As body and weight obsessions continue to be a big problem in Western society, Facebook is reportedly making the situation worse. 51 percent of Facebook users report that seeing photos of themselves and others on the social network makes them more conscious of their body and weight. Since Facebook is used by all age groups, the toxic effects of public body shaming, body comparisons, and self-criticism on the social network isn't just limited to teenagers.
The findings come from an online survey conducted by The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt (TCEDSP) to examine how social media is influencing body image and hyper-awareness of body size. It was conducted last month by asking questions to a national sample of 600 Facebook users (197 male and 403 females) between the ages of 16 and 40. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
Here are the four main findings:
- People spend a lot of time on Facebook and in doing so, spend a lot of time analyzing their bodies and the bodies of others:
- 80 percent of respondents log into Facebook at least once a day.
- Of that, 61 percent say they login several times a day.
- 51 percent of respondents said that seeing photos of themselves make them more conscious about their body and weight.
- 51 percent agree that they often find themselves comparing their life to that of their friends when they read status updates and see pictures posted.
- 32 percent said they feel sad when comparing Facebook photos of themselves to their friend's photos.
- 44 percent wish they had the same body or weight as a friend when looking at photos.
- 37 percent feel they need to change specific parts of their body when comparing their bodies to friend's bodies in photos.
- Facebook appears to be fueling a "camera ready" mentality among the general public:
- 44 percent said they are always conscious when attending social events that photos of them might get posted on Facebook.
- 43 percent will avoid having people photograph them at a social event if they don't feel they look their best.
- Advances in Facebook technology such as Timeline, are making it easier for people to track body and weight changes:
- 53 percent have compared their body and weight in photos taken at different times.
- 14 percent have used Facebook's new weight loss tracker. 37 percent are interested in trying it.
- People are not happy with their bodies and are engaging in dangerous behaviors in connection with those feelings:
- Only 25 percent of respondents said they are happy with their current body and weight.
- 69 percent said they would like to lose weight.
- 31 percent have avoided intake of specific food items, food groups, or entire categories of foods in an attempt to lose or control weight.
- 17 percent said they have engaged in binge eating with 7 percent reporting that they have purged.
- 12 percent said they currently have or have had an eating disorder.
- 8 percent said they have thought they may have an eating disorder.
"As people spend more time thinking about what's wrong with their bodies, less time is spent on the positive realm and engaging in life in meaningful and fulfilling ways," Dr. Steven Crawford, TCEDSP's associate director, said in a statement. "When people become more concerned with the image they project online and less concerned with holistic markers of health in real life, their body image may suffer and they may even turn, or return, to harmful fad diets or dangerous weight-control behaviors. We hope the results of this survey encourage people to really look at how their online behavior affects their outlook, and we caution them against being overly critical of their own bodies or other people's bodies while on Facebook and other social networking sites."
"Facebook is making it easier for people to spend more time and energy criticizing their own bodies and wishing they looked like someone else," Dr. Harry Brandt, director of TCEDSP, said in a statement. "In this age of modern technology and constant access to SmartPhones and the internet, it's becoming increasingly difficult for people to remove themselves from images and other triggers that promote negative body image, low self-esteem and may ultimately contribute to eating disorders."
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