Social media is a popular tool for communication and entertainment. Few people would question the fact that people are spending an increasing amount of time on these new media platforms. In recent years, social media has become much more visual in presentation and layout. However, it’s the evolution of the technology used to manipulate and alter images that have researchers concerned as the lines blur between social perception and reality, especially when it comes to the development of body dysmorphia.
Social Perception vs Reality
The journalist Katie Couric made headlines when she shared an unedited selfie of herself without makeup. She shared the image of herself to draw attention to social media’s impact on body image. Couric was encouraging people to embrace their natural self and not be ashamed. Mental health professionals are concerned that unknowingly viewing heavily edited images can create a sense of body dysmorphia in the viewers. The term “Snapchat dysmorphia” has become an increasingly common phrase.
In the past decades, people have become accustomed to seeing heavily edited images in advertisements. The fact that individuals in these ads have been airbrushed either physically or digitally is not a surprise. But now the technology has advanced to a level where the common social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat all have heavily edited photos. These images can portray an unrealistic and unattainable reality. Social media’s impact on body image can lead to body dysmorphia as viewers and users try to attain the unattainable.
The question is whether social media users are aware that these images of average, everyday people are altered using newer digital filters. The brain of the viewer who is looking at the image may not realize that it has been altered. This lack of awareness can have a negative impact on the viewer’s personal body image, and potentially lead to an eating disorder like body dysmorphia.
Does Social Media Cause Body Dysmorphia?
Image and video editing software have been around for many years. What’s changed is that now there are downloadable apps that offer high-tech image filtering capabilities. Now almost anybody can modify a photo on their smartphone, with no previous experience required. Photo editing applications like Adobe Lightroom or Facetune make it easy for users to boost color saturation, clear up one’s complexion, or whiten a person’s teeth.
If you’re wondering, “does social media cause body dysmorphia?” The answer is that it may be a contributing factor. The fact that software can alter reality is not problematic. Issues occur when the people who are viewing the images are not aware that they’re looking at a distorted and edited reality. These edited images may present body image concepts that are physically unrealistic. Yet, due to the everyday, common feel of many social media platforms, viewers are sometimes tricked into believing they’re looking at unedited photos, which can lead to social media body dysmorphia.
Recent articles in the JAMA state that plastic surgeons are increasingly receiving requests to make patients look like their selfie images. Again, this is because photo editing software is becoming the norm, which is altering people’s perception of beauty and their overall body image.
The growth in cases of what some researchers are calling “Snapchat dysmorphia” or social media body dysmorphia can negatively impact people’s self-esteem. If severe enough, these self-esteem and body image issues can develop into body dysmorphia.
Other studies show that there’s not only a correlation between body dysmorphia and social media, but there’s also a correlation between social media use and eating disorders like orthorexia. People with this disease excessively focus on what they consider healthy eating. In doing this, they can damage their physical health. Studies have also shown a correlation between orthorexia and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). And some studies are pointing to a link between Instagram users and signs of orthorexia.
Broader research has shown that there is a definite correlation between social media usage and negative feelings. A recent study from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine indicated that the more time individuals spent on social media websites, the more isolated and lonelier they felt. Researchers believe that social media websites expose people to “highly idealized representations” of other people’s lives. This, in turn, creates feelings of envy as well as a distorted belief that other people are happier and more successful.
As more studies are conducted, it appears that the heavy consumption of social media content can lead to negative consequences. There’s a strong tie between body dysmorphia and social media. And although social media alone may not create eating disorders, like body dysmorphia, and other mental health concerns, it can exacerbate a pre-existing problem. For additional information about this body image dysmorphia or eating disorders in general, please reach out to us.
Treatment for Body Dysmorphia
At Toledo Center, we provide high-quality, compassionate treatment for eating disorders, including body image dysmorphia. We provide individualized care for each client in a state-of-the-art treatment environment. Our treatment is an effective and safe alternative to hospitals or hospital-based programs.