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How Social Media Affects Our Body Image + 3 Steps to Healthier Social Media

Social media is one of the biggest influences on women's body image today. We used to worry about the influence of pictures in fashion magazines, but now a lot of that content has moved to social media. How does photos on Instagram affect our body image? Renee Engeln - an award-winning professor of psychology - gives the answer. 

Part of the problem is that the images you see on social media don't represent real life. They've been filtered and edited, or people will pose a hundred times and pick just the right picture. When you see those pictures, it can give you the sense that everyone out there looks so ready all the time, that they all look so perfect.

The problem with that is, it's a normal human tendency to compare yourself to other people. So when you're scrolling through your social media and you see all these perfect looking people, it's really hard not to think "Well, how do I look in comparison with them?" That could be really bad for your body image if you feel like you're always losing this kind of competition. 

The more energy we spend thinking about how we look, the less happy we tend to be, the less healthy we tend to be.

Another thing social media can do that hurts your body image is to make you think about how you look all the time. If you constantly see these pictures of people posing, it just keeps drawing your own attention to your appearance.

And for most women, that's really not a great idea. The more energy we spend thinking about how we look, the less happy we tend to be, the less healthy we tend to be. So it's a good idea to take a break from social media and let your mind think about other things instead, whenever you can. 

Additionally, there’s a more direct way that social media influences body image. A lot of celebrities or influencers try to sell things like weight loss and diet plans that are actually dangerous or unhealthy, or beauty products that just don't do anything at all.

So Instagram and other social media platforms can really reinforce this idea that women should be dieting all the time, that you should always be trying to lose weight. And that's not particularly healthy either. 

Sometimes, in social media, you can even see a lot of direct body shaming. People will make comments like "You are too fat to wear that", "Why don't you go on a diet", things like that, which are really destructive and cruel. I think you can take steps to have healthier social media. 

3 steps to healthier social media

  1. Be really careful who you follow and you can block, hide, or unfollow people who end up making you feel bad about your body.
  2. Try to follow people who have healthy messages and people who talk about things other than how they look and how everyone else looks. 
  3. But sometimes more than that, what you just need is to spend some time away from social media. I often encourage people to pretend that they are scientists who say "Well, this is an experiment, I'm going to try one day without social media and see how it makes me feel." And if you find that it makes you feel healthier, that it makes you have a more positive relationship with your body, then maybe that's a sign that you need to cut back on social media.

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