Eating Disorders and Social Media
With over 1.23 billion users on Facebook, 1 billion users on YouTube, 243 million active users on Twitter, 150 million on instagram, 70 million users on pinterest and 108.9 blogs on tumblr, our lives have never been more intertwined with technology (Smith 1). Though living in a technologically advanced society can be harmful to your health. It may seem fabulous to have all these “cool” gadgets and to have the world at your fingertips, but everything comes with a consequence. Having access to loads of information at once can be overwhelming, causing your mind and body to suffer. Information discovered on the Internet gets one’s mind expanding on all kinds of knowledge; some is truthful and inspirational, while others can be misleading and harmful. One popular topic with billions of searches on the web is body image. The ideal body portrayed through social media has aided in the rise in eating disorders within America. Over the past few decades, eating disorders have become an increasing controversial problem with young women.
Social media is being blamed for the increasing numbers of teens suffering from eating disorders. Numerous social networking sources such as American pop culture, contribute to this rise. During adolescent years, people are at the greatest risk for developing an eating disorder. This is because at the importance of social pressure and physical appearances are at its highest levels in one’s adolescent years. Recent studies have found sites such as Facebook, proved to have an influence on girls’ thoughts on body image. A study at American University in Washington D.C. asked 103 adolescent girls to complete a series of surveys about Facebook usage and body image throughout the course of a week. The study concluded that adolescent girls who spent more of their time participating in photo-related activities were unsatisfied with their current weight, desiring to use unhealthy ways of achieving the goal of an ideally thin body image (Charles 1). Therefore, it can be said that social media, especially Facebook and other sites where photos and body image are highlighted can produce negative thoughts in adolescent minds of not just girls but boys too. All adolescents are under an insane amount of pressure to look their best, to appear attractive and follow up on the latest ideals, allowing them to fall under the pressures of social media, culture and their unhealthy ideals.
Social media has numerous influences on adolescents and these influence play a vital role in the rise of eating disorders in the technologically advanced society that we live in. Everything today is done through social media and social networking is where most communication occurs. With this increased interaction online, inspiration for the start of eating disorders is bound to happen. The creation of Facebook has ultimately turned Adolescent girls’ lives into chaos. Featured research on a scientific study published by Professors Yael Latzer, Ruth Katz and Zohar Spivak, of the Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences at the University of Haifa, examines the effects of two factors on the development of eating disorders in adolescent girls. The two factors included exposure to media and self-empowerment. The Study tested a group of 248 female subjects ranging from ages 12-19, asking each subject to take part in a survey regarding information relating the subject’s internet and television habits. As well as questionnaires examining aspects related to the subject’s general outlook on eating and their sense of personal empowerment, etc. The study furthermore concluded that the chances for the development of a negative body image and various eating disorders increases with the increased amount of time adolescent girls spend in front of Facebook (University of Haifa 1). Some such eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and exaggerated dieting. Social media as a support system comes with both positive and negative effects. The use of social media also allows your teen or young adult to network, make friends, and inadvertently boosts their self-esteem by connecting in a positive way with others.
There is a major concern over social media being a virus rapidly spreading amongst the world. With social media becoming viral, young women are exposed to media’s ideal body image within their own homes. A latest fad among teen girls of this decade is the thigh gap. The impossible weight loss goal is to become so thin that there is a gap between the thighs even when the feet are together. Apparently, the wider the gap is the sexier is the person (Staff Reporter 1). The availability of seeing pictures of friends being skinny and activities of other can create a competition amongst peers. Internet Fads like this one fall under a particular topic know as Thinspiration. Thinspiration is any photographs, prose or other material intended to support and provide inspiration for anorexia nervous or any other eating disorder as a lifestyle choice. This is backed with words of expression from Meagan a 16 year old girl suffering with anorexia, young women are exposed to pro-anorexia and pro-bullimia information at the palm of their hands (WCSH6 Reporter 1). It is nearly impossible to ignore these images and information, since they appear everywhere and social media is the large stepping-stone for eating disorders to reach the mass majority. As Meagan has stated, “The connection breeds knowing what everyone is up to and the competition,” She says, “I think eating disorders are really based off of the competition. Who can be skinnier? If so and so looks like this, I can too. And I can be better” (WCSH6 Reporter 1). The message Megan is conveying is that with unlimited access to images and the personal lives of others, social media has created an unspoken challenge amongst young women to see who can have the sexiest, best looking body out there. Images and prose intended to inspire weight loss actually inspire an unhealthy competition between all young women. Furthermore, social media has produced a new society where all young women are obsessed with the idea of being skinny. Sites have even been created with full intent of promoting eating disorders; known as “Pro-Mia” (pro-bulimia) and “Pro-Ana” (pro-anorexia) sites.
“Pro-Mia” and “Pro-Ana” websites allow anyone to access and view pictures of others and receive advice on how to maintain an eating disorder. Sites like these create the most harm amongst adolescents because they basically send the message telling others that is okay to have an eating disorder. Implying to their audience; why struggle to fight it, just embrace it. Extended research performed by a team of professionals analyzes the amount of pro-eating disorder content available to the public through social media. To determine which sites were providing pro-eating disorder information, the research team coordinated a systematic content analysis of 180 active websites, observing and recording site logistics, site accessories, or any “thinspiration” material such as images or any text encouraging weight loss. Also analyzing tips and tricks, recover, themes or anything that could be perceived as harm. In result to the team’s experimentation, they were able to determine a statistical conclusion of the results recovered. Some of the determined results are that 91% of these websites were open to the public, 79% included interactive features, 84% provided pro-anorexia content and 64% contained pro-bulimia content (Borzekowski, Etc. 1). Therefore, there are a lot of harmful websites available to young women. This statistical research should be noted and brought to the attention of these young women to teach them provide added awareness to help decrease potential eating disorder problems. A social media topic of interest, Thinspiration, was displayed on 85% of these pro-eating disorder sites. Even more alarming news is that 83% of the sites provide suggestions on how one should engage in eating disorder behaviors (Borzekowski, Etc. 1). This is a large percentage of sites that motivate these young women to continue having an eating disorder and that it is perfectly fine to have these unhealthy eating habits. Sites like these tell girls it is okay to engage in such terrible behavior and can have a detrimental effect on a young girl’s mind.
Moreover, the public is able to crop, cut, paste and edit their entire body or image to generate whatever looks one may desire. People therefore are being perceived as something they are not. As well, numerous ads available across almost any site one enters display air brushed models or promotions of different types of diets. One major problem faced by Americans in the recent years is the obesity epidemic. Many people living in America are overweight and have unhealthy eating habits. If most of America is overweight, than why is the ideal American body image to be ultra thin? Fatter America and an ultra thin body image equal an unrealistic body image goal for Americans to achieve. Therefore, the obesity epidemic in America can lead to anorexia or bulimia as a result of American’s desire to achieve this ideal body image. According to the article, 50% of people are unsatisfied with their body image. In 2009, 14.5% of high school girls and 6.9% of high school boy reported going at least 24 hours without eating to lose weight. Also, 5.4% of girls and 2.6% of boys reported that they have vomited or took laxatives to prevent weight gaining (Purtle 1). The reason for these adolescents to engage in this type of behavior is due to that ultra thin image that is overly advertised everywhere.
Many advertisements utilize these tools, such as Photoshop to create an even thinner image than the model in the photograph. These companies go so far as to airbrush the model to the point where they have created false advertisement. An experiment was done involving college women with the exposure to an ideally thin body image. Some women were exposed to the thin images of women, while the control group was exposed to normal images of women. It was found that women who viewed the thin images were less satisfied with their own bodies, had lower self-esteems and greater eating disorder symptoms than the control group. As a result, Photoshop, air brushing and any usage of an ultra thin body image can have a negative impact of adolescent women (Purtle 1). Furthermore, supporting the idea to decrease and regulate usage of Photoshop to help prevent any rise in eating disorders. Since Photoshop is used widely across America and advertisement companies, it is important to include it in my research paper. The article provides some evidence and support to my argument of the harmful affects of Photoshop on social media and its contribution to eating disorders.
Many social media sites are becoming aware of factors on their sites that could lead to harm and eating disorders. Anything that the site thinks is harmful they will block or take down; Instagram is an example of a social media site willing to take action. “While Instagram is a place where people can share their lives with others through photographs, any account found encouraging or urging users to embrace anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders; or to cut, harm themselves, or commit suicide will result in a disabled account without warning” (WCSH6 Reporter 1). Some may argue that instagram is being too harsh or extreme but these actions need to occur. America may be a free country and people may be able to say what they want, but when it puts harm on an individual than someone needs to step up and take authority. Nowhere on social media should anyone’s live be put at risk.
There are multiple sites available on the Internet that can cause alarm for a high risk of development of eating disorders. Some sites possess a higher risk than others. These sites are Facebook, Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia sites, as well as any site where photos or images are the sites key focus. Moreover, it is clear that the The ideal body portrayed through social media has aided in the rise in eating disorders within America. Though with the expansion of technology, the Internet is not going away anytime soon. Therefore, utilizing all of the extensive research available, the best possible solution to this issue is Awareness. Bringing awareness to young adolescents doesn’t eliminate eating disorders entirely, but it help take action in the right direct to lower the amount of young people suffering with such eating disorders. Regardless of the child’s age, parents should always be aware of what site their children are on. This does not mean that parent’s should block sited and ban their children from social media. Doing such may result in worse consequences. Blocking children from certain sites, make that child more curious and the child desire to go on it while increase. Because blocking certain can cause children to be more curious about the site, making the issue worse. The best way is to allow a child to go on sites but monitor and discuss with children about what they are on and what they are viewing. Simple discussions and lectures can create awareness and be extremely helpful with prevention.
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