Hidden behind a screen: A generation of body image issues

Body Image_Kelsey Mason_Illustration
Illustration by Kelsey Mason

Now more than ever, we view ourselves and others constantly through various social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat. Apps like these are built to make photos and videos a way of connecting with those around us, but how does this impact how we see ourselves?

Body Dysphoria Disorder (BDD) is a rapidly increasing mental health condition that is ravaging the young people of America. BDD is the overwhelming obsession with one’s appearance, resulting in harmful behavior to alter the appearance or feelings of anxiety and dread in social situations. Mayo Clinic has labeled this condition as “common” with nearly 200,000 diagnosed cases a year.

It is vital to note that mental conditions such as BDD and other eating disorders are not just something females face. In fact, the National Institute of Health suggests that men are critically underrepresented in eating disorder services and are less likely to notice symptoms within themselves and have them identified by professionals. This has resulted in limited research in regard to the impact of eating disorders on men.

Danielle Rhodes, a dietician for Center for Change here in Boise, explains the alarming lack of research regarding eating disorders, and the disparity between those who are identified.

“Females are more likely to be identified as having eating disorders,” said Rhodes. “People don’t view men as capable of eating disorders.”

With apps like TikTok and Instagram on just about every young person’s cell phone, we are constantly exposed to unrealistic body standards, further impacting the way we view our bodies. The human body is a complex structure that changes and adapts from both  genetics and lifestyle. .

“It doesn’t matter how media literate we are, we feel the impact,” said Rhodes. “It impacts us whether or not we know it”

Modern gym culture has evolved rapidly as social media usage has grown. With the influx of “fitness influencers” taking over TikTok and Instagram, young people are rapidly becoming obsessed with imitating the body of another person. 

Laci Whipple, a Boise State master’s student studying eating disorders further, discusses the growing obsession with fitness and diet culture within college-aged men.

“A vast majority of men are experiencing compulsive exercise and disordered eating to achieve muscularity,” said Whipple. “That includes things like carb cycling, and fasting and the anabolic steroid use.”

Whipple also explained that the rapidly changing culture of “body positivity” may not be doing the at-risk generation any good. 

“If you just hate yourself and hate your body, body positivity or self-love is too big of a leap,” said Whipple “It’s still a focus on our external appearance.”

The younger generations’ growing obsession with body image and unrealistic body standards is slowly becoming a national epidemic. A typical scroll through TikTok or Instagram will reveal harmful images or videos within a matter of minutes. Videos like “How to Get Abs in a Week” or “How to Get a Revenge Body” are scattered throughout these platforms, available for anyone to see.

While many people go to the gym to simply exercise their body or reach a healthy goal, a generation that values aesthetics over health, strength or well-being can become problematic.

A healthy body is a good body, and that looks different for everyone. The excessive use of diets, supplements or over-exercising only further damages the mind and body, yet we do it anyway to achieve the figure of those online, which may be edited anyway.

Social media platforms are playing vital roles in the toxic obsession with appearances. Young minds are being filled with images of unrealistic bodies that will not perform the way in which they are intended. As bodies are “trending”, big-name advertisers are directly profiting off the backs of those chasing a body they saw online through advertisements and promotional videos targeting viewers’ insecurities.

The rising use of social media and focus on body image is posing as a great detriment to young minds. The body positivity and gym culture movement is still a looming threat on the way in which we look at ourselves. Diets, weights, and runs cannot pose as a cure for an eating disorder.

If you feel as though you may be at risk for disordered eating, go to nationaleatingdisorder.org or through Boise State University for information on how to get help.

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