How Does Social Media Affect Your Body Image?

effects of social media

Researchers say using social media impacts your body image, but not in a positive way. [1]

No matter what platform you use, and no matter how much you try to think positively while you’re interacting, social media sites are filled with traps. You could emerge from a quick app check feeling less happy about your appearance. 

Repeat this association over several weeks, months, or even years, and you could believe that you’re not as thin, fit, or pretty as everyone else. And you could change your diet accordingly.

Social media sites don’t have to be negative. A few simple steps could help you take control. 

The more you know about the dangers, the less likely you will let these sites change how you feel about yourself. When it comes to social media, knowledge really is power. 

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7 Ways Social Media Can Harm Your Body Image

Creating and interacting with some types of content could worsen your body image. Unfortunately, there are a few troublesome activities many people deal with every day on social media.

1. Posting Photos of Your Body

Researchers say uploading photos and seeking feedback are closely identified with poor body image. [2] It’s a simple-seeming activity that could have dangerous consequences. 

For example, you purchase a new dress, pose in front of the mirror, and post an image with the caption, “Don’t I look cute?” Your body image plummets as soon as you get one negative comment about how you look. 

2. Seeing Perfect People

It’s easy to curate social media images. Influencers find the perfect background, invest in great lighting, and pose multiple times before finding the most flattering pose. 

Viewers often forget about the hard work behind social posts. Instead, they believe all these people look beautiful all the time. And sometimes, viewers want to look like the influencers they follow.

Researchers say engaging with content made by women who had plastic surgery made other young women want cosmetic enhancements. [3] Social media can normalize unusual body shapes and sizes. The more you look at surgically thin or shapely people, the more you may believe you need to change your body dramatically. 

Anorexia is a life-threatening illness. People with anorexia often can’t see how dangerous their activities are and create content to inspire others to slim down and diet. 

3. Finding Pro-Ana Content 

So-called pro-ana content often appears on sites like Instagram.

Content like this often includes harmful tips. But some users also post photos of their bodies and ask others to rate them or tell them how much weight to lose. Seeing these photos, whether of your body or not, can distort your body image.

In 2020, a reporter found hundreds of Instagram accounts with pro-ana-based usernames. [4]

4. Using Filters

Apps like Instagram and TikTok come with computer-generated filters. Apply them, open your camera, and create an entirely different reality. 

Often, these filters allow people to make their bodies fatter or thinner. With a quick tap, you can turn the filter on and off and see what you’ll look like when you’re bigger or smaller. 

Playing with your appearance like this can distort your body image. You might start the experiment feeling like you’re at a normal weight. You may be convinced to change your diet when you’re done tapping. 

5. Seeing Targeted Ads

Some social media users report being targeted with weight loss advertisements after engaging with body positivity content. [5] If all the ads you see suggest that you need to diet or lose weight, you could start to believe that you should change your body. 

These messages can be persistent and very hard to ignore. 

6. Interacting With Your Peers

Social media sites depend on relationships. Your followers or friends should see your posts, and they’re encouraged to react to them or somehow give you feedback. What if you post an image of your body and no one says anything? Or what if a friend gives you a gentle comment suggesting you should lose weight? 

7. Being Bullied 

People post images or videos of their clothes, bodies, or meals, and enemies write incredibly hurtful comments. The pain is the point, so the more harmful the comment, the better. 

It’s often hard to forget the comments we read online. The words tend to reverberate, even when we want to forget them. And the next time we’re set to share content, we think twice, wondering if someone will attack us. 

About 37% of people ages 12 to 17 have been bullied online. [6] Sometimes, that bullying takes the form of fat shaming. 

How to Address the Problem

The easiest way to address the problem of social media and body image is to delete your accounts. 

Woman working on computer

But many people enjoy social media. For example, you can use your accounts to stay in touch with family members, classmates, and your community. And in an emergency, your social accounts could keep you connected with law enforcement and other officials. 

The key is to remember that you control your social media accounts. They don’t control you. These six steps can help you make the most of your time online:

1. Watch the Clock

More than half of all teens say they spend just about the right amount of time online. [7] But are you sure that’s true? 

Designate one week to phone-only social media access. Use tools on your phone to measure how long you spend on each platform. Then, think about what else you could do with that time. 

You don’t have to cut out your social channels altogether. But look for ways to enjoy your time offline, away from negative influences. 

2. Opt Out

If you see an ad you don’t like, report it. Tell the app developers why it harms your body image, and encourage them to create new content. Then, block that advertiser from reaching out to you again. 

If a creator’s work makes you feel bad about your body, reassess. Take a break from that account for a week or two, and notice how you feel.

3. Choose Positivity

You’re not required to follow harmful creators. Plenty of people, groups, and organizations make body-positive content. Use your creativity and think up hashtags that mean the most to you and your body. 

Search for other people making content related to those tags. You could fill up your feed with people who think just like you, and your time on social media could make you feel better about yourself and your life. 

4. Amplify What You Love 

Social media sites can become hotbeds of negativity and disagreement. When you see content you don’t like, it’s easy to lash out. Instead, look for ways to spread positivity in your feed.

If someone shares content that resonates with you, tell them. If a brand uses plus-size models that make you feel good, thank them. Encourage others to create content that makes people feel better, not worse. 

5. Share Carefully

Before you post anything on a social media site, dig into your motivation. Are you hoping people will say nice things about your body? Is showing your body at all really required? 

Sharing snaps of your body could be harmful if you’re struggling with your body image. Look for ways to stay out of the frame until you feel more secure about your health. 

6. Talk to Someone

If you’ve followed these steps and you’re still struggling, talk to your doctor, a counselor, or someone you trust. These negative thoughts could be hard to handle alone, but a mental health professional could give you key insights. Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need. 

Resources


  1. Saiphoo AN, Vahedi Z. (2019). A Meta-Analytic Review of the Relationship Between Social Media Use and Body Image Disturbance. Computers in Human Behavior, 101:259-275.
  2. Holland G, Tiggemann M. (2016). A Systematic Review of the Impact of the Use of Social Networking Sites on Body Image and Disordered Eating Outcomes. Body Image, 17:100-110. 
  3. Walker CE, Krumhuber EG, Dayan S, Furnham A. (2019). Effects of Social Media Use on Desire for Cosmetic Surgery Among Young Women. Current Psychology, 40:3355-3364.
  4. Kersten L. (2020). Instagram Isn’t Doing Enough to Tackle Pro-Eating Disorder Content. Vice Media Group. Retrieved September 29, 2022.
  5. Milano S. (2018). I’m Sick of Being Fat-Shamed By Instagram. Oprah Daily. Retrieved September 29, 2022.
  6. 11 Facts About Cyberbullying. (n.d.). DoSomething.org. Retrieved September 29, 2022.
  7. Vogels EA, Gelles-Watnick R, Massarat N. (2022). Teens, Social Media, and Technology 2022. Pew Research Center. Retrieved September 29, 2022.

Last Update | 11 - 7 - 2022

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