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OPINION: Is Social Media Drip-Feeding Teens Doses Of Disordered Eating

In many ways, social media is a wonderful creation. It allows us to connect with like-minded people over hobbies and passions, existing at our fingertips. It’s been a huge part of my life over the past six years as both of my best friends live in different countries! Irrespective of time zones, we’re able to talk whenever possible - an aspect of social media I truly value.

Though, I’d be wearing rose-tinted glasses if I were to say social media doesn’t have its downfalls.

Comparison is often considered the thief of joy, and social media takes this to another level. There’s always someone posting about meeting up with all their friends or going to the best parties, leading to a pit of jealousy forming in your stomach. Everyone’s better than you. Every girl’s prettier and skinnier. Every boy is more muscular and more attractive. Body dysmorphia can affect every gender, as it is most commonly caused by low-self esteem. I can’t help but feel like social media contributes to this - a place where the biggest pitfalls of society come to light.

Unrealistic expectations to look a certain way are generally the consequence of a toxic culture around body image. It’s prevalent in film, television, pop culture - everything teens consume on a daily basis. However, the causes of disordered eating are endless, so much so that if I were to list them, this would turn into a dissertation. Eating disorders have a plethora of causes: family history, stress, and environment, but can mostly be defined by a desire for power. Controlling your diet to regain control is at the core of many eating disorders. Most of the time, appearances and social influence aren’t that relevant.

Pro-eating disorder groups inhabit hidden corners of the internet. Through Twitter pages, TikTok videos and notoriously, Tumblr blogs, a culture that romanticises this has bloomed. In the early 2010s, Tumblr in particular was rife with posts of quotes, movies and celebrities that essentially glamorised eating disorders. ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,’ supermodel Kate Moss’s mantra, spoke to thousands of Tumblr teens. To The Bone, Skins, and Girl, Interrupted were some of the media standouts in this unhealthy uprising. Now, it feels less cool and more damaging, with its roots planted firmly into internet culture. While most social media giants have started monitoring such posts, they still linger. Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr promote support websites and helplines before you seek out the posts, but what use is that if you’re already keen enough to pursue them online? An attempt at damage control, perhaps?

Naturally, people are going to search for communities and online friends sharing the same feelings - social media is often the place for that. There’s a Twitter community full of so-called advice threads for unsafe weight loss, hate tweets targeted at those with different body types, and calorie counter tweets, which all developed a toxic environment - a contest too. When I first joined Instagram, I felt right away that it was some kind of social contest of who’s doing the best in life. In online eating disorder groups, it’s who’s doing the best at their disorder.

TikTok isn’t much better. For instance, short but deceivingly sweet videos of teens documenting their daily routines in dangerous calorie deficits sugarcoat the culture around disordered eating, masquerading it as trendy, just like Tumblr did all those years ago. TikTok seems to have a certain charm to it where you can lose yourself in endless scrolling, and immerse yourself in another world. While it feels monotonous and mindless just tapping from video to video, the pro-eating disorder undertones of these posts still have an impact considering how impressionable a young TikTok audience can be. I somewhat feel a sense of guilt just discussing this, for fear of promoting something that destroys so many lives. Yet when you consider the fact that 25% of TikTok users are aged 10-19 (, 2022), it feels vital to open up a discussion about the harmful effects of social media on young people. While it’s difficult for me to practice what I preach, you’ve only got one body - try to treat it well.

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