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The Impact of Social Media Use on Body Image and Self-Esteem

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

A smiling woman looking down at her phone does not let social media negatively affect her self-esteem and body image

In the blog post "Navigating Social Media: The Impact on Body Image and Self-Esteem," the Love Discovery Institute explores the profound influence of social media on body image and self-esteem. The article delves into the negative impacts, such as triggering mental health issues and distorting body image perceptions, while also highlighting the potential positive effects when used mindfully. It offers strategies for healthier social media use and emphasizes the role of therapists in promoting body positivity. The post advocates for a future where social media fosters self-love and acceptance.

Table of Contents

The Prevalence of Social Media

In the digital age, social media has become an integral part of our lives. According to a report by Datareportal, as of 2023, there are 4.48 billion social media users worldwide, which is more than half of the global population. The primary users are young adults, with 90.4% of Millennials, 77.5% of Generation X, and 48.2% of Baby Boomers being active social media users. The most popular platforms include Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and more recently, TikTok, each with its unique features and user demographics.

Understanding the Effect of Social Media on Body Image

Social media platforms are filled with meticulously edited images of models, celebrities, and even everyday individuals, all seemingly in their best light. The constant exposure to these images can lead to a negative self-perception, potentially triggering mental health issues such as eating disorders and depression.

This phenomenon is not just limited to a few individuals. It's a widespread issue affecting a large portion of social media users, regardless of age or gender. The constant bombardment of "perfect" images can distort our understanding of normal bodies and realistic beauty standards, leading to a negative effect on body image, especially among teens.

The Role of Social Media in Eating Disorders

The impact of social media use on body image can be so profound that it leads to the development of eating disorders. The unrealistic expectations set by the images we see on social media can lead to body dissatisfaction, which is often a precursor to eating disorders. Here's a study that discusses the impact of social media on body image and eating disorders.

Research published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders has shown a correlation between time spent on social media and an increased risk of developing an eating disorder. This is particularly true when individuals follow accounts that promote unrealistic body ideals or when they compare their appearance to the images they see on these platforms.

How Social Media Affects Body Image in Teens

Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to the effects of disordered eating and low self-esteem. The pressures of peer comparison, coupled with the constant exposure to idealized images, can lead to feelings of inadequacy and a negative self-image. This can have long-term effects on their mental health, potentially leading to conditions such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.

The Role of Social Networks in Body Image Perception

Different social media platforms can have varying impacts on body image. For instance, Instagram, a platform heavily focused on visuals, has been linked to body dissatisfaction due to the prevalence of edited and filtered photos. On the other hand, platforms like Facebook and TikTok also contribute to body image issues, albeit in different ways. Understanding the role of each social network in shaping body image perceptions can help users navigate these platforms more healthily.

The Positive and Negative Effects of Social Media on Body Image

While the negative effects of how a body should look are well-documented, it's important to note that these platforms can also have a positive effect. When used mindfully, social media can be a tool for promoting self-esteem and have a positive impact on individuals.

The Negative Effects

The negative effects of social media usage are largely due to the unrealistic expectations it sets. Social media often presents an ideal body image that is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. This can lead to poor body image, and even mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Moreover, social media can negatively affect body image among teens and young adults, a demographic that is particularly vulnerable to these influences. The constant comparison to peers and celebrities can lead to feelings of inadequacy and a negative self-image.

The Positive Effects

On the flip side, social media can positively impact body image when used correctly. For instance, following content creators who promote realistic and diverse body images can help shift your mindset and foster a more positive body image.

Social media can also be a platform for individuals to share their body image struggles and victories, creating a sense of community and support. This can help individuals feel less alone in their struggles and can promote self-esteem.

The Power of Body-Positive Content on Social Media

One of the ways to use social media to positively impact body image is through the promotion of body-positive content. This includes content that celebrates all body types and promotes body acceptance and body confidence.

Body-positive content on social media can range from posts by influencers who share unedited photos of their bodies, to accounts that focus on promoting a healthy body image and mental health. This type of content can help shift the narrative around body image on social media, promoting acceptance and appreciation of all body shapes and sizes.

The Role of Influencers in Shaping Body Image

Influencers play a significant role in shaping body image on social media. They have the power to either promote unrealistic body ideals or to challenge these ideals and promote self-esteem.

Unfortunately, many influencers contribute to body dissatisfaction by posting edited images of their bodies. However, there are also many influencers who are committed to promoting a positive body image. These influencers share images of their bodies without filters or edits, discuss their own body image struggles, and promote the acceptance of all body types.

The Role of Fitness Instructors and Models on Instagram

Fitness instructors and models on Instagram can have a significant impact on how people perceive their bodies. While some promote healthy lifestyles and self-esteem, others may contribute to unrealistic body ideals and expectations. It's important to be mindful of the content you consume and to remember that many images are edited or represent only a small fraction of someone's life.

Strategies for Positive Social Media Use

Despite the potential negative impacts, there are several strategies to maintain a positive body image in the world of social media.

woman with health body image

Digital Detox

While completely abandoning social media might be challenging for most, taking a break from incessant scrolling can be a refreshing change. Engage in activities that promote well-being, such as reading, exercising, or meditating.

Taking a digital detox doesn't have to mean quitting social media entirely. It could be as simple as setting aside specific times of the day to be device-free, or limiting the amount of time you spend on social media each day.

Curate Your Feed

Instead of following celebrities with heavily edited photos, seek inspiration from accounts that promote positivity. This could include accounts that share inspiring landscapes, delicious food, or adorable animals. Following accounts that promote self-love can also be beneficial. These accounts often share realistic images and positive messages that can help counteract the negative impact of other, more idealized images on social media.

Seek Professional Help

Negative feelings about your body and low self-esteem can lead to serious mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. If you're struggling with negative body image, consider seeking help from a qualified therapist. Professional help can provide you with the tools and strategies you need to improve your self-esteem and body image. This could involve cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness techniques, or other therapeutic approaches.

The Role of Social Media Literacy

Educating young people about the potential pitfalls of social media, such as cyberbullying and unrealistic body image comparisons, is crucial. It's important to understand that social media often doesn't reflect reality. With the right approach, social media can be a positive space that fosters community and support. Social media literacy involves understanding how social media works, recognizing the ways in which it can distort reality, and learning how to use it in a way that promotes rather than undermines self-esteem and body image.

Building a Body-Accepting Community on Social Media

Social media can be a powerful tool for building communities, including those that focus on body acceptance. By following and engaging with body-positive accounts, you can help build a community that supports and uplifts each other. This can be a powerful antidote to the negative messages often found on social media.

The Impact of Body Image on Mental Health

Negative body image doesn't just affect how we see ourselves physically; it can also have a significant impact on our mental health. Feelings of body dissatisfaction can lead to conditions such as anxiety and depression. In more severe cases, it can also contribute to the development of eating disorders. Understanding this link is crucial in promoting healthier body image attitudes and mental health outcomes.

How can a therapist help individuals promote body positivity.

A therapist can play a crucial role in helping individuals promote body positivity through therapy. By utilizing their expertise in psychology and mental health, therapists can assist individuals in developing a healthy and positive association between their mind and body. Through various therapeutic techniques, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or mindfulness techniques, therapists can help clients recognize and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs related to their appearance. Moreover, therapy sessions can provide a safe and non-judgmental space for clients to express their feelings and concerns about their body image, enabling them to explore underlying factors that may contribute to their negative self-perception. By addressing these issues, therapists can help improve mood and overall mental well-being. Furthermore, therapists can work collaboratively with clients to enhance self-esteem and encourage self-acceptance, empowering individuals to embrace their uniqueness and value beyond physical appearance. Therapy can also help individuals focus on their strengths and reduce the harmful effects associated these platforms. Overall, therapy can be an invaluable tool in promoting body positivity and cultivating a healthier relationship with one's body.

The Future of Body Image and Social Media

talk therapy for body image

As we move forward, it's crucial to continue the conversation about body image and social media. With increasing awareness and education, we can hope for a future where social media platforms are a source of positivity and acceptance, rather than pressure and insecurity. By promoting body-positive content, challenging unrealistic beauty standards, and supporting each other in our body image journeys, we can make a significant impact. Together, we can create a social media environment that fosters self-love, acceptance, and respect for all body types.


While the use of social media can negatively impact self-esteem and dissatisfaction with dibody image, it can also be a tool for positivity and support when used mindfully. By curating your feed, promoting self-esteem, and seeking professional help when needed, you can navigate social media in a way that enhances your self-esteem and body image.

Remember, it's not about striving for perfection, but about fostering a healthy and positive relationship with your body and yourself. With the right approach, social media can be a tool for empowerment, self-expression, and connection, rather than a source of insecurity and self-doubt.

Boost your self-esteem with the support of a qualified, caring therapist

Social media can really affect self-esteem and body image if we use it the wrong way. Of course, none of us are immune to the idealized images we see and the comparisons that follow. If you use it the right way though, by following body-positive and non-image-based accounts and limiting your screen time, you can experience the benefits without the negative impact on self-esteem.

If you are ready to get started with therapy to help address your feelings, make an appointment with any of our psychotherapists today. Still unsure about how we can help? Call us at 305-605-5683.

We are here to support you.

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