By UCLA Undergraduate Danielle de Bruin
If you're like most college students, you're on social media whenever you have a few moments of free time. Whether you're in line at Starbucks or waiting for class to start, you're probably scrolling through your Instagram feed or Facebook-stalking your new lab partner.
Social media usage has become almost ubiquitous among young adults. According to Pew Research, of people between the ages of 18-29 that use the Internet, 82% use Facebook, 55% use Instagram, and 32% use Twitter. One study found that college students spend almost 1.5 hours each day on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter alone.
Social media and body image
While your parents and professors may warn you that too much time spent on social media will negatively impact your grades and interpersonal skills, social media usage affects something even more foundational: your body image.
Social media is a platform for social comparison. When scrolling through your news feed, it's almost impossible not to compare yourself to the images you encounter. However, the images we are constantly confronted with are unrealistic; they are edited and staged to a "perfect" standard that is either unreasonable or unattainable in real life.
With the wide variety of photo editing apps available today, there is no guarantee that any image on our news feed is unfiltered. Comparing our own bodies to these unrealistic and often unattainable physiques damages our body image because the value our society places on these "perfect" bodies suggests that ours are physically inferior.
#Fitspiration and body image
The social media trend of "fitspiration" (fitness + inspiration), or "fitspo," particularly fosters negative body image. Fitspiration aims to inspire people to live healthier lives by promoting a healthy diet and exercise. Some view the trend as a more positive alternative to "thinspiration," which is another online trend that aims to inspire people to lose weight by promoting an eating disordered lifestyle.
However, both thinspiration and fitspiration focus heavily on appearance. On social media sites, fitspiration posts usually consist of photographs of muscular and toned bodies accompanied by inspirational quotes (e.g. "Strong is the new skinny" or "This month's choices are the next month's body"). There are over 7.2 million images on Instagram using the fitspiration hashtag.
A recent study of 130 female undergraduates found that while fitspiration images did increase participants' motivation to exercise and eat healthfully, the images were ultimately detrimental to their body image. Viewing fitspiration images on Instagram was associated with an increase in negative mood and body dissatisfaction and a decrease in appearance self-esteem.
The researchers conclude that the decrease in mood and confidence results from the way fitspiration images focus on the outcome of a "better" body. Additionally, fitspiration images tend to feature people with a singular body type (generally toned and thin), which falsely suggests that only thin individuals can be fit and healthy.
Filter #fitspiration from your feed
Social media can have a strong impact on our body image by altering how we see ourselves, but we also have the power to filter the content of the social media we consume. To take back control and foster better relationships with our bodies, we can tailor our social media accounts by unfollowing or hiding any accounts that post #fitspiration or any other material that make us feel bad about our bodies.
About the Author
Danielle de Bruin is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Sociology with a double minor in Italian and Global Health. She is the director of UCLA's Body Image Task Force, which is a committee within the UCLA Student Wellness Commission. With the Body Image Task Force, Danielle organizes events, workshops, and campaigns to promote healthy body image, self-confidence, and mental health on campus. She is also a published co-author in the journal PLOS Medicine.