Have you ever been browsing Facebook and come across a photo of yourself that made you think, "man I should probably hit the gym?" While that sort of incident might be harmless motivation, one study is suggesting that Facebook could be stoking the flames of the negative body images of its users.
The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt took a survey of Facebook users aged 16 to 40 and found that Facebook use is definitely impacting "the way many people feel about their bodies."
“Facebook is making it easier for people to spend more time and energy criticizing their own bodies and wishing they looked like someone else,” said Dr. Harry Brandt, director of The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt. “In this age of modern technology and constant access to SmartPhones and the internet, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for people to remove themselves from images and other triggers that promote negative body image, low self-esteem and may ultimately contribute to eating disorders.”
The survey asked people about their overall body image in general and found that only 25% said that they were happy with their current body and weight. Sixty-nine percent said that they would like to lose weight. 12% said that they have or had an eating disorder and an additional 8% said that they think they might (and remember, this is self-reporting).
So you can see that there is fertile enough ground for social media like Facebook to exacerbate the situation. And when you think about it, there are plenty of ways that Facebook could impact the way users feel about their bodies and weight. Just think about all the comparisons with friends an Facebook user can draw. Seeing a photo of a friend whose body you envy could trigger unhealthy behaviors. So could a simple comment on a status or photo. Also, self-comparison could also be an issue - "Just look how skinny I used to be," for instance.
Here are some of the survey stats about how Facebook is affecting body image:
51 percent of respondents said that seeing photos of themselves make them more conscious about their body and weight.
51 percent agree that they often find themselves comparing their life to that of their friends when they read status updates and see pictures posted.
32 percent said they feel sad when comparing Facebook photos of themselves to their friend’s photos.
44 percent wish they had the same body or weight as a friend when looking at photos.
37 percent feel they need to change specific parts of their body when comparing their bodies to friend’s bodies in photos.
The combination of smartphones with cameras and social media has turned every little thing into a photo opportunity. This has led some people to feel self-conscious when attending social events - for fear that their photo will end up on Facebook and they won't look their best. Nearly half of those surveyed said that they are "always conscious when attending social event." An additional 43% said that they will actually avoid having their picture taken if they don't feel they look great. Last month, another survey found that 83% of respondents felt that people should ask before posting a picture of you to Facebook. Eight percent even thought it should be illegal to do so without permission.
Insanely popular social network Pinterest just updated their terms of service to ban "thinspirational" content - basically pins that promote behaviors that encourage users to be thin, or to achieve a certain goal weight. Tumblr did the same thing earlier.
But banning all the "thinspo" and "pro-ana" content in the world can't prevent the simple act of comparison. Just looking at a photo of an acquaintance or a picture of you, in the past, can disrupt body image, which we all know can be so fragile in some people. However, it's not like Facebook is the first media to have this issue. People have been flipping through magazines and feeling bad about themselves for years. According to the results of this study, Facebook is just taking that same concept to a whole new level.