The impact of social media on mental health is a popular topic of discussion among psychologists. Body image is an important aspect of mental health that revolves around how one perceives their own body. Since both body shape and weight are thought to be in control of the individual themselves, many people find themselves worried about their own appearances.
Many psychological studies have concluded that a large proportion of the population is significantly unhappy with their own body. While a poor body image is not a mental health condition, it often paves the path for other unhealthy conditions such as eating disorders or depression.
Long before the era of social media, people had access to magazines that portrayed the image of idealized bodies. Women’s bodies were reduced to their slimness, youthfulness, and flawlessness in order to adhere to societal standards of beauty. However, social media has aggravated the problem to an entirely new level.
With Instagram models posing with their perfect bodies and promoting dietary supplements, one is forced to wonder whether their own body is imperfect. Doctored images are flooding our social media feeds and consuming such content could be detrimental to one’s mental wellbeing.
While beauty standards were once only focused on women, there has been an increasing change in dynamic through social media. Even men are now subject to such beauty standards, including a muscular upper body, flat stomach, and narrow hips. As such doctored images become the norm, we easily begin comparing ourselves to such idealized body shapes and fall victim to a poor body image for ourselves. Most of these beauty standards happen to be unattainable and unsustainable, which is why people suffer from eating disorders and depression for many years.
Even if certain legislation requires us to be aware of doctored photographs on social media, we continue to be influenced by them. Looking at a picture of a perfect body on Instagram forces us to compare ourselves with the beauty standard, often influencing the way we feel about our own bodies as a result.
Psychologists have been trying to discover the various impacts of one’s own body image and relationships with other people. Humans are social animals, which is why we cannot help but compare ourselves to the people around us. Early research in this area by Festinger allowed psychologists to discover the Social Comparison Theory which argued that upward and downward comparisons can have both positive and negative effects on mental health.
Recent research by the Mental Health Foundation concluded that idealized images shown on social media not only negatively impact one’s self-confidence, but it also results in poor mental wellbeing. As a result of consuming doctored and idealized content, both men and women are susceptible to spending both time and money on dietary supplements to alter their own appearances.
As psychologists continue to extend their support to people who struggle with their body image, eliminating the main cause (i.e., social media) is still a questionable debate. Unless people become aware of how things on social media are not a true depiction of reality, more and more people are at risk of developing mental health disorders in the near future.