Social Media & Eating Disorders

It’s Day 2 of EDAW (Eating Disorder Awareness Week) and today I’m coming to the subject of social media.

More and more in the news and media we see promotions of easy “dieting” and “fasting”, new ways to “lose weight quick” and “get skinny” for the summer.

I want to share with you today some recent headlines relating to this concept of eating disorders, dieting and their portrayal in the media.

One of the most recent social media sites to join the gang, Tiktok, has announced last week that it will begin removing videos promoting “quick fix dieting”, “fasting” and “crash dieting” and over-exercising from the app. This is so important and laudable, despite the time it has taken for the social media and society in general to acknowledge the detrimental effects of this kind of promotion, as increasingly more over the last two decades or so we have seen these kind of things often normalised in our diet-obsessed Western culture.

The factor driving this urge to be “thin”, especially amongst adolescents, is the media itself. Since the rise of social media and the exposure it has on younger persons, eating disorders and the cultural stigmatisation of losing weight to “fit in with society’s norms” have increased significantly – I need no evidence or article to back this up, but will cite from an article by Anne Morris and Debra Katzman on “The impact of the media on eating disorders in adolescents”.

Social media platforms expose users to a constant stream of photos and videos about all matters and topics in the world today. This means that there are a lot of posts about the “ideal body” and ways to achieve this goal. This has obvious harmful effects on impressionable characters like the youth of our society.

NEDA (the US’ National Eating Disorder Association) has studied the link between the rise in eating disorders and the increase in time spent online on social media. A study showed that Americans spend averagely two hours a day on social media, and that there is a distinct connection between the rifeness of EDs in the US and time spent on the one social media site, Instagram.

Social media is a platform used to share everything and anything we want, and although it can be such a useful tool, it causes some detrimental effects: body objectification, comparison and triggers – a threefold list constructed by ‘Magnolia Creek’, an eating disorder recovery blog. We seek validation on sites like Instagram, and we compare ourselves to the bodies we see – a topic I have covered many a time here on Pepetoe. But what we often don’t talk about is the effect social media can have on those who already have an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa and are in the stages of recovery – a very difficult process which I will attempt to unravel in a couple days time. It can trigger the ED habits that the person has been trying to work on and live with. An example of these triggers are things like before and after photos on fitness influencer pages, a seemingly harmless act that can trigger a recoveree’s old habits and ways of thinking.

We must keep in mind that so many of the photos we see on Instagram are doctored and edited, thus comparison will get us know where. As I have said before though, it is part of the societal human condition.

To be fundamentally clear, social media does not cause eating disorders. Nonetheless there is an obvious link between the two, as addressed earlier.

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