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Social Media Use and Eating Disorders

The media version of what a normal woman should look like has always been under strict scrutiny. Among actresses and fashion models, women are expected to have perfect hair, a long, lithe body, fabulous smile and flawless skin. However, what about that body image is actually real or attainable by the average woman?

Particularly when many photographs we see on Facebook and in print ads are heavily photo shopped and look nothing like the actual model or actress in real life. According to a new study done by researchers in the UK and US, it’s found that the more time a person spends on Facebook, the higher the risk one has of developing negative feelings and makes comparisons of themselves against the bodies of their friends.

The Study

Petya Eckler, from the University of Strathclyde, Yusuf Kalyango Jr. from Ohio University and Ellen Paasch, from the University of Iowa will present their findings at the 64th Annual Conference of the International Conference of the International Communication Association in Seattle, WA.

The team reviewed information from 881 college-aged females about their Facebook habits, eating and exercise habits and body image. They were able to predict how often a woman would feel negatively about her own body after looking at somebody else’s pictures or posts, and how often a woman would compare her own body against that of her friend(s).

The findings discovered that the more time a woman spends on Facebook, the more often she developed negative feelings and compared herself to her friends. They also discovered for women who want to lose weight, the more time spent on Facebook led to more attention being paid to her physical appearance. This included paying extra attention to one’s body, physical appearance and clothing.

Previous research studies reviewed college or adolescent girls and the effects Facebook had on their body image over non-Facebook users. However, this is the very first study to link the amount of time one spends on Facebook to negative body image.

Conclusion to the Study:

Eckler stated, “Public health professionals who work in the area of eating disorders and their prevention now have clear evidence of how social media relates to college women’s body image and eating disorders. While time spent on Facebook had no relation to eating disorders, it did predict worse body image among participants.”

He further said,” As experts in the field know, poor body image can gradually lead to developing an unhealthy relationship with food. The attention to physical attributes may be even more dangerous on social media than on traditional media because participants in social media are people we know. These comparisons are much more relevant and hit closer to home. Yet they may be just as unrealistic as the images we see on traditional media.”