Ahhh, social media. We hate it, we love it, we delete it, we can’t live without it.
Whether we like it or not, social media is here to stay. As a college student preparing to enter the workforce, I hear all the time from my professors that social media skills are one of the most valuable skills employers look for.
We have heard arguments that social media is bad for us, that it spreads misinformation, and that it's a fantastic invention bringing us closer together. With all these opposing beliefs and opinions, it can be hard to think for ourselves about where we stand.
Of course, social media is okay. It’s a thing - it's us, or rather how we use it, that determines whether or not it is positive or negative.
Social media has been a key part of my life, and I can’t imagine existing without its influence. In middle school, I downloaded a super fun photo editing app - Instagram. Taking photos with my brand new phone was one of my favorite things to do, so Instagram was perfect for me. And to top it off, I could connect with my friends and see their posts! What could be better?
It did not stay lighthearted for long. I quickly focused on the number of followers and likes, comparing myself with the popular kids at my school. In high school, girls in my class started posting photos in swimsuits, laughing and giggling with their friends. They seemed perfect - in fact, everyone seemed perfect but me. Perfect bodies, perfect smiles, perfect friends. Why wasn’t I like them?
My self-comparison led to me wanting to change my body. I began to follow fitness influencers and nutrition pages for inspiration, which caused my feed to morph into posts with diet and weight loss tips. I learned what a calorie was and why I should avoid them at all costs. I was shown how to eat certain things to “boost satiety”. I was fed exercise trend after trend after trend about how to get toned abs.
I exercised a ton, I restricted my food, and I learned how to do this through social media. Without realizing it, I stumbled into an eating disorder.
My story is not unique.
I do not write this to say social media is bad. It can be used in a constructive, enjoyable manner. But I know I am not alone in suffering severely when social media is used wrongly.
In 2020, psychology researchers published a study for Science Direct. In their research, they concluded that consistent social media is linked to body image issues due to the comparison factor that is tied with it. Some of these issues included dieting, self-objectification, and being overly aware of one’s appearance. This conclusion paired with the rise of trendy influencer-led fitness is causing a significant uptick in body dysmorphia, along with other issues.
Fitness is the latest and greatest trend among young adults. This is great - more teenagers and young adults are living active lifestyles and caring for their bodies. The problem is many of them, like I did, are learning about fitness through influencers. Young adults are chasing a physique, an appearance, an aesthetic - not a sustainable lifestyle.
In 2022, New York Times writer Alex Hawgood wrote an article in which he interviews teenage guys about their experience with social media and fitness. He speaks with a 16-year-old TikTok influencer named Bobby, whose inspiration is bodybuilders years older than him.
Bobby lives his life like a bodybuilder, consuming “so much protein that classmates sometimes gawk at him for eating upward of eight chicken-and-rice meals at school”. What is particularly concerning with this is he is pursuing this physique not just for himself, but for his TikTok following, which grows when his muscles grow too.
Also interviewed was 22-year-old Johnny Edwin, whose words mirrored those of Bobby’s. He explains, “Social media, and the pressure to live up to those guys and have that manly-looking physique, has completely taken over my life”.
These are just some of many examples of young adults whose lives are influenced by fitness trends and high standards of appearance on social media, affecting their self-esteem. And again, social media is not the problem, it is how it’s used.
Maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle lays the foundation for living a long, full life. Chasing appearances, spending hours at the gym, restricting, and never feeling satisfied with yourself is not ‘being healthy’ - it can be just as unhealthy as sitting on your butt.
Balance is the key - easy to say, hard to do. Just because someone exercises or eats a certain way does not mean that you should in order to “be healthy”. And, since there are so many differing opinions, following fitness accounts run by certified people (check out @thebKYNDco on Instagram!) is a great way to ensure that you are getting the correct information.
Hawgood, Alex. “What Is 'Bigorexia'?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Mar. 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/05/style/teen-bodybuilding-bigorexia-tiktok.html.
“Social Media and Body Image Concerns: Current Research and ... - UNSW.” Science Direct, 2016, http://www2.psy.unsw.edu.au/Users/lvartanian/Publications/Fardouly%20&%20Vartanian%20(2016).pdf.