Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram have been blamed for everything from election interference and the spread of fake news to internet addiction and real-world stalking. But could social media also be contributing to eating disorders? Evidence suggests there may be a connection between social media and body image distortion.
Using anecdotal evidence alone, it is easy to see how social media could contribute to body dysmorphia and lead to a rise in eating disorders.1 The very fact that social media users tend to put their lives in the best possible light is part of the problem – when your friends are posting images of their happy lives and beautiful pictures from the beach, it is only natural to compare and feel that your own life does not measure up.
Real vs. Fake Images
One of the most persistent criticisms of social media is how difficult it can be to tell what is true and what is fake. The recent uproar surrounding fake news and the use of Russian bots only underscores this problem, but the issue does not end with newsfeeds and political discussions.
The same difficulties surrounding real vs. fake extend into the world of body image. Fake and posed images are sometimes creating unrealistic expectations among young people. In extreme cases, those unrealistic expectations could turn into eating disorders, as men and women try to live up to the images they see online. 2
Altered Images and Real Eating Disorders
What some young people may not realize is that the images they see are not necessarily what they seem to be. A growing number of social media users are employing Photoshop and other software to make the pictures they post look perfect – erasing a mole here or smoothing out a love handle there.
To those who view these photoshopped images, the images can look all too real. The erasure of a bit of fat could lead some vulnerable individuals to pursue unsustainable diets or even develop a dangerous eating disorder. These real-world implications should not be ignored, and it is important for anyone who uses social media to be aware of the potential distortions. If you are worried about someone in your life, or if you believe you may have an eating disorder, it is important to seek professional help right away.