its relation to your life.

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