While it would be difficult to find influencers who openly encourage their fans to have an eating disorder, it is in the content itself that the problem lies. Current research suggests there is a link between how often someone uses social media and their likelihood of developing an eating disorder. A perfect example of this is Instagram. The platform has recently faced negative publicity and increased scrutiny due to the suggestion that Instagram use, negatively impacts on the body consciousness of teenage girls.
During the pandemic, many young people turned to apps and platforms to help them stay connected. Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, the pandemic has had a major impact on young people’s mental health and eating disorders is no exception. One study showed that 55% of those living with an eating disorder reported that increased time spent online due to Covid-19 had worsened their symptoms.
From weight loss products, diet tips, and exercise regimes, social media can be an endless barrage of posts regarding losing weight and ‘improving’ your body.
Increasingly, we are seeing more and more influencers and celebrities take a ‘health and wellness’ angle, with the onus more on weight loss than healthy eating. The Kardashians have advertised appetite suppressant lollies. Cardi B promoted weight loss tea (and got a stern warning from the American Federal Trade Commission about it).
40% of girls aged 11-16 years old say they’ve seen images online that have made them feel insecure or less confident about themselves.
For a young person who is vulnerable, some of the common trends and content posted by social media influencers may be extremely triggering, including:
Once a young person starts searching for content associated with eating disorders (weight loss, diet tips, progress photos etc), the way that most social media algorithms work means they are more likely to keep seeing this type of content. This repeated exposure is only likely to reinforce their patterns of behaviour and serve as a constant reminder that they ‘aren’t thin enough’ or are ‘ugly’ or need to ‘work harder’ to achieve their so-called ‘goals’.