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Social Media’s Influence on Self-Worth and Body Image

Due to school closures and social distancing guidelines, most young people are spending more time than ever on social media. It can be a great way to stay connected to family, friends and community.

We are social beings, wired for connection. We all need a sense of belonging. For most of us that means we need to continually expand, maintain and deepen our connections to people, pets, places, activities, possessions, philosophies, causes, spirituality, values and a sense of purpose throughout our lives.

Social media has a powerful influence in many people’s lives, especially how we think about ourselves, others and the world of others. It can help us grow our awareness and shift our perspective: to see and appreciate a lot about the world that we otherwise might not reflect on. It can help us embrace our common humanity and global identity/citizenship. It can help us honor and celebrate our own and others’ uniqueness.

Social media can have a life-affirming or troubling influence on our worldviews, as well as our view of ourselves. Social media can create a sense of unity or divisiveness; faith or suspicion; positive or negative judgments; understanding or discrimination; and clear or distorted thinking about the worth of all beings including ourselves. It has the potential to impact many areas of our lives, including a body-positive influence or it can promote unfavorable body image comparisons.

All types of media can advance unhealthy, unrealistically rigid and skewed ideas of beauty, such as unachievable ideals for thinness. The internet is full of Pro-Anorexia/Eating Disorder sites, applauding severe restriction of food intake, purging and excessive over-exercising. These sites encourage people to see their value through the eyes of an eating disorder, suggesting what matters most is their shape, weight and size.

A systematic review of 20 papers published in 2016 found that photo-based activities, like scrolling through Instagram or posting pictures of yourself, were particularly problematic when it came to negative thoughts about your body. A 2018 York University study showed that young women who actively engage with social media images of friends who they think are more attractive than themselves report feeling worse about their own appearance afterward. A 2015 study showed that while looking at photos of celebrities led to negative self-comparison, the most detrimental self-comparison leading to body image concerns was when viewing pictures of distant peers, or acquaintances.

Most of us do not give much thought to what we or our children are “consuming” via social media and what influence it has. There are so many questions to explore:

  • Am I or are my children constantly comparing our looks to others on social media?
  • What kind of impact is social media having on my own self-worth and body image?
  • What can I do about it?
  • Should I limit or restrict my viewing of social media?
  • How would I do that?
  • As a parent, how do I engage in a conversation with my child/teen about this sensitive subject?
  • Am I role modeling healthy attitudes about food, weight, shape and size?
  • Are my thoughts about myself and my worth usually positive or negative?
  • Am I struggling emotionally every time I see myself in a mirror?
  • Am I afraid to post pictures of myself on social media if I am not looking “perfect” or my very best?
  • If someone makes a derogatory comment about my appearance, do I take it to heart?
  • Do I ignore, downplay or crave positive messages about the same?
  • Am I feeling happy only temporarily when I can see I have lost weight or look thinner?
  • Am I feeling out of control and helpless to change my body image?
  • Am I constantly suppressing feelings of hurt, shame, guilt, anger, anxiety, grief, depression, hopelessness or something else?
  • Am I maintaining emotional intimacy or increasingly pulling away from the people I love?
  • What are my core values?
  • How do I create a quality life worth living, grounded in my deepest values and focused on wellness and self-care?
  • How can I show myself more compassion?
  • What skills can I develop to improve my self-worth?
  • Who can I talk to about my concerns?

Aspen Family and Community Network Society has many programs and workers who can help you identify proper resources and who you might be able to reach out to if you are struggling with any of these issues. Please contact Aspen at 403-219-3477.

Lisa Clarke
Liaison, Eating Disorder Community Support Homes
Aspen Family & Community Network