With Facebook making it easier for its roughly 845 million users to connect and share pictures and videos with each other, the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt found that a lot of these behaviors are perpetuating the way our society feels about body image and potentially prompting a new obsession about weight.

“Facebook is making it easier for people to spend more time and energy criticizing their own bodies and wishing they looked like someone else,” said Harry Brandt, director of the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt. “In this age of modern technology and constant access to SmartPhones and the Internet, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for people to remove themselves from images and other triggers that promote negative body image, low self-esteem and may ultimately contribute to eating disorders.”

The center’s national survey of 600 Facebook users, ages 16 to 40, revealed that 51 percent of respondents reported that seeing photos of themselves and others on Facebook made them more conscious of their body and weight.

The researchers have broken their findings down into “four clear themes:”

1. People spend a lot of time on Facebook and in doing so, spend a lot of time analyzing their bodies and the bodies of others:

  • 80 percent of respondents log into Facebook at least once a day.
  • Of that, 61 percent say they login several times a day.
  • 51 percent of respondents said that seeing photos of themselves make them more conscious about their body and weight.

2. Facebook appears to be fueling a “camera ready” mentality among the general public:

  • 44 percent said they are always conscious when attending social events that photos of them might get posted on Facebook.
  • 43 percent will avoid having people photograph them at a social event if they don’t feel they look their best.

3. Advances in Facebook technology such as Timeline, are making it easier for people to track body and weight changes:

  • 53 percent have compared their body and weight in photos taken at different times.
  • 14 percent have used Facebook’s new weight loss tracker.
  • 37 percent are interested in trying it.

4. People are not happy with their bodies and are engaging in dangerous behaviors in connection with those feelings:

  • Only 25 percent of respondents said they are happy with their current body and weight.
  • 69 percent said they would like to lose weight.
  • 31 percent have avoided intake of specific food items, food groups or entire categories of foods in an attempt to lose or control weight.
  • 17 percent said they have engaged in binge eating.
  • 7 percent reporting that they have purged.
  • 12 percent said they currently have or have had an eating disorder.
  • 8 percent said they have thought they may have an eating disorder.

“As people spend more time thinking about what’s wrong with their bodies, less time is spent on the positive realm and engaging in life in meaningful and fulfilling ways,” said Steven Crawford, associate director of the Center for Eating Disorders. “When people become more concerned with the image they project online and less concerned with holistic markers of health in real life, their body image may suffer and they may even turn, or return, to harmful fad diets or dangerous weight-control behaviors. We hope the results of this survey encourage people to really look at how their online behavior affects their outlook, and we caution them against being overly critical of their own bodies or other people’s bodies while on Facebook and other social networking sites.”

Previous studies have found that Facebook can also be a blow to those with low self-esteem.

Source: The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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