Mental Health

How social media influences our relationship with body image

According to the latest report from the Mental Health Foundation, 22% of adults and 40% of teenagers in the UK said that images they saw on social media made them worry about the way they looked.

The report suggests that because social media makes it easier for people to compare their bodies to others in a negative way, it can have a strong correlation with body dissatisfaction. Therefore, this negative effect can increase the longer people spend on social media.

As a result of its research, the Mental Health Foundation recommends that:

  • social media companies must commit to “playing a key role in promoting body kindness” and ensure that a “diversity of body types” are presented to their users. They should also sign the Be Real Campaign’s Body Image Pledge.
  • They should have easy-to-use systems to report bullying and discrimination and give users greater control over the content they see on their platforms.
  • the government’s “Online Harms White Paper should address harms relating to the promotion of unhelpful or idealised body image online” and not just focus on content that promotes eating disorders.
  • Users should be more mindful of the accounts they’re following and how the content these accounts share makes them feel about their bodies.

The recommendations highlight that this isn’t just an issue that the social media industry needs to tackle.

It’s a societal problem that needs addressing in the home, in schools, in the media, by the government, and yes, by social media companies. We must also practice self-care and be compassionate to ourselves by doing our best to avoid the accounts that make us feel bad, but due to the way it works, these images are often impossible to avoid.

If we look at Facebook, its guidelines are ultimately decided by one man, Mark Zuckerberg. He decides what content is problematic enough to remove, and what may be offensive or damaging to people, yet is allowed to stay online. Unless social media leaders agree with the recommendations that organisations like the Mental Health Foundation set out, the content on our feeds is unlikely to change.

In practical terms, much of the responsibility for diverse social media content is likely to lie with the brands, celebrities, influencers and regular users who post on the sites. While representing a wide variety of body types may not seem like an urgent issue for many brands, as consumers become more aware of the harm idealised images can cause, brands may find that people start to avoid their content if they feel that it causes them harm.

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