We use social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and blogs to virtually “connect” with people, updating each other with regular status reports and giving (and receiving) feedback about them. Social networking sites readily provide us with what we personally, professionally and socially need—and everything for free.
However, we should also be aware of the negative impact of social networking in our life. Staying on those sites takes so much of your time, especially if you have no self-discipline. And notice how painful comments affect our thoughts and actions.
Several articles and studies worldwide have shown how social networking sites like Facebook can create a negative perception of one’s body and weight when comparing one’s photos with the photos of friends. Facebook users usually post photos of themselves at their best body shape and clothes. People with self-esteem and body image issues can become easily affected by these hard-to-reach images, just like when seeing photos of models and celebrities in television, magazines and newspapers. According to mental health specialists, people get more affected by Facebook photos of others because these are real, un-Photoshopped photos of people they know, like family members and friends.
Results of an online survey for 600 Facebook users age 16-40 conducted by the researchers of Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt in Baltimore show that:
51 percent became more conscious of their body and weight after looking at photos of themselves;
44 percent wish they had the same body or weight as a friend when checking Facebook photos;
37 percent feel that they need to alter some parts of their body when they compare their bodies to their friends’;
32 percent feel sad when comparing their own Facebook photos to their friends’ photos;
31 percent have prevented themselves from eating specific food items, food groups or entire categories of food in an attempt to control their weight;
17 percent have engaged in binge eating;
12 percent have or have had an eating disorder (such as anorexia or bulimia)
7 percent have tried purging (such as vomiting in bulimia);
but only 25 percent are happy with their present weight.
Eighty percent of the respondents visit Facebook once a day and more than half of them log on numerous times a day. This implies that constant Facebook use may affect one’s body image, and can lead to weight obsession and preoccupation, unhealthy dieting practices and eating disorders as results of social comparison among Facebook peers.
Both young and old can be negatively affected by constant Facebook visits. In fact, a study this year conducted by professors at the University of Haifa shows that the more frequent an adolescent girl (average age: 14.8) spends on Facebook, the more chances of developing various eating disorders and negative body image.
How to use Facebook to avoid body image and self-esteem issues:
If you easily get affected by Facebook photos of your friends as they show their best life and body shapes, take a break and observe how it shows in your thoughts and actions. Then make time and effort to resolve your body and weight issues by talking to a counselor, friends, loved ones or someone you find comfortable sharing your concerns with.
Instead of social networking, engage in activities that will improve your body image, like exercises that can make you feel good about yourself (dancing, yoga, running) and reading self-help books that will modify your thinking.
Always put in mind that your own thoughts and feelings are important to your overall health. Knowing this, you will not allow updates and photos of others to cause you more stress and negative emotions.
Learn to manage your time when using Facebook. Set a schedule and just give yourself a few minutes to update your status and/or check updates you find meaningful and important to you.
Avoid focusing too much on physical appearance and interactions that include weight obsession, too much dieting and over-exercising. Shift your attention to positive feelings and thoughts. Say, “Wow, you look so happy and fulfilled spending your weekend with your family. You inspire me!” instead of, “You look so thin and sexy in your outfit!”
Instead of allowing yourself to feel insecure about others’ looks and accomplishments, restructure your thoughts. Believe that you can always be at your best without comparing yourself to others. Better yet, be an inspiration to others.
Parents, be involved in your children’s online activities. The study conducted by the University of Haifa shows that parents who were aware of their adolescent daughters’ media usage showed more personal empowerment of their daughters, leading to a protective guard against eating disorders.