How Can Social Media Affect Our Body Image?

April 19, 2024

woman scrolling social media on her phone

As technology continues to blend into everyday life, social media has become an indispensable way of communicating, sharing, and perceiving one another. With constant exposure to a curated world of idealized images and messages, it’s no surprise that it inevitably impacts how people view themselves. In turn, social media’s influence on body image and self-esteem merits a closer look.

Idealized realities on social media can often distort and confuse viewers’ ideas of beauty and success. However, it can also offer a platform for body positivity and community support, which can positively impact users’ perceptions of themselves. This prompts an important conversation about online content consumption and sharing, encouraging exploration and awareness for fostering a healthy self-image.

Pressure To Lose Weight

Unfortunately, social media is often a breeding ground for weight shaming and body negativity. Whether it’s through subtle product promotions or outright fat-shaming, people are subjected to unrealistic ideals. A report by Scientific American highlights that the pressure to lose weight, intensified by social media like TikTok, can severely impact physical and mental health, potentially leading to eating disorders.

The article highlights the worrisome trend of promoting laxatives for weight loss, a practice experts link to eating disorders. Although laxatives are marketed as healthy, misuse can cause severe health issues and damage. This emphasizes the need for media literacy and promoting a healthy, realistic body image, prioritizing well-being over societal pressures to be thin.

Instead of focusing on losing weight, social media should encourage body positivity and overall wellness. Exposure to diverse body types and positive messaging can decrease negative body image and improve self-esteem. So, when scrolling through social media, be mindful of the content you consume and support body diversity.

Promotion of Unreasonable Standards

Many body image standards depicted on social media are unattainable. That’s because much of what you’re viewing is either edited or comes from someone whose job is keeping up that perfect look. Platforms like Instagram are known for hosting many edited images that enhance physical features to fit a specific aesthetic. Flawless skin, sculpted bodies, and perfect proportions are the norm, but they don’t reflect reality.

Promoting unrealistic standards is problematic because it sets impossible beauty and health benchmarks. When people compare themselves to these edited images, they might start feeling not quite up to par. Instead, it’s essential to recognize that these images are not reality, and everyone is beautiful in their way.

Exposure To Quickly Changing Trends

The rapid pace of social media trends adds more complexity to the matter. One minute, the ‘thigh gap’ is in vogue, and the next, it’s all about having a ‘curvy’ figure. These quickly changing trends aren’t limited to fashion or lifestyle — they extend to body types, making it difficult for anyone to keep up.

The issue here is twofold: These trends dictate a narrow view of attractiveness and ignore the fact that body types cannot — and should not — be changed as easily as clothing styles. The New York Times highlighted students’ perspectives on this matter, noting that positive content can help mitigate this pressure by promoting acceptance and the understanding that one’s value isn’t tied to body shape or size.


Cyberbullying, a modern problem, appears in many ways, from coordinated bullying campaigns to harmful comments under posts. Social media’s anonymity and reach amplify the impact of these actions, allowing harmful messages to spread faster and further. Moreover, online attacks can come from people you know, making it harder to escape. This constant exposure to negative comments can deeply affect self-esteem and body image.

However, social media can drive positive change as a platform for support and empowerment. Communities on social platforms create safe spaces for those facing body image issues and cyberbullying, offering resources, support, and acceptance to combat negativity and promote body positivity.

Encouragement to Self-Critique

With an emphasis on visual content, social channels can inadvertently promote an environment where self-scrutiny becomes normal. When people shape their online image, the urge to keep up or outdo the glossy lives and looks shown by others can make them harsh self-critics. This comparison cycle and self-critique impact mental health, leading to unhealthy behaviors as people try to match the norms of attractiveness and success presented online.

A Child Mind Institute article further explores this issue, revealing how teenagers curate their online images to display only the most enviable aspects of their lives. They feel left behind compared to their peers’ seemingly perfect lives, worsened by the curated, enhanced images on social media.

To help break this cycle, focus on being grateful for the present and personal achievements. Rather than constantly comparing yourself, embrace your unique qualities and set achievable goals.

Distortion of Features

When you snap a photo to share on social media, you’re not just capturing a moment; you’re also capturing a version of yourself. However, thanks to the many camera features, lighting conditions, angles, and image formats available, this version might not always be an accurate reflection. A camera’s lens alone can introduce distortion, making features appear larger or smaller than they actually are depending on the angle and proximity to the subject.

Lighting and shadows can accentuate or diminish certain features, while the intensity and direction of light can drastically change the appearance of your skin. Image formats and resolutions can further alter looks, with higher resolutions sometimes unflatteringly capturing every pore and blemish.

However, understanding that these distortions are a normal part of digital photography can help mitigate their impact on self-image. Remind yourself that these images are just snapshots and don’t represent worth or beauty.

Access to Constant Points of Comparison

Online images are carefully picked and often touched up to look their best. From fitness influencers with impossible abs to travel bloggers with endless adventures, constant comparisons can make it easy to feel inadequate.

Remember that these posts usually show the best moments, chosen from the regular, everyday stuff, and are often edited to look flawless. Behind every post, real people are struggling with their own insecurities.

How To Minimize the Negative Effects of Social Media on Body Image

Even though it might not feel like it, there are ways to dial down the impact of social media on body image. Here are actionable tips for a healthier social media relationship:

  • Set specific times to stop endlessly scrolling and negative self-comparison.
  • Take control of your feed by opting for body-positive accounts and educational content.
  • Understand how social media affects self-perception and share this insight with your community.

Along with these tips, it’s essential to recognize what makes you feel healthiest and most confident. For some, cosmetic surgery may be part of their journey. Procedures such as face and neck lifts, breast augmentation or reduction, liposuction, and tummy tucks can benefit those who are interested in physical changes to help elevate their self-confidence. For others, it might be a mindset refresh and an added self-care ritual, such as mindfulness practices or regular exercise.

Overall, understanding how social posts are curated and chosen can help you keep a healthier, more grounded view of yourself and the online sphere.

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