I know hate is a strong word. But, I detest (hate) all of the posts on social media these days with before and after photos of bodies, diets, intermittent fasting, macros, food shaming, rich influencer pics, filtered images, the list goes on. Yes, I know, for many, a new healthy diet and exercise regime may have legitimately saved lives (on many levels). But, measuring my worth through external appearance, shape, weight is something that I’ve struggled with my whole life.
Our culture encourages and celebrates perfection, the work grind, a gorgeous body, wrinkleless skin, pouty lips, silky hair, youth – what did I miss? All of these things are markers for success in our society, and with the daily bombardment of social and digital media, I wonder how healthy it is for our psyches, and especially youths’.
I mean, how many times have you seen someone post an ugly picture of themselves on Facebook or Instagram? I’d venture to say you can count it on one hand. We almost can’t help but compare ourselves daily to others. And, research is revealing that for young, developing brains, social media is a toxic recipe for increased anxiety and depression.
Like I mentioned, I’m really triggered by body image media. I am super empathic and, although I wasn’t exposed to social media, I have internalized many similar messages since I was young. I think my first diet was at 10-years-old and then I struggled for years with a variety of eating disorders from my teens until well into my 30s. Even now, I struggle with body dysmorphia.
I know I’m far from alone. Unfortunately, eating disorders are on the rise in the United States and have been magnified by the pandemic. Eating disorders thrive on isolation, which was mandated during COVID. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 24 million people suffer from an eating disorder. Plus, they are among the deadliest mental illnesses, second only to opioid addiction – WOW!
The prevalence of eating disorders has increased more than 11% over the past two decades (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). Traditionally considered a female issue, men represent a growing proportion of people suffering from anorexia and bulimia.
We all know social and digital media are here to stay and growing by the day. So, is there a solution? Honestly, I don’t know for sure. It is great to see more awareness around mental illness, finding balance in our lives, and accepting our flaws and all. From my personal experience, research, and listening to teens discuss the impact of comparison and expectations derived from social media, here are a few things to consider:
- Encourage authenticity with each other
- Normalize and celebrate differences
- Make opportunities for in-person contact
- Share good news and inspiring stories on social media
- Share difficult and sad news on social media
Most importantly, be you because YOU ARE ENOUGH.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder or mental illness, please seek the help of a professional mental health provider.