Social media can be toxic for body image. It is highly visual and interactive, and appearance is central to success.
Collecting “likes” and followers provides an immediate marker of achievement and popularity. These feed directly into users’ sense of self-worth.
The interactive and sometimes anonymous nature of social media means feedback is instant and unfiltered. Negative feedback and criticism abound. This creates greater pressure on appearance and competition to outdo one’s peers.
Using social media often revolves around appearance. People spend a great deal of time checking out how they look compared with others – friends, peers, and celebrities – and spend a lot of time talking about appearance. This might be chat and interactions about trying to lose weight or bulk up muscle.
But more subtle interactions happen too, including things like receiving compliments about appearance that reinforce the importance of body image in how you are judged as a person. These “appearance conversations” and “appearance comparisons” play an important role in the development of body image concerns.
The way people present themselves on social media can also contribute to problems for body image. People often strive to present themselves in the best light, especially in relation to how they look.
It is not unusual for people to spend a great deal of time thinking about their next “selfie” opportunity and planning the right pose to capture their best and most attractive self. People often edit or add filters to their selfies, take many selfies before choosing one to post, and worry about the reactions of others.
The greater the effort and concern around creating and posting the most attractive selfies, the greater the body image concerns.
People can become trapped in a vicious world. They anxiously await “likes” and feedback from others, then feel wounded and disappointed if the desired response is not forthcoming. They then feel even more distressed and anxious about their appearance.