Date Published: 9 January 2020
How to build a more positive relationship between social media use and body image
The existance of a link between the use of social media and mental health issues such as the development of adverse personal body image, especially among users in their teens and early twenties, has been the subject of research and reports for some time. Concerns about the health impact of social media were reported on this website in November 20171, quoting material from the American Medical Association (AMA).
An important question is how to respond to modern challenges such as potentially harmful aspects of social media.
How to build a more positive relationship between social media and our body image is the subject of a recent report by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) Scotland and the University of Strathclyde2.
The 10-page report, entitled "#HealthySocialMedia" is available to download without charge or requirement to register personal details3. It follows from a conference organised by the MHF and Strathclyde University, during which young people, educators, social media influencers, charities and others collaborated to share personal experiences of using social media and its impact on their body image. One of the purposes of the conference, which took place in May 2019 and included 50 people from 15 different organisations throughout Scotland, was to learn from individual experiences in order to generate strategies and possible solutions to help build a more positive relationship between social media use and body image.
The participants discussed how they present on and off-line, how this may differ with face-to-face communication and how they feel while using social media. They also identified specific negative and positive digital behaviours and possible strategies for healthy social media use.
Dr Petya Eckler, Leader of the project at Strathclyde University, said:
" Social media can be fun, it can be supportive and empowering, it connects us with friends and keeps us informed. But it can also create negative and alienating experiences. And for many young people, it triggers self-doubt, insecurity, and poor body image.
_ Our new report recognises this link and uses people's first-hand experiences to build some key strategies for better social media experiences."
The report proposed some general strategies (listed below), together with more specific ideas about how to implement each of these. For example, managing the content one is exposed to might include ceasing to interact with disturbing, harmful or 'toxic' pages or sources, perhaps by blocking certain posts and/or unfollowing unwelcome influences.
Positive behavious and proposed strategies listed in the report include:
- Limit time spent online and in apps
- Educate yourself and others
- Talk openly and honestly about what happens on social media
- Manage your online content for a positive experience
- Be self-aware: think of how you respond to certain content and how that may affect you and others
- Allow and encourage young people to lead the discussion on this issue
The report includes and is supported by a dozen references to research papers and reports on the subjects of body image and the media dating from 2001.