Social Media’s Influence on Body Image Dissatisfaction

BY: Mary Joyce Quattlebaum, CEED Summer Fellow

DATE: July 1, 2016

In this day and age, most members of society are incessantly glued to their phone, updating various social media accounts and following the latest trends in current events. Our reliance on social media sites, namely Facebook and Instagram, has normalized the concept of putting our lives on display online. In recent years, social media sites have been largely utilized to show off one’s looks, workout regimen, and eating habits. As a result, social media has become an added reminder and pressure to attain a certain figure that society deems as beautiful. Thus, it is expected that many social media users’ negative body image perceptions are notably higher compared to non-users (Tiggemann & Slater, 2013). What was designed to be a platform for community, instead operates as a means to critique and compare our own body image to others’.

With 30 million Americans bound to suffer with an eating disorder during their lifetime (Wade, Keski-Rahkonen, & Hudson, 2011), social media further reinforces unrealistic thin ideals and suggests that one’s self-worth is determined by his or her body shape and looks. Unsurprisingly, Facebook usage is not only significantly higher for individuals at high risk of developing an eating disorder, but also increases the risk of developing body image dissatisfaction (Cohen & Blaszczynski, 2015). It is likely that these high-risk individuals spend much of their time on Facebook comparing their figure, relationships, and success to their acquaintances’ (Walker, Thornton, De Choudhury, Teevan, Bulik, Levinson, & Zerwas, 2015). Further, both the amount of time spent on Facebook and the number of friends on Facebook correlate with higher body surveillance, drive for thinness, and internalization of a thin ideal (Tiggemann & Slater, 2013). Though genetic and environmental factors may shield some individuals from developing a full-blown eating disorder in response to these online triggers, not everyone can say the same.

Furthermore, individuals currently dealing with an eating disorder may inadvertently come across pro-eating disorder feeds—commonly featured on Twitter—in search of social support or guidance. The content of these #proana and #promia sites reinforce “thinspiration” and unrealistic body image ideals. Unsurprisingly, these accounts can exacerbate disordered eating behavior and disrupt treatment progress (Arseniev-Koehler, Lee, McCormick, & Moreno, 2016). Thus, more awareness of these pro-eating disorder feeds and efforts to disrupt this cyclic encouragement of disordered eating habits must be prioritized. See our previous blog on fighting back against negative body image in the media.

In collaboration, we can work to rebuild social media as an outlet for body positivity and self-acceptance by sharing and posting articles, advertisements, and videos that contest the media’s narrow view of beauty.

Another blog of ours introduced the National Eating Disorder Association’s (NEDA) website,, as an online space for social support and resources for individuals struggling with eating disorders and body image issues. Online communities such as this are able to foster acceptance and appreciation for diverse body types, and counter the negativity that often dominates social media.

At increasingly younger ages, kids are growing up with social media sites that feature an unrealistic portrait of reality that is then internalized. While social media is undeniably a powerful tool that can be used for good, it is our responsibility as a nation to better promote healthy body image attitudes at a young age. As a society, we must recreate a public space for community and positive body image ideals, rather than comparison and critique. For the safety of current and future generations, social media must include more opportunities to promote self-acceptance and replace shaming messages with uplifting ones.


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