Social Media & Body Image: 5 Tips to Limit Its Negative Effects

By Lauren Karnowski, BS, MA (in progress)

As a follow up to our recent post on assessing the value social media adds (or subtracts) to your life, this post addresses the link between social media consumption and body image.

Instagram. TikTok. Facebook. Snapchat. Twitter. You alternate between these apps and mindlessly scroll, like, and comment on pictures and videos of friends, acquaintances, influencers, and celebrities. You do this for a few minutes here and a couple hours there and go about your day, but do you ever stop to think about how this social media consumption affects how you view yourself?

Social media has only existed for a little over 20 years and has only been accessible at the palm of our hand for the past 15 years; have our brains even had time to adapt to properly handle this type of media exposure as a species? Do we even know how this immediate access to what friends and celebrities are doing and how they look affects those most susceptible to social influence: teens and young adults? With the Pew Research Center finding this year that over one third of U.S. teens report “almost constantly” being on a social media app, the effects of social media on this vulnerable age group are important to understand.

Research has already established a strong link between social media use and negative body image, especially among adolescents. Teens are already susceptible to having negative evaluations about their bodies due to hormonal changes, newly maturing bodies, increased perception of social judgment, and heightened emphasis on peer acceptance. Bringing social media into the mix, where comparison to a celebrity’s photoshopped body is just a click away, adds fuel to this fire. College-aged women are also a vulnerable population who often engage in “upward comparison” while viewing social media; this involves comparing yourself to someone you view as socially superior to you, and this upward comparison is linked to poor body image. The recent influencer culture in social media has exacerbated the problem by visibly rewarding likes, comments, views, and monetary gain to influencers who more often than not possess an “idealized” body image. This positively reinforces consumers of social media to feel like they need to achieve this same ideal body, which is most often portrayed as thin and fit for those identifying as female and muscular and athletic for those identifying as male. In addition to consumption of this photo-based social media being linked to negative body image, negative body image has been associated with depression and low self-esteem, to which teens are again already more vulnerable.

So, what can be done about this? How can you protect yourself or your child from the negative influences social media can have on body image? Try these tips.

5 Tips to Prevent Body Images Issues from Social Media Use

1. Limit social media intake: This may not sound favorable to you, but consider it! The information and images we consume on a daily basis affect us whether we realize it or not. You can start off by scaling back on your social media use little by little or try a complete social media detox, whatever method will work best for you! Can you cut your social media use per day in half? Or limit yourself to one hour or 30 minutes per day? How about not using it right when you wake up or before you go to bed? Or only use it on the weekends? Experiment with how you can limit your social media use and assess how this makes you feel. Parents, this includes you monitoring your child’s social media intake and modeling appropriate use!

2. Promote awareness and education in schools: Research has shown that the right school environment can lessen the negative effects that social media has on body image in adolescent girls. This environment includes implicit messaging and direct education on self-acceptance, acceptance of differences, valuing diversity, confidence, and media literacy (includes knowledge that influencers, celebrities, and even friends often use photoshop).

3. Filter the posts you see: You are in control of your social media feeds! If an account often posts content that makes you feel down about yourself, unfollow it. If the account is a friend or family member who you don’t want to offend by unfollowing, you can “hide” or “mute” their posts so they don’t show up on your feed. This will keep you as a follower of theirs, but you will have to purposefully click on their profile to see their posts.

4. Follow body positive accounts: Fill up your feed with accounts that promote body acceptance and encourage body diversity so you can see the normal fluctuations in human bodies. The “idealized” body type is only ONE body type, and limiting our social media content to only images of this body type narrows our view and sets unrealistic expectations for what we should look like. There are so many accounts across social media platforms that do a great job of promoting body diversity. Here are a few to get you started: @i_weigh, @rawbeautytalks, @remibader, and @julesvonhep on Instagram; @aliciamccarvell and @lalalovejulia on TikTok.

5. Contribute to social media in a way that deemphasizes physical appearance: In addition to the body positive movement, there is also a body neutrality movement that values bodies for their functional purposes rather than what they look like. You can contribute to this movement by posting content that doesn’t center around physical appearance and limiting comments on how other people look. Try posting comments about how someone’s post made you feel or about a non-physical characteristic of theirs to help cultivate an environment that places less importance on physical appearance.

Additionally, there are many wonderful therapists for teens and adults at The Center for Mindfulness & CBT if you or your teen struggle with negative body image or low self-esteem. Lauren Karnowski is one of the newest therapists on the team and is happy to help you on your journey to self-love and acceptance. You can find more information about Lauren by clicking here.

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