Social Media and Body Image

  • Young men's version of this guide

Social media has become a big part of many peoples’ lives, especially teenagers. Platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok are used by people all over the world. There are many good things about social media, such as helping people to communicate and express themselves. However, there are also some concerns related to body image that come with spending time online.

Focus on Appearance

Many of the social images and videos posted online are focused on appearance. This intense focus on the way somebody looks can create an ideal, which is a certain standard or idea of what is “perfect.” It may include things like certain body types, facial features, or hairstyles. People may internalize these ideals, which means that they think about them so much that they end up becoming their own idea of perfection, and create an unrealistic expectation of how they should look.

Why is this a problem?

When you compare yourself to the people you see online, it can lead to feelings like your own body is not good enough and can create a desire to change your body. As you are growing, it is normal for your body to be going through lots of changes. Social media may make it seem like your body should not be changing, or should be changing in a certain way or at a certain time.  All bodies are different! If people experience negative body image and feel pressured to alter the way their body looks, they may engage in unhealthy behaviors that are dangerous, such as disordered eating. Trying to alter your weight in order to change your appearance could be through starvation (restricting calories or food groups for example) or consuming excess protein or supplements in order to try to “bulk up”. Any disordered eating can have medical consequences that are harmful to short term and long term health.

How do social media algorithms put teens at risk?

Algorithms on social media sites work to show users the posts that they are most likely to be interested in and interact with. While algorithms can help you to find posts that you enjoy, they can also potentially be harmful. For example, the algorithm may show content that could be triggering to users who are struggling with negative body image or disordered eating.

What you can do

Here are some tips to help you gain control over the content you see on social media and to help promote a healthy relationship with your body:

  • Remember that many of the pictures on social media are heavily edited and not always completely real. Users can use Photoshop, filters, and different editing tools to make themselves look a certain way. Also remember that people choose what they share on social media– you are likely not seeing the other pictures they took to get the “perfect” image to post, and people are often sharing the highlight moments of their lives.
  • Influencers on social media often get paid to post about certain products, foods, or diets and may not have even tried these themselves but are making money off of posting. A lot of the nutrition information posted on social media is not backed by science, and diets promoted can be very dangerous. People also may post “What I eat in a day” videos. These videos can be harmful, lead to comparing yourself to others, can promote disordered eating behaviors, and may not even be what the user eats in a day. Remember, everyone has different nutrition needs, and even if everyone ate and moved their bodies in exactly the same way, bodies would still look different.
  • Supplements are often promoted on social media. They not regulated, so be sure to work with a well-informed health care provider (your doctor or registered dietitian) if you are interested in taking a supplement.
  • “Superfoods” may be promoted on social media, but there is no such thing as a “superfood.” It is a marketing term used to sell products and has no scientific basis. No one food, on its own, could have a major influence over your health. If you’re interested in learning more about nutrition, make an appointment with a registered dietitian.
  • While it is not possible to control what others post, it is possible to control the content you see to a certain extent. Change your social media settings to help to block content that may be triggering. Most social media platforms have an option to let the site know that you are not interested in that type of content. Unfollow accounts that do not make you feel good. If you find yourself feeling worse than you did before after seeing posts from an account, it is likely time to unfollow.
  • Follow diverse and body positive accounts. Seeing diverse bodies in your social media feed can help you to remember that bodies come in all shapes, sizes, and looks.
  • Set limits on your social media use. Try putting your phone in a different room at dinnertime, or before bedtime. You can also set time limits for your social media apps in your phone settings.
  • Focus on the things you like about yourself. If a negative thought about your body pops up in your mind, try to think of something positive instead, such as “My body allows me to do the things I love, like dance and spend time with my friends.”
  • Try to stop comparing yourself to others. This can be difficult, but try to notice when you are making negative comparisons. Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that your body is unique and special to you, and you do not need to try to change the way you look. If you are noticing a lot of negative body image thoughts, talking with a mental health professional can be helpful.
  • Practice positive self-talk. Give yourself daily encouragement and reminders that are not appearance-related. Try making a list of all things you like about yourself, or keeping positive notes close by in your room.
  • Do things you enjoy that are good for your body too. Maybe you like to take relaxing bubble baths, or go hiking with your family. Whatever it is, enjoy yourself and stay in the moment.
Being mindful of your social media use and following these tips can help you to be more in control of the content you see, promote a healthy relationship with your body image, and have an overall more positive experience when using social media.