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Social media: the untold story

While not beneficial to everyone, social media is not always a negative

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Social media: the ever-so-controversial hotbed of facetune, smiling couples, and superfluous lifestyles. Particularly with the rise of Instagram, the unwavering popularity of Facebook, and the excessive, not to mention inaccurate, over-sharing that comes with such sites, the entire concept of social media is regularly lamented as inherently evil.

Accusations of social media’s damaging impact on people’s body image and its contribution to increased numbers of eating disorders are relatively wide-spread and accepted. There is no denying that there is truth to such arguments: gone are the days where‘pro-ana’ sites were hidden within the dark depths of the internet: instead pictures of unattainable and incredibly edited men and women are in constant abundance to anyone and everyone.

Yet, the reality of social media’s influence on such matters is of a far more complex nature than that reported by mainstream outlets, often by middle-aged journalists some-what far removed from the issue at hand. Positive communities do exist online that are revolved around eating. From vegans to paleolithic, from those following the keto diet to those hoping to gain weight through healthy methods, there area multitude of accounts dedicated to encouraging and educating their followers. While following or even running an account with such a fixation on food has the potential to be harmful to some individuals, they also can be incredibly useful to those trying to change their diets or even, more generally, their relation-ship with eating.

Moreover, the body positivity movement is becoming increasingly prevalent on social media. Campaigners and members of the general public are resisting the main-stream mould of the ‘Instagram model’, whether that be through the promotion of images of less represented body types or by drawing attention to the fact that humans actually have more to offer to the world than their measurements.

One of the most notable examples is activist and actress Jameela Jamil’s ‘I Weigh’ campaign in which people are invited to share what they value about themselves and who they are beyond the number they see on the scale. These campaigns and the messages they promote are incredibly meaningful, especially considering the toxic context from which they have arisen.

The absolute necessity of the body and food positivity communities speaks volumes about the extent to which body image issues and eating disorders are plaguing our population. However, while these campaigns provide escapism from the manufactured images, anti-suppressant lollipops and detox tea ads that fill the feeds of so many Instagram users, their existence is still somewhat troubling. Through fighting something that contributes greatly, although must not be reduced to a single cause, to eating disorders and body dysmorphia, these campaigns draw attention to the very thing that they seek to detract from. Even those that promote intuitive eating and self-acceptance are perpetuating the idea that these matters are of paramount importance to an individual’s life and,while this sadly may be the case for many, it cannot be assumed for all.

I’m not naïve: an obsession with appearance and destroying oneself to attain the accepted standard of beauty has not been brought about by the age of the internet; body image and appearance has been a fundamental aspect of our society throughout much of modern history. However, social media provides the perfect canvas for which this obsession can be exaggerated, emphasised, and forced upon unassuming users.

While the messages of these movements and encouragements from these communities may well be positive, young people are still increasingly exposed to ideas about food and the body that they shouldn’t have to be. Social media allows everyone to be an expert of how to live and eat healthily, ensuring the widespread dissemination of previously niche terminology such as ‘macros’ and ‘intermittent fasting’.

The relationship between social media and body image is paradoxical to say the very least. A frustrating dichotomy seems inevitable as content lauding the so-called "perfect" perception of bodies continues, and thus causing the reactionary accounts promoting alternative understandings of beauty standards and attitudes towards food to be constantly fuelled, ensuring that the topic will always remain central.Moreover, perhaps excluding the highly altered images, an individual has every right to share such things;we ought not punish someone for having a gym-honed physique, or for sharing their daily diets, or for speaking openly about their own issues with their bodies.

Ultimately,body positivity campaigns and food-based communities may be able to help an individual, but they cannot be seen as beneficial to all. Nor are they a replacement for equipping people with an understanding and awareness of eating disorders, body dysmorphia, or general low self-esteem.

These issues of social media area manifestation and escalation of entrenched societal problems that have existed long before now, and are sadly likely to continue to exist.

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