Recent research has pointed to a correlation between high Facebook usage and an increased risk for eating disorders. This research study appeared in the January 2014 issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders. The study included 960 college women and found that Facebook use was associated with the maintenance of weight/shape concerns and anxiety compared to an alternate Internet activity. Read more about this research here.
Specifically, this study suggests a connection between Facebook users who highly value “likes” on their photos to a risk for eating disorders. Photos are often a way for people to get validation, and an ever-increasing competition is driven online via likes and comments on posts. Comparisons inevitably occur as people view their friends’ photos and begin to see themselves as being not as attractive, successful, happy, etc. as their friends appear to be.
Another study involving 1,087 Australian adolescent girls ages 13–15 was published in the September 2013 issue of the same journal. The young girls completed questionnaires measuring Internet consumption and body image concerns.
The girls’ Internet consumption was primarily focused on email, instant messaging, social networking, and streaming media. Their average time spent online was two hours per day. Several common eating disorder traits were observed, including surveillance (viewing the body as an outside observer), body shame (feeling shame when the body does not conform), appearance control beliefs, and a drive for thinness.
Internet exposure was significantly correlated with internalization, body surveillance, and drive for thinness. Furthermore, Facebook users scored significantly higher on all measures of body concerns than their non-user counterparts. Among the subsample of Facebook users, the number of Facebook friends was correlated with eating-disorder tendencies.
Facebook has become another medium where images are idealized. Adolescent and adult Facebook users alike are taught that approval of photographs is the basis of self-worth. But Facebook is just one example.
A smartphone app called Facetune, which allows users to airbrush and enhance their photos, takes this pattern of idealization to another level. Writing in Business Insider, journalist Caroline Moss describes how the Facetune app gives users the ability to alter or erase flaws — wrinkles, dark spots, less than perfectly white teeth, dully colored eyes — thereby raising the stakes in the growing trend of indulgent self-portraits, or “selfies.”
Social media and apps enable people to connect in ways that were unimaginable 20 years prior. But these advancements in technology have also ushered in new ways to propagate unrealistic beauty ideals and the idea that natural human flaws are to be controlled and removed. As we spend more time online, more of our identity is invested in our Internet relationships. It is important to be conscious of this, and to always remember that online, many things are not quite what they seem.