The Influence of Social Media on Body Image and Mental Health

Recently, there has been an upsurge of body-positive content online, such as images that highlight different facial features, disabilities and skin types and tones.

However, various studies demonstrate an association between social media use and eating disorders and body dissatisfaction and disordered eating symptoms. By decreasing social media usage, improvements may occur in body dissatisfaction and disordered eating symptoms.

Unrealistic Images

Social media platforms such as Instagram are filled with carefully edited pictures that may present individuals as being “perfect.” These photos may lead to body dissatisfaction for teens and young adults who may struggle to distinguish between realistic and unrealistic beauty standards.

Idealized body types could also lead to unhealthy behaviors, including disordered eating. A 2018 study conducted with 14 women demonstrated an association between social media usage and an eating disorder developing among them; specifically when scrolling through appearance-related content.

Concerns are being expressed regarding “muscle dysmorphia,” the perception that one does not possess enough muscle mass. This could lead to overexercising which could damage one’s health as well as contribute to developing eating disorders in some individuals.

Unrealistic Expectations

Setting unreasonable expectations can be detrimental to one’s mental health. Though setting high goals is motivating and encourages growth, when they prove unachievable they can lead to self-criticism and chronic stress.

Social media posts depicting celebrities, athletes and ordinary individuals in their best light can lead to comparison. This is especially true among young women. A 2021 study showed that those who often or always compared their physical appearance with people they followed on social media reported feeling discontented with their bodies than those who rarely or never did so.

There are ways to address body dissatisfaction on social media. Studies indicate that body positive content such as pictures of diverse groups of people or funny captions could help alleviate body dissatisfaction, as can being mindful about our time spent online–this could include using apps like TikTok that enable users to limit how long they use social media and even block certain users altogether.

Self-Esteem Issues

One of the major drawbacks of social media is how it can negatively affect our self-esteem, usually as a result of unrealistic expectations or the tendency for many people to share only their best photos, leading us to compare ourselves with them and feel jealous or lack self-worth from what they post or consume. This can have serious repercussions if our identity and worth depend heavily on receiving positive reactions or validation through what we consume on social media.

Reminding ourselves and teaching young people the art of media literacy are crucial parts of living an informed life online.

Encourage healthy body image and assist those struggling with body image issues, with many online groups that provide support and encouragement; it’s never too late to seek professional assistance should one be necessary; such as seeking the advice of a therapist specializing in body image issues who may identify underlying problems as well as offer healthy practices to counteract social media’s effects on one’s self-esteem.


Social media can be an effective tool in aiding mental health. Many individuals use it to share personal stories and raise awareness of depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness. Furthermore, communities of like-minded people provide an avenue for connection and may offer comfort from such feelings of isolation.

Others share fitness journeys, workout routines and healthy recipes to inspire positive lifestyle changes in others. Unfortunately, this can also create feelings of FOMO (fear of missing out) and body dysphoria when people compare themselves with seemingly ideal images online. It may also become a venue for cyberbullying from anonymous individuals behind keyboards who attempt to humiliate others online.

Studies have linked social media use with increased anxiety, moodiness, depression and sleep problems. Tracking your daily social media usage using an app can help you see how much time is being spent on platforms which may be harmful to your mental wellbeing; practicing mindfulness when engaging with social media could improve overall mental wellbeing.

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