Has this culture improved in almost a decade of writing?
Not so much.
In fact, recent research has alarmed us to the dangers of social media (including blogging) in promoting eating disorders and a more general disordered mentality. We've learned that exposure to Facebook; certain Twitter hashtags; and images on Pinterest, Instagram, and blogs can trigger pathology in those who are predisposed. Terms like "pro-ana," "thinspo," "fitspo," "thigh gap," and "food porn" have become part of our vernacular.
Social media sites can challenge those with clinical eating disorders due to the sites' promotion of the the thin ideal. Users are posting only the best, most flattering pictures of themselves, raising the bar for beauty/appearance. Those with eating disorders then compare themselves against others' best (edited?) selves. Technology presents us with a virtually infinite comparison group.
Plus, social media feeds often read like diet directives. Those we connect with online post often on their weight loss victories, their marathon training, the cleanses, diets, and juicing they're trying - all of this can be triggering for those susceptible to disordered eating. Moreover, many sites run advertising promoting the thin ideal, which can further body dissatisfaction. Ads pop up on users' feeds (and sidebars) for diet plans, exercise programs, "fitspo" images, all of which can reinforce unhealthy ideas about food and weight.
But social media can also be an incredible ally for recovery, growth, and change. And that is why I blog.
At the International Conference of Eating Disorders in March of this year, Australian health psychologist, Phillipa Diedrichs stated that through our use of social media, "We become the media." When we speak of all the evils of the media with regard to eating and body image disturbances, we must recognize that there are powerful counterculture voices in the mix, louder than ever before.
So, how exactly are we positively impacting the world around us? Here are a few examples:
- When lingerie store La Perla featured a frighteningly thin mannequin in their Manhattan shop, a Twitter firestorm forced the company to take it down.
- Thierry Lasry's line of "Anorexxxy"sunglasses came under a similar social media attack, despite celebrity endorsements. The result? The designer changed the name of the glasses to "Axxxexxxy."
- Proud2BMe teen ambassador, Benjamin O'Keefe, successfully campaigned to get retailer Abercrombie Fitch to carry plus sizes.
- Two teenagers, Liana Rosenman and Kristina Saffran, founded Project Heal, to increase eating disorder awareness and offer treatment scholarships.
- When Melissa Fabello recently posted a video on youtube (see below) highlighting why she's a body image activist, this hashtag went viral and connected tons of body image warriors around a theme.
I love being part of the exchange of information, the connection of like-minded thinkers, and the burgeoning revolution that provides an alternative voice and challenges the thin ideal that has deleterious consequences for some and unfortunate consequences for all.
How can you use social media as friend, rather than foe?
- Recognize if your participation on certain sites is causing you distress and evaluate the pros/cons of continuing to use these sites.
- Create and manage a list of sites, organizations, and people to follow that promote recovery and body positivity (check out my sidebar for my recommendations).
- Learn how to remove triggering advertisements from your sites and consider reporting those that promote pathology.
- Become an activist yourself - the more vocal you are, the better in terms of furthering the movement and bettering your own recovery and relationship with your body.
- If you have children who go online, be sure to monitor them closely and talk to them about how certain websites and images make them feel.
Are we still swimming upstream when it comes to challenging dangerous media influences on self-esteem? Probably. But now there's a swelling current that carries us.