Does Social Media Promote the Pursuit of the Thin Ideal Amongst Teens?

Rachel Rodgers in his article “The Role of the “Healthy Weight” Discourse in Body Image and Eating Concerns: An Extension of Sociocultural Theory,” aimed at presenting a concept for comprehending the behaviors and associated experiences of the body image that originates from the extensive emphasis on weight management. The study was further geared towards guiding future research within this sector. Rodgers utilized a theoretical framework to ensure that they establish the relationship between social media and how it promotes the thinness ideal. The research finds that defining a certain body type as “Healthy” has an impact on how teenagers behave and eat.

“Thus, the body image concerns that result from the Healthy Weight discourse may include feelings of shame and alienation, from others as well as from one’s own body” (Rodgers 197). This statement highlights the impact social media has on teens and how they perceive themselves after visiting sites such as Facebook. They compare themselves with unrealistic body types and, as a result, develop a negative attitude towards their own. They become alienated and feel shame when with other peers. To properly integrate into society, they begin to adopt poor eating habits to attain the body type most glorified by social media.

“Sociocultural models predict that personal attitudes are influenced by social discourse” (Rodgers 196). Social discourse, in this case, represents such elements as the internet, newspapers, and books. All these have a particular representation of the body image and how to attain such body sizes. From the internet, teens can learn and follow particular individuals who have the desired body type. Thus, they develop a specific culture that would enable them to achieve their body goal.

In their research on “Adolescents and Young Adults Engaged with Pro‑Eating Disorder Social Media,” Fitzsimmons-Craft alongside other authors aimed at evaluating exposure to contents of body image focusing on the ideal of thinness on different social media platforms and the likely eating disorders that may arise among young adults and adolescents. To experiment, the study utilized a sample of 405 adolescents using sites that were pro-eating disorder-oriented. Findings of the study demonstrate that most individuals on these sites had eating disorders and a majority of them had not been treated since they underestimated the issue.

“Exposure to this content on Instagram and Snapchat was most common for adolescents…” (Fitzsimmons-Craft, et al. 1688). The authors, in this case, examined which sites had the most influence on adolescents. The research affirms that social media networks have different impacts on different age groups particularly young adults and adolescents. The exposure to these sites was primarily influential when it comes to how adolescents and young adults viewed their body image. Therefore, it is important to monitor what an individual watches or consumes on social sites such as Snapchat and Instagram.

“Our findings reveal a more accurate picture of the ED-related psychopathology among those social networking about EDs, defined broadly (Fitzsimmons-Craft, et al. 1688).” This research further evaluates different types of eating disorders that emerge from using particular social media platforms. Some of the disorders stated included clinical and subclinical eating disorders. According to Fitzsimmons-Craft, et al., most teenagers who had these disorders treated them as less important and a majority of them did not seek medical attention (1681). Thus, social media, especially platforms that are pro-eating disorders, are harmful to teenagers.

The study “Do You “Like” My Photo? Facebook Use Maintains Eating Disorder Risk,” by Mabe, Forney, Keel purposed to further establish the relationship between social media and disordered eating. The research utilized surveys to obtain feedback concerning disordered eating and Facebook use. In addition, it tested participants by allowing them to utilize social media for 20 minutes. The findings confirmed that there was a higher chance for individuals to develop disordered eating behavior while they were using Facebook.

“In our experimental design, internet use, regardless of condition, was associated with decreases in weight and shape preoccupation…” (Mabe, et al. 520). Concerning weight loss, the internet promotes certain activities which individuals must do to achieve a particular body that is regarded as acceptable. The internet provides a lot of pictures of men and women that have the unrealistic body type, which individuals try to imitate. As a result, they become preoccupied with information that would enable them to attain their objectives. Their weight reduces because they gear their eating behaviors towards thinning.

“Women with greater eating pathology not only reported spending more time on Facebook in Study 1, but also reported engaging in appearance focused behaviors… (Mabe, et al. 520).” Being on Facebook further increases the chances of developing different types of eating disorders. Furthermore, women begin to compare their image with those of others regarded as the ideal body. As a result, they begin to change the way they eat, which leads to weight loss, thereby advancing the idea of being thin. To ensure they achieve their target, they begin to follow or untag themselves from those people they consider as not up to the ideal standards of the body they want.

Steinsbekk, et al. in their article “The Impact of Social Media Use on Appearance Self-Esteem from Childhood to Adolescence – A 3-Wave Community Study,” had the objective of demonstrating that social media can be good depending on the type of content an individual is exposed to. The study interviewed teenagers concerning how they utilized their social media and utilized self-description questionnaires to find out how these individuals perceived themselves. The study found that teenagers exposed to positive body image content had higher self-esteem compared to those exposed to negative body image content.

“In determining the impact of self-oriented social media use, it may also be important to consider the types of self-oriented posts (e.g., selfies versus status updates) and the type of feedback received (Steinsbekk, et al. 5).” The type of picture posted on social media determines the impact of such content. For instance, when a picture receives positive feedback from others on social media, this tends to raise the self-esteem of an individual. On the other hand, when such photos receive negative feedback from others, the individual’s self-confidence decreases. Thus, this means that the content posted on social media matters because it may positively or negatively impact how individuals perceive themselves.

“Social media makes it easy for adolescents to engage in social comparisons, and falling short of important appearance standards forecast impaired self-esteem and body dissatisfaction (Steinsbekk, et al. 5).” Despite proposing that social media is an area that can provide a safe environment, which promotes better body image perception, the study further states that it could be used as a place where teens compare their appearance. This can be detrimental because teenagers may begin to copy certain body images. As a result, teenagers may develop low self-esteem concerning how they appear. Thus, social media is an area that promotes the pursuit of the thin ideal amongst teens.

Works Cited

Fitzsimmons-Craft, Ellen E., et al. “Adolescents and young adults engaged with pro-eating disorder social media: eating disorder and comorbid psychopathology, health care utilization, treatment barriers, and opinions on harnessing technology for treatment.” Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia, and Obesity, vol. 25, no. 6, 2019, pp. 1681-1692.

Mabe, Annalise G., et al. “Do you “like” my photo? Facebook use maintains eating disorder risk.” International Journal of Eating Disorders, vol. 47, no. 5, 2014, pp. 516-523.

Rodgers, Rachel F. “The role of the “Healthy Weight” discourse in body image and eating concerns: An extension of sociocultural theory.” Eating Behaviors, vol. 22, 2016, pp. 194-198.

Steinsbekk, Silje, et al. “The impact of social media uses on appearance self-esteem from childhood to adolescence – A 3-wave community study.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 114, 2021, p. 106528.

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