There is no doubt the impact that social media has on body image is very much a legitimate and present thing in modern society. You may be surprised however to know that depending on the platform, social media can effect body image in different ways.
A recent study by UC Davis analyzed content that appeared on Twitter and Pinterest under the tags “thinspiration” and “thinspo,” which are commonly used by those trying to lose weight. According to Medical Daily, the majority of the images that appeared under these tags featured “headless bodies of women and predominantly focused on the pelvis, abdomen, or thighs, while also tending to be sexually suggestive.”
Although these images appeared on both Pinterest and Twitter, the study found that the way in which the images were presented and portrayed varied between the websites.
In an interview with Medical Daily, Jannath Ghaznavi, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication, said that Pinterest is “a little more muscularity while focusing on some kind of fitness, they were less sexualized, and they showed more heads.” Twitter on the other hand, she found showed images that were “bonier, more segmented, and more sexualized.”
The issue with this is not only that the images promote unhealthy and unrealistic body images as ideal, but also that according to Medical Daily, the users of Twitter are much younger and therefore more impressionable.
Even more so, Ghaznavhi is quoted in Medical Daily explaining that, the engagement aspect of social media could be the most dangerous part. When pictures are posted portraying these unrealistic ideals, they collect likes, retweets, and comments— all serving as positive reinforcement for the users.
So, I searched the hashtag on twitter to see what came up as a “thinspiration” and the results were extremely disturbing to say the least.
The problem is that these hashtags are not used alone, they also are commonly paired with “fitness” and “health” making the pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia messages much more visible to a wider audience.
No wonder social media use, especially in young girls, is associated with poor body image and self-esteem. By portraying unrealistic and unhealthy images as normal, we are not only damaging only damaging our own self-esteem, but sending toxic messages to impressionable adolescents and then positively reinforcing those messages with likes, comments, and retweets.