Social Media and Body Image

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Social media and body image

A recent article in the ABC was on the practice of editing pictures of ourselves before posting on social media[1].  The rise of body editing apps makes this infinitely easier and when combined with photo filters, the result is …. well, a photo of me as I imagine myself as I would like to be. 

Of course, the “me” who I would like to be, is not the “me” who I really am.  All the editing apps and photo filters can easily feed into a sense of shame and dissatisfaction that our bodies are not perfect.

While there are some women who are pushing back against the expectation to only post smooth, unblemished, perfect pictures of themselves, many still struggle with a sense of body dissatisfaction.  Studies out of Macquarie, UNSW and Flinders Universities[2] all confirm that younger women spending time on and comparing themselves to photos of women on social media resulted in a greater sense of body dissatisfaction.

However, it isn’t just girls who struggle with body image issues.  Increasingly young men struggle with body dissatisfaction. The common factor for both is that body dissatisfaction results from comparison to unrealistic body ideals.[3]  With the rise of social media a person who is preoccupied with looking a certain way can saturate themselves with repeated exposure to photos of their ideal body which increases their level of dissatisfaction.[4]  The young man who feels too skinny can scroll through endless bodies of older men with six packs and muscular frames that leave him feeling ashamed and dissatisfied with how he looks.

The use of steroids as a means of dealing with this dissatisfaction and achieving the perceived ideal body shape is for many young men an option they take.  However, their decision making in this area is often based on “bro-science” and silence.  Bro-science is the information young men often pick up in the gym from other friendly “bro’s” about what they have done and how they have used steroids.  While this information may be better than none, it does mean there is rarely an open discussion with the young man’s health professional about short- and long-term side effects that can arise from steroid use.  Apart from health risks, purchasing steroids without proper medical supervision leaves a young person open to criminal charges.

Many young men who experience body dissatisfaction struggle with eating disorders.  The Butterfly Foundation indicates over one third of Australians that experience an eating disorder are men and 40% of people aged between 11 – 17 experiencing disordered eating behaviours are men.[5]  While the origin of an eating disorder is not always clear, young men who are anxious, lack self-confidence or have low self-esteem are more likely to experience eating disordered behaviour and particularly when there has been bullying or other forms of trauma.  One figure has it as high as 65% of people with eating disorders say that bullying contributed to their condition.[6]

Youth Legal Service is currently running the #Stop cyber-bullying campaign for the second consecutive year, (@stopcyberbullyingwa).  This campaign is being run because there is still much work to do as a community and within the education system to combat the negative impact and influence of bullying and cyber-bullying.  Bullying that is weight related has long term negative impacts on the lives of young men and women. 

We need to recognise that many young men are struggling with their body image and the impact bullying can have on a person confidence in their body.

– Written by David Kernohan, Director of Youth Legal Services







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