A recent study by an Australian university found a direct link between Instagram and negative body-image among young women aged 18-25: “Greater overall Instagram use was associated with greater self-objectification…More frequently viewing fitspiration images on Instagram was associated with greater body image concerns…Together, these results suggest that Instagram usage may negatively influence women’s appearance-related concerns and beliefs. This follows a myriad other studies that conclude that time spent on social media platforms, that also includes Facebook, correspond with higher depression and anxiety among young people.
However, social media, due to its prevalence and proliferation, is also a tool that can be used to affect enormously positive influence and to create change in a meaningful direction. We must choose to see and use it this way.
We can harness the power of the ubiquity of social media to reduce body-image insecurity, rather than feed the monsters of cyber-bullying, comparison, and self-hatred. Many advocacy eating disorder groups work to ban social media content that are pro-anorexia, pro-bulimia, fat or thin shaming, as well as change guidelines within social media companies as well. Instagram has stricter regulations on what specific images can be published and works to eliminate images related to eating disorders or self-harm. Additionally there is a warning message that appears if anyone attempts to search an unhealthy image and these messages link to hotlines that offer help for that particular disorder. Additionally celebrities and athletes are coming forward and speaking out about their personal experience with eating disorders and they hope to shed light on this issue by sharing their personal stories and eliminating the stigma. Since celebrities do have a large platform on social media, they are using their personal social media accounts to fight against the popular diet and weight loss trends.
Filter who and what you follow.
There are hashtags that exist across all platforms that aim to promote and celebrate shape and size diversity and unedited photos, some of famous women, some not. Examples include #bodypositivity, #nofilter, #uglyselfie, #nomakeup, #edwarrior, just to name a few. Those that follow these can see unfiltered images of models of every size, shape and ethnicity, photos of their favorite celebrities with acne medication applied before going to sleep, and women in recovery celebrating their weight gain – refreshing, right? Follow these people and hashtags instead of the destructive ones and fill your vision with a more accepting and compassionate view of yourself and others.
Set a time limit.
This is difficult, but it is worth the effort. Choose a time frame that works for you to look at or check social media each day. Maybe it is 30 minutes in the morning or evening, or perhaps you decide that each time you pick up your phone to “check,” you’ll only stay on for two minutes or less.
Whatever boundaries you set for yourself, make sure to start practicing being aware of the time you spend on social media platforms, and limit it accordingly. It is incredible how much extra time you’ll find that you have!
Use that time away from the screen to engage with others, get out into nature, contemplate or daydream. It just might be more fun – and a lot more healthy.
Practice compassion for yourself and others.
You can be a force for good on social media by considering how and what you post. Are your photos and posts always only positive? Do they accurately reflect your life? If not, try to be more authentic, or don’t post at all (there is no need to over-share, of course). Additionally, don’t be a part of the trend: it is so easy to comment based on appearances alone. Try to notice something different. Try to comment in a way that builds up a person based on who they ARE rather than just what they, or their life, appear to be. Encourage others. Stand up against cyber-bullies and call them out or report them. Light expels darkness, so shine brightly.
Social media can be a vehicle for destruction, but also for tremendous good. Inevitably, it is already shaping our culture and is definitive for the next generation who has grown up with its ubiquity as the norm.