Social Media, Health, and Body Image: What’s Real and What’s Fake?

Social Media, Health, and Body Image: What’s Real and What’s Fake?

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Social Media, Health, and Body Image: What’s Real and What’s Fake?

Posted 8 months ago

SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD

SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD

Love it or hate it, social media has really changed the internet landscape. Alongside that, it’s changed how we interact with and relate to each other.

And although it does have its benefits, social media fitness influencer culture has done a lot of harm, too.

Here’s what you need to know about how social media creates unrealistic expectations, and how you can take back your newsfeed and make it a peaceful, productive, and fun place to spend time online.

Benefits of Social Media 

Although it’s been the subject of a lot of bad news lately, social media does have some benefits.

It’s allowed us to stay connected with friends and family when life circumstances would have otherwise caused us to drift apart, and it’s connected us with people around the world who share our interests.

It’s also a great way to learn new things and be introduced to new ideas. After all, who hasn’t learned one or two great life hacks from Instagram stories?

Downsides of Social Media

Unfortunately, there are a lot of downsides to social media too.

First, it’s a source of hugely unrealistic expectations when it comes to body image and appearance. New research has shown what a problem it is for adolescent girls, but these unrealistic body expectations can affect anyone of any age.[*]

And then there’s the problem of social media wellness culture — which is often anything but. 

Social media and diet culture go hand-in-hand, especially since most social media sites are highly image-based. There’s a huge pressure to look a certain way in order to be successful. This is one powerful way that social media influences our diet and exercise routines.

Additionally, there’s a ton of nutrition misinformation on social media, but it can be really hard to distinguish from more legitimate info.

6 Things to Remember When Browsing Social Media

Here are a few things to keep in mind while scrolling to help keep your mindset in the right place.

It’s Highly Curated

It’s something we’ve all heard before, but that doesn’t make it any less true: “Don’t compare your entire life to the highlight reel of someone else’s life.”

Social media is full of the most flattering photos, the best news (new jobs, new homes,  engagements, weddings, pregnancy announcements!), and the most exciting trips. But even the most interesting influencers or your most sociable friends have mundane, ordinary, or embarrassing moments that they don’t share on social media. 

Everyone poops. Everybody has to go to the post office sometimes. No one feels upbeat all the time.

It’s important to remember this so that you don’t fall into the comparison trap.

Posing, Lighting, and Angles Matter

Next time you’re browsing social media and you see an influencer photo that makes you feel down on your own body, pay attention to the posing. Are they in a natural pose, or are they contorted in a way that only makes sense for a photograph?

The next thing to remember is that if they’re a big-name influencer, they probably have a professional photography setup, including lights, a high-quality camera, and possibly even a professional photographer.

Small changes in the angle of a photo can also make a big difference in how bodies look, too.

Filters and Airbrushing Are Extremely Common

In a 2021 report from the University of London, researchers found that roughly 90% of women between the ages of 18 and 30 edit their photos before posting them on social media.[*]

If the average person is editing their photos to such a degree, then you can be sure that influencers are doing it to an even more extreme degree.

If you ever see a photo of an extremely snatched waist and you have to wonder if that’s even possible, then you’re probably looking at an altered image. But most of the time, editing is much more subtle.

Still, comparing your unfiltered body to even slightly airbrushed photos could lead to some warped ideas about your body.

Cosmetic Enhancements Are Part of Influencer Culture

There are very few “all natural” fitness or fashion influencers. The Instagram “look” requires a lot of cosmetic enhancements — from small things like hair extensions and brow threading to minor cosmetic procedures like Botox or lip fillers, all the way to cosmetic surgeries like face lifts, liposuction, or Brazilian butt lifts.

Cosmetic procedures are morally neutral, of course. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to undergo any of these. However, influencers typically have the money, resources, and time to maintain them that others may not have.

It’s important to remember that the distinctive “look” many influencers seem to share may not be something they were born with.

Social Media Isn’t Reality

Have you heard of the concept of “Instagram vs. reality?” 

It’s when a social media influencer looks one way on their personal Instagram page, but totally different in candid shots.

Honestly, this is the case for many influencers. They present their “best selves” on their page, but none of us always look our best.

Check out Instagrammer Danae Mercer Ricci for some examples of “Instagram vs. reality.” 

For Influencers, Their Looks Are Their Job

For many content creators, content creation is their full-time job. If they are in the fitness or fashion world, then looking a certain way is a big part of how they make their living.

Because their appearance is a huge part of their work, they can dedicate more time, money, and resources to healthy eating, working out, skincare, and clothing than many others are able to.

There Are No Quick Fixes

If you follow any health or fitness creators, you’ve probably heard them talk about how amazing certain fitness products or supplements are.

However, it’s really important to understand that when an influencer plugs a brand, it’s usually because they have received free product or direct payment from that brand. Be sure to check each post for hashtags like #ad or #sponsoredpost to help you determine if they were paid to talk about a product.

Just because the influencer was paid to talk about the brand doesn’t necessarily mean the product isn’t worth buying, but it is important to remember that they may be exaggerating the benefits.

Followers Don’t Equal Expertise

One of the benefits of social media — that it provides a channel for anyone to communicate with the online world at large — can also be one of its downsides. 

Sometimes, people with massive social media followings peddle misleading, incorrect, or downright dishonest nutrition information.

Here are a few ways to tell who to trust and who to unfollow:

  • Check to see if they have any credentials, like Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, board certifications for physicians (which vary by specialty), or Certified Personal Trainer.
  • See if they cite their sources when they make health claims.
  • Critically assess what they’re saying — if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

5 Ways to Make Social Media a More Positive Experience

So, how can you make social media a more enjoyable, helpful, and positive part of your life? Here are a few ways.

Unfollow Creators or Friends Who Make You Feel Bad About Your Body

Don’t be afraid to unfollow. If a creator’s posts make you feel bad about yourself, why continue to allow their posts in your feed?

On Facebook, you can even unfollow people without removing them from your friend’s list. This is a great way to filter out someone’s post without potentially damaging your relationship with them.

Limit Your Social Media Time

Social media can be a time-suck. And many people report that the more time they spend scrolling, the worse they feel about their own lives.

Fortunately, there are several apps or browser extensions you can use to help limit how much time you spend on social media. Check out apps like StayFree and Your Hour.

After all, do any of us really need to spend more than 30 minutes or so scrolling through social media each day?

Make It Social Again

Social media has slowly morphed into “parasocial media.” Parasocial relationships are those between a creator and their fans, when a fan starts to feel invested in a creator’s day-to-day life even though the fan doesn’t know them personally. 

So, how can you make your social media feed more social again? Easy. Unfollow or mute influencers, celebrities, and content creators. Go back to making social media a way to connect with friends, family, and people in your community.

Go On a Social Media Detox

If you’re really feeling overwhelmed by social media, you could also consider going on a social media detox. This is a predetermined amount of time where you don’t use any social media at all.

It can help you remember that social media, although it can play such a big role in our lives, isn’t actually real life. 

A detox can be as short or as long as you need it to be. We’ve gone on social media detoxes for anywhere from a weekend to 18 months.

Follow Body-Neutral Creators

If you like following content creators, try to focus on following those whose content is more about your hobbies or interests than it is about their bodies.

If you like fitness, fashion, or lifestyle content, it may be harder to find these creators — but it is possible!

And hey, if you’re interested in Keto and nutritious, whole-food meals — give us a follow! We at Carb Manager firmly believe that healthy living is for everybody and every body.

So, tell us - who are your favorite body-neutral content creators? And how do you regulate your social media time?