Social media is now a hugely popular and pervasive tool among all age groups. Facebook currently has over 1.3billion users worldwide, and instagram over 300 million. Of these users around half are female and under the age of 25. But what impact might this new obsession be having on its users? There has been a lot of talk about the impact of social media on mood, body satisfaction and life satisfaction, but now for the first time there is some evidence as to the potential detrimental effects of what has become a new norm.
A number of correlational studies have previously made links between increased social media use and body image dissatisfaction, low mood, and a number of other psychological conditions. These correlations have been found across various age groups from pre teenage to university age. (see. Fardouly et al., 2015 for a summary). What we dont know from correlational studies however is whether it is social media resulting in increased psychological distress, or whether increased psychological distress makes people turn more readily to social media.
For the first time researchers at The University of the West of England have shown that it is an individuals tendency to compare themselves to others that is likely to determine whether social media use has a positive or negative impact. The tendency to compare yourself to others is known as social comparison. Individuals can socially compare themselves to others on a number of dimensions including status, appearance, satisfaction and life experience. With 70 million photographs posted instagram every day, and over 10 million photographs added to Facebook per hour, there is a lot of material to which social media users can socially compare themselves.
Jasmine Fardouly and colleagues, in a paper published in Body Image, 2015, investigated the link between rates of social comparison, social media use and appearance related concerns. They found that the impact of social media is not universal amongst all users. Only those who have a tendency to compare themselves to others are likely to suffer from lower mood or poorer body image after viewing social media images. What this means is that, much as with magazine media images, social media cannot necessarily be tarnished with a universally negative brush. For some individuals though, the impact of constant social media viewing is likely to be contributing to, or at least maintaining, psychological distress or dissatisfaction.
Dr. Bryony Bamford, of The London Centre says “The problem with social media is that it presents a very skewed version of real life – photos can be added with filters, experiences can be embellished, and life can be presented through a rose tinted lens. What that means for individuals who have a tendency to compare themselves to others, is that they are likely to be comparing themselves to a skewed reality of real life’.
The Unspoken Effects of Dieting
It seems that dieting has almost become a ‘normal’ activity amongst individuals in the UK. Every magazine we open shares diet details, every celebrity seems to endorse a different one, and it seems almost a rarity amongst certain groups not to discuss dieting. Of course, dieting can be done in a healthy way when it involves a balance of food groups, regular healthy eating and combined exercise to achieve weight loss goals. However many of the ‘fad’ diets that we read about do not seem to work on these principles. Very few women who diet realize that dieting itself causes severe psychological and physical changes. Dieting, even in women without eating disorders, often causes depression and irritability. When you diet, your metabolism slows down in order to conserve the small amount of food available. This is an intelligent move on your body’s part, and probably has helped people to survive in times of famine. The problem is that when you stop dieting, since your metabolism has slowed down, it becomes easier than ever to gain weight and you put weight on faster and more easily. Each time you go through another diet, this cycle continues. The only way to speed up your metabolism again is to eat.
Your body is like a wood-burning stove. It needs fuel to keep warm. The fuel intake needs to be regular through the day. The fire inside the stove is like your metabolic rate. It will burn the hottest when it has plenty of fuel. When we limit the amount of energy or ‘fuel’ we are giving our body, we will undoubtedly experience a number of physical consequences:
In women who are dieting healthily these effects may be mild and short-lived. When dieting is extreme however, as in anorexia nervosa, a state of chronic starvation is evoked meaning that these effects are likely to be ongoing, potentially causing serious longer term consequences.
In a previous blog post this week we discussed how pregnancy can be a challenging time for many women, in particular for their relationship with their bodies. Below we list a few tips on keeping a healthy body image during pregnancy.
1. Anticipate the changes that your body will go through. Try to embrace rather than fear these changes. Try not to focus on weight but instead focus on the new role that your body is taking on. Each and every body change is necessary for the health and protection of your baby. Embrace these changes where possible and value the role your body has in protecting your growing baby.
2. Focus on your babies needs rather than on your own. Recognise the importance of your own nutritional and emotional health in meeting the needs of your baby and try to make these your focus.
3. View the changes your body is going through as an essential part of pregnancy. Focus on the life changes that you are looking forward to rather than the changes that you are more anxious about.
4. Treat and care for your body. Pamper it, do things that make you feel good, allow yourself to buy new clothes, get your nails done, pamper your body with a pregnancy massage. All of these things can make you feel better and can help you achieve a healthier relationship with your body.
5. Focus on the things you can do rather than the things you can’t. Hobbies or interests may have to change slightly during pregnancy but they don’t have to change dramatically. Exercise, socialising, ‘dating’ your partner, are all important during pregnancy and do not have to stop.
6. Recognise the hormonal changes that your body is going through and how these might be making you feel. Acknowledge that your emotions may be more intense or may change quickly. Ensure that you are looking after yourself by eating regularly and getting enough sleep to help you deal as best you can with these hormonal changes.
7. Talk to others. One of the biggest fears pregnant women have is that they shouldn’t be feeling how they are. Many women struggle with the changes their bodies go through during this time in their lives. You don’t have to love every second of pregnancy. Share how you are feeling with others and keep talking to those who understand or can relate to your own struggles.
8. Take weight out of the equation if necessary. Though it is likely that the majority of your doctor and midwife appointments will involve weighing, you do not always have to know what your weight is doing. If you know that it is likely to cause distress or trigger unhealthy behaviours or obsessions, request that you are not told exactly what you weigh but rather whether your baby is growing healthily.
9. Reduce unhelpful behaviours. Body checking, body comparisons, focussing on the areas you are unhappy with are all likely to make you feel worse. Try to resist these behaviours and instead focus on things that you feel good or positive about.
10. Seek help. Pregnancy is a challenging time, especially for those who have pre existing body image or eating difficulties. Recognise the importance of seeking help when you need it and don’t feel ashamed to tell people that you are struggling.
This week on the blog we will be thinking about body image and pregnancy – an issue that we know is a growing concern for a number of mums to be. In this post we discuss the greatest body image concerns and issues faced by pregnant women.
1. Gaining Weight: Weight gain is a very natural and absolutely essential part of pregnancy however seeing weight go on can be very challenging for a lot of mums. A common fear can be whether you are gaining the ‘right’ amount of weight during pregnancy and whether this weight will come off easily after the baby is born. A recent survey suggested that fear of weight gain may be the number 1 reason why women opt not to have children.
2. Eating disorders in pregnancy: It is not uncommon for women to either develop an eating disorder during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth, or for women who have previously recovered from an eating disorder to experience a relapse of symptoms. This is occasionally referred to as ‘pregorexia’. It is very important to remember that extreme dieting and exercise is risky when not pregnant but can be risky both for the mum and the growing baby when it occurs during pregnancy. Professional help can be very important when pregnancy triggers the onset or relapse of an eating disorder
3. Body Dysmorphic Disorder: BDD is a psychological condition where an individuals perception of themselves becomes distorted. Perceived flaws become completely preoccupying and extremely distressing. BDD both occur during pregnancy and can also make the body changes that occur during pregnancy harder to cope with.
4. Losing control: When you’re pregnant, you’re no longer living for yourself — you’re responsible for a growing baby. Pregnancy results in all kinds of physical, emotional and lifestyle changes, many of which are far beyond your control. The fear of losing control can be especially troubling for women with eating disorders because they typically focus on perfection and maintaining control. Getting pregnant may be the ultimate way of losing control.
5. Losing weight due to morning sickness: For some women, gaining pregnancy weight is not a difficult issue, rather the fear of losing weight usually due to morning sickness may result in high levels of anxiety. It is always recommended that medical attention be sought when morning sickness is severe and / or weight is not going up as recommended, but it is also important to talk about and find support to manage the anxiety that this may be causing.
6. Losing your style: Pregnancy will inevitably influence and change your fashion choices. Especially towards the end of pregnancy, a growing bump can be very hard to dress, leaving many women feeling distressed and dissatisfied. For some women, their changing fashion style can trigger anxiety that they will be seen differently, treated differently, or that they will no longer fit in to friendship groups. For a lot of women appearance, weight, shape and fashion sense is heavily tied into their sense of identity and their view of themselves. When this changes due to pregnancy women can be left struggling with their identity and with fears about how they are perceived by others.
Pregnancy is a challenging time for many women, and body image issues can add to this challenge. Added to this is the impact of comments about your growing body, a sense of your body no longer being your own, and an unspoken pressure to ‘love your bump’. The blog this week will continue to think about the issue of body image issues in pregnancy. Look out for tips on how to stay happy and healthy in your pregnant body later in the week.
Over 60% of women in the UK have dysfunctional eating habits. These are almost always fuelled by a poor or negative body image. Poor body image may not have the alarming medical consequences of severe eating disorders, but the social, emotional and psychological impact of living with a poor body image may be just as worrying. Ninety-six percent of all women will not have or be able to have the ideal body type portrayed by todays media.
Men and women both experience pressure to achieve an unrealistic physical ideal. Meanwhile the diet industry profits billions from our national preoccupation with size. Achieving a healthier body image is possible however. Below are some suggestions for developing a healthier relationship with your body:
Ninety-five percent of diets do not work, with weight regain, often to a higher point that you were at before, being a common consequence of dieting. Instead of dieting, start eating normally. Normal eating involves eating when you’re hungry, listening to your body and stopping when you feel full. Try to include all foods you enjoy in your diet in moderation. This will reduce cravings for those foods. A healthy eating structure will include eating three regular meals at roughly the same time each day and snacking once or twice if you’re hungry.
Focus on the total person
You are more than individual body parts. Instead of focusing on particular physical features (generally the ones you don’t like), try and look at yourself as a whole, spending as much time focussing on the areas that you do like. Think also about the qualities, other than appearance, that make you who you are.
Enjoy your body
The most helpful lifestyle improvement is for sedentary people to become active. This doesn’t have to mean hours of exercise in the gym. Treat your body well. Instead of exercising to reach a target weight, try to engage in activities you enjoy – going for a walk, gardening, walking round the shops. A good idea is to spend a few minutes walking with a friend each day or look for small opportunities to become more active: Take the stairs instead of the lift or deliberately park as far as possible from the entrance to a store. Enjoy being active without worrying about weight.
Practice positive thinking
Positive thinking is an essential part of healthy living, directly affecting our physical and mental well being. Try to give yourself a compliment each day, or notice and acknowledge your achievements, however small they may be.
Try to think about other positively, regardless of their size. Accept your friend, colleagues or family members at any size. Compliment behavior, ideas and character instead of appearance and develop more self-acceptance, self-appreciation and self-respect.
Be aware of the impact of emotions
Often people start to feel bad about their bodies because they are struggling with some other emotion, often totally unrelated to their appearance. Stress at work, problems in relationships, tiredness, an argument with a friend etc.. may all trigger body dissatisfaction. Try to be aware of your emotions and recognise when you may be feeling worse about your body because of an emotional trigger. Think about what you need to do to change or cope with the original emotion, rather than focussing solely on your feelings about you body.
Recognise when you need support
Some people will find it extremely difficult to change their own body image without help or support from others. If you find yourself disagreeing or struggling with the ideas above, consider seeking help from a professional who will help you to achieve a healthier relationship with your body.
Parents and teachers are being urged to be mindful of their eating habits and comments they make about body image in front of their children after a government report found body dissatisfaction in children as young as eight.
At least two in five children aged 8-11 desired a thinner than average body size, the study of more than 4,000 children by the Australian Institute of Family Studies found.
Children were surveyed about their attitudes towards their body and their desired body size at age 8-9, and again at 10-11. Their mothers also answered questions about their child’s eating habits.
By age 10-11, most children reported trying to control their weight. Among underweight children, 16% of girls and 11% of boys wanted to be even thinner than they were, and half wanted to stay underweight.
Of the boys and girls who were dissatisfied with their body, the proportion of mothers who were concerned about their child eating too much or unhealthy food was greater among boys than girls, at 55% and 49% respectively.
The largest eating disorders charity in Australia, the Butterfly Foundation, said the findings highlighted the importance of parents in promoting self-esteem.
“We would encourage all parents to develop positive body image and a healthy relationship with food and exercise in order to be positive role models for their children and their teenagers,” foundation chief executive Christine Morgan said.
In addition, anti obesity campaigns being rolled out in schools may also be of concern.
“The impact of health campaign messaging about child obesity, and the messages they receive from multiple sources every day about ideal body shape and size, is clearly producing an unintended consequence.”
This has long been a concern for eating disorder specialists who have expressed concern over the ‘norm’ of dieting and weight concern. Dr. Bryony Bamford of The London Centre for Eating Disorders and Body Image states ‘The governments campaigns to tackle obesity in school age children could be considered a risk to those who may be susceptible to developing eating disorders.