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Caroline Riester
Dr. McLaughlin
Writing and Rhetoric
14 November 2014
How Social Media Shapes Us: Social Media and the Development of Eating Disorders
Its no secret that the media has an immense impact on our lives. We see media everyday,
whether its advertisements, television, magazines or another form of media. The media can
greatly influence our opinions and beliefs. One aspect in which the media has a strong influence
on us is in the portrayal of women. Often, the media creates an unrealistic and often unhealthy
view of what women should look like and how they should act. While media outlets such as ads
and T.V. have been around for some time now, the recent rise in social media use presents a new
and dangerous way the media can negatively influence women and their own body image. Social
media especially has a large effect on young, high school aged girls and the development of body
dissatisfaction and eating disorders.
In this paper, I will be discussing social media as it relates to body dissatisfaction and the
rise in eating disorders. I will start by defining social media and analyzing it relevance to our
culture and young generation. I will then look at the recent rise in eating disorders and how
social media may be a cause of this. Although there are many different social media sites, I will
mainly look at three different sites that I, along with many researchers, believe to be the main
social media contributors to body image issues seen in adolescents. The three sites I will discuss
are Facebook, Tumblr, and pro-anorexia blogs. I will discuss the effects that each other these
have on young girls and how they promote a pro-eating disorder culture. I will examine how the
attempts by social media to prevent body dissatisfaction are eating disorders are working, but

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also how they fall short in realizing their goal. I will end with a discussion of social media as a
whole and how it plays a major role in the development of young girls self esteem and body
image, often in a negative and dangerous way.
The use of social media has been growing rapidly since its creation. According to the
Merriam-Webster dictionary, social media is defined to be forms of electronic communication
though which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages,
and other content and the phrase was first used in 2004 (Merriam-Webster). It seems that almost
everyone has at least one social media account these days between sites like Facebook, Twitter,
Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest. Olenski states in his article on Forbes that the number of U.S.
adults online (ages 18 and up) that are using social media has increased 800% in the past eight
years. This number is expected to increase even more in the near future (Olenski).
One of the many benefits of social media is that its great way to communicate and stay
in touch with people. There are, on the other hand, many negative consequences of the increase
in social media use. Social media provides a new medium for images and advertisements that
portray women in an unrealistic way. It creates the thin ideal, in which it is believed that a
women needs to be thin and have the perfect body/appearance in order to be popular or
successful (Sifferlin). The negative impact of this is seen especially in young women, mostly
high school and college aged. The rise of social media adds a new aspect where not only are
young girls exposed to pictures of perfect looking celebrities daily, but they also see pictures of
their friends and peers to whom they compare themselves to. Skinny, perfect looking girls are
seen all over social media, and the young girls who view these images believe that they have to
do whatever it takes to look like that. This desire to be thin causes the development of body
dissatisfaction and unhealthy habits like compulsive exercise and eating disorders.

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Media and peers have long been the two main contributors of eating disorders in young
girls because they are things that we are exposed to every day. The recent increase in social
media use blends together these two contributors into one large and dangerous contributor. A
doctor at the Center for Eating Disorders in Baltimore states "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" (Hanes). People see images
and advertisements every single day. Many of the images portray women in a certain way and
the cause other women to feel bad about their body or looks. Its hard to avoid these harmful
images that can lead to body dissatisfaction. In her book The Media and Body Image, in the
chapter entitled Media Exposure and Body Image Ideals, Dr. Wykes states that the attraction
and popularity of thin media personalities are one of the most powerful predictors of eating
disorder symptoms (164). There are several different forms of eating disorders and unhealthy
habits including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and compulsive exercising. The severity and
frequency of these varies, but they all usually start with low self-esteem and high body
dissatisfaction. There are more than 35 million people in the United States that suffer from
anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating. What they see in media, in many of these cases, has a large
impact on them (Benenett). According to a study by the Dove Real Beauty Campaign, about
81% of ten year olds are afraid of getting fat (Bennett). Eating disorders are on the rise,
especially in adolescent girls. The low self esteem and high body dissatisfaction are often caused,
or at least heightened, by social media use.
Facebook is a very big contributor to the pro-eating disorder culture that is portrayed in
social media. Facebook was founded in 2004 with the purpose of connecting people to their

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peers on the Internet. People can post photos, statuses, links to other blogs and sites, along with
many other features. One major downside that Facebook has is that is promotes, whether
unintentional or not, the desire to have more friends and get more likes. It often causes
people to feel the need to be accepted and popular. This effect is most prominently seen in
adolescents, especially females. A large part of the desire to be popular is the desire to look
perfect and pretty. Young girls are told by society and it is reiterated on social media that the
perfect woman is very thin. A study conducted by doctors and researchers and published by
The International Journal of Eating Disorders surveyed 1,960 young women and asked questions
about their Facebook use, body image, and eating habits. The results of the study were that
"more frequent Facebook use was associated with greater disordered eating (Mabe). Another
study that surveyed 232 girls found that maladaptive Facebook usage is a good predictor for
increases in bulimic symptoms and binge eating episodes. As the researchers who conducted this
study agree, these results are consistent with the idea that people develop eating disorders in
response to negative social interactions in an attempt to suppress negative feedback and increase
self-esteem. Social networking sites like Facebook provide a platform to engage in negative
social comparison that lead to body dissatisfaction (Smith). Most of the studies that are
conducted in order to examine the effect that social media has on girls body image and
dissatisfaction end in similar results. The results show a strong correlation between Facebook use
and body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls. Many studies also concur that this body
dissatisfaction, which is increased with social media use, also leads to increases in eating
disorder symptoms (Mabe; Reaves; Smith; Tiggeman).
Tumblr, a blogging website, is also a large contributor to poor body image in young girls
and the development of eating disorders. Tumblr users create and run their own blogs that largely

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consist of photos, drawing, and sayings. Pictures of beautiful and thin girls are all over Tumblr.
One popular type of blog that users create is called a thinspiration or fitspiration blog.
Williamson describes thinspiration as images that show thin female bodies and are often
accompanied with sayings and messages. Some of the messages that go with images of skinny
girls are Keep calm and starve on and stop stuffing your fat face (Williamson) (See Figure
1). These sites and blogs are effective in promoting eating disorders because they instill shame in
the viewers for eat and indulging in food (Williamson). The types of sites that spread these
images are created by girls with eating disorders, and they encourage other girls to either begin
or keep starving themselves. It is easy to get sucked in by the powerful and chilling images,
especially when the viewer is made to feel guilty when they eat food.
Tumblr was also the biggest platform for the thigh gap fad. As Yadegaran states, If
you can stand straight with your knees together and see a space between your upper thighs, you
have what thousands of teen girls are willing to starve themselves for (Yadegaran). Obtaining a
thigh gap became an obsession for many young girls and produced thousands of images on
Tumblr. Young girls see these images and believe that they are supposed to look like that too.
Yadegaran quotes a licensed clinical social worker that states that Girls are at a developmental
stage where their bodies are changing, and when it comes to what they're supposed to look like,
they're most likely to listen to their peers (Yadagaran). A thigh gap, however, has more to do
with genetics and nature. In order to achieve the kind gap that is seen all over social media,
mostly Tumblr, most girls would have to lose a considerable amount of weight (Yadegaran). The
desire for a thigh gap often leads to eating disorders because girls starve themselves in order to
lose this weight and obtain the body they desire.

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Another dangerous aspect of social media as it relates to eating disorders is the proanorexia trend in blogging. Pro-anorexia sites and blogs, or pro-ana blogs as they are called, are
sites that promote anorexia as a lifestyle choice rather than an illness (Williamson). These blogs
are especially popular on Tumblr. These blogs were some of the main contributors to the thigh
gap obsession. They incorporate thinsipration images along with advice and tips on how to
embrace eating disorders and achieve the perfect body through starvation (Thin Cases). There are
also many blogs out on the Internet that are written with the intent to glamorize and promote
eating disorders. One such blog is titled 5 Reasons to Date a Girl with an Eating Disorder and
it gives reasons like they cost less because you dont have to buy them as much food
(Tuthmosis). There are many different sites and blogs that are often linked to other social media
accounts, like Facebook, that promote eating disorders and attempt to convince girls to embrace
Despite all of the dangers and negative impacts social media can have on a girls body
image, not all aspects of social media are negative. In the recent years, many people and
companies have begun to recognize the issue of body-dissatisfaction and eating disorders in
young girls that are often brought on by social media. Sites like Tumblr and Pinterest have
started to ban the pro-ana blogs and thinspiration is no longer searchable on them. If a person
searches for one of these blogs, they are automatically redirected to an eating disorder help site
and hotline (Thin Cases). Instagram is also working towards banning users and images that
promote anorexia and other self-harming behaviors. While the efforts of these sites are helping to
stop the pro-eating disorder culture that social media has helped to create, the bans are not fully
effective. The pro-ana sites can just change their names and thinspiration has become
fitspiration, which is okay because it sounds like it is promoting a healthy and fit lifestyle.

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Fitspiration images, however, are the exact same as the thispiration ones. It does not promote
healthy fitness or habits at all and is now in convincing girls that you not only need to be thin in
order to be popular, but also in order to be fit and healthy. The same harmful ideas are reaching
young girls, despite the efforts of social media sites to stop it.
Many large companies are also creating campaigns that encourage girls to love their body
and be happy in their own skin attempt to stop body shaming. One such company is the Dove
Real Beauty campaign. This campaign was created to challenge beauty and body stereotypes and
encourage women to be a part of the beauty discussion (The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty).
Their advertisements, videos, and pictures can be seen all over social media sites. The main
image of the campaign shows a group of women of different ages, skin colors, and sizes that are
happy with and showing off their bodies (See Figure 2). Any other companies have joined Dove
in the attempt to redefine beauty. Most of these campaigns, however, are targeted to an older
audience. The campaigns seem to be fairly successful toward their targeted audience, but there
doesnt seem to be an effective campaign targeted toward a younger audience. One love your
body campaign, as they are often called, that was created for a younger audience is from
Victorias Secret. Similar to Doves campaign, the main image shows a group of young women
of all different skin colors. Unlike the Dove campaign, all of the girls are still very thin and have
perfect looking bodies (See Figure 2). With this being the main love Your Body campaign that
young girls see, it is no surprise that girls who dont have that type of body are feeling pressured
to obtain that body in any way possible. Girls are made to believe that the only body that should
be celebrated and loved is a skinny one.
Although there are many people and campaigns that are attempting to change the way we
define beauty and encourage women of all ages to love their own body, young girls are still

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feeling pressured to have perfect and thin bodies. This is because they see pictures of their
friends and celebrities on Facebook and compare themselves to their friends. Sites like Tumblr
are filled with images and negative sayings that promote eating disorders. It is hard to go on
Facebook or another social media site and not see an image of a perfectly thin girl or a link so
some blog promoting diets or even eating disorders. Young girls are led to believe that the
easiest, if not the only, way to be pretty and skinny is to not eat food or force themselves to
throw up after they do eat. Social media has created a culture in which girls are encouraged to
find flaws in themselves and change their flaws in order to be pretty and popular. It is clear the
social media has a large impact on a young girls self-esteem and body image. Most researchers
will agree that an increase in social media and Facebook use leads in an increase in body
dissatisfaction. This body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem are what lead to the development
are eating disorders. Social media blends together media and peers, which are main causes of
eating disorders. It is important to examine this relationship in order to distinguish between the
benefits and dangerous consequences social media can have on our society.

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Works Cited
Bennett, Jessica. "Why Skinny Models Could Be Making Us Fat." Newsweek. N.p., 07 Feb.
2007. Web. 8 Nov. 2014.
Hanes, Stephanie. "Facebook may amplify eating disorders and poor body image." Christian
Science Monitor 30 Mar. 2012: N.PAG. Academic Search Premier. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.
Mabe, Annalise G., K. Jean Forney, and Pamela K. Keel. "Do You like My Photo? Facebook
Use Maintains Eating Disorder Risk." International Journal of Eating Disorders 47.5
(2014): 516-23. Web.
Olenski, Steve. "Social Media Usage Up 800% For U.S. Online Adults In Just 8 Years." Forbes.
Forbes Magazine, 06 Sept. 2013. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
Reaves, Shiela. "Rethinking Visual Ethics: Evolution, Social Comparison and the Media's MonoBody in the Global Rise of Eating Disorders." Journal of Mass Media Ethics: Exploring
Questions of Media Morality 26.2 (2011): 113-34. Taylor & Francis Online. Web.
Smith, April R., Jennifer L. Hames, and Thomas E. Joiner. "Status Update: Maladaptive
Facebook Usage Predicts Increases in Body Dissatisfaction and Bulimic Symptoms."
Journal of Affective Disorders 149.1-3 (2013): 235-40. ScienceDirect. Web.
Sifferlin, Alexandra. "How Facebook Contributes To Eating Disorders." Time.Com (2013): 1.
Academic Search Premier. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.
"Social Media." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
"The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty." The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. Dove, n.d.
Web. 12 Nov. 2014.
"Thigh gap: What's behind a dangerous teen body image obsession." Contra Costa Times
[Walnut Creek, CA] 22 Apr. 2013. Business Insights: Essentials. Web. 7 Nov. 2014.

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"Thin cases; Anorexia online." The Economist 1 Dec. 2012: 68(US). Expanded Academic ASAP.
Web. 7 Nov. 2014
Tiggemann, Marika, and Amy Slater. "NetGirls: The Internet, Facebook, and Body Image
Concern in Adolescent Girls." International Journal of Eating Disorders 46.6 (2013):
630-33. Web.
Tuthmosis. "5 Reasons To Date A Girl With An Eating Disorder." Return Of Kings. N.p., 2014.
Web. 7 Nov. 2014.
Williamson, Harriet. "Beware of the dangerous fetishising of fitness on social media; First came
'thinspiration', the glorification of super thin body images posted on Tumblr and
Pinterest. Now it's all about 'fitspiration', which is equally as dangerous, warns Harriet
Williamson." Telegraph Online 14 Oct. 2013. Business Insights: Essentials. Web. 7 Nov.

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Figure 1
Skip Dinner, Wake Up Thinner. Digital image. N.p., 06 June 2013. Web. 9 Nov.

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Figure 2
Comparison of The Victoria's Secret Love Your Body Campaign and the Dove Real Beauty
Campaign. Digital image. Anything Brilliant. Wordpress, 23 Oct. 2013. Web. 10 Nov.