Let’s consider three statistics on how social media impacts how people view their appearance and how body image can affect daily activities:
- Using social media for 30 minutes a day can change the way you view your body.
- Sixty-two percent of social media users wish it was a space that empowered body positivity.
- Seventy-nine percent of girls and 85% of women admit to opting out of important events in their lives when they don’t feel they look their best.
Today, people are bombarded with images on social media, many of them filtered or edited in a way that’s not reflective of how real people look. But even when people recognize what they’re seeing is not realistic, they still get the message that real body types and unedited appearances aren’t good enough.
There’s an expectation for how people look when they are portrayed in the media. Consider a 2019 study, Selfie Harm. In the study, researchers had a photographer take pictures of teens. The teens were shown their pictures and told they could do what they want with them – edit them or leave them as is. Researchers found that every person edited their images to make them “worthy” of social media – even if they preferred their original shot.
Trying to live up to unrealistic appearance expectations can lead to mental health conditions such as body dysmorphic disorder. The condition is characterized by a persistent preoccupation over a perceived defect in one’s appearance. This includes slight flaws that are exacerbated in someone’s mind or even something that’s imagined or nonexistent.
Although there is not a definitive cause of body dysmorphic disorder, that are things that can predispose people to the condition, including biological and environmental factors, being prone to perfectionism or anxiety, and experiencing a traumatic event.
Risk factors include being bullied or experiencing abuse – especially if it’s related to appearance, having low self-esteem, comparing yourself to others, having a history of depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder, being in competition with others and participating in sports or activities that emphasize appearance – for example, gymnastics, wrestling and dance.
Wondering if you or a loved one may have body dysmorphic disorder? Watch for these symptoms:
- Body checking – A person may frequently look at reflective surfaces to check his or her face, hair or body.
- Avoiding mirrors or reflective surfaces
- Hiding body parts or shifting the appearance of them – for example, always wearing long sleeves to hide the arms or doing hair or makeup in a certain way
- Excessive, time-consuming exercise or hygiene patterns
- Comparison with others or asking for a lot of reassurance
- Strong cognitive distortions – for example, inability to see the actual size of a body part
Body image acceptance is challenging to achieve, but admitting you are struggling is the first step. Talk to a therapist or mental health professional to learn the skills and tools you need to adjust your perspective and engage in activities that support your wellbeing.
Linden Oaks Behavioral Health can help if you’re struggling with body dysmorphic disorder. We offer the full spectrum of care including inpatient, intensive outpatient and outpatient care with our therapists and counselors. We can also provide referrals and connect patients with community resources that can help them in their recovery.