How Facebook Contributes To Eating Disorders

It's all in the photos

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In order to figure out how Facebook affects young girls’ sense of body image, researchers from American University in Washington D.C. asked 103 adolescent girls to complete 20-30 minute surveys over the course of a week. The girls were asked about their Facebook usage as well as  about their body image.

(MORE: Why Facebook Makes You Feel Bad About Yourself)

They found that the type of information the girls accessed on the site, in addition to how long they spent on Facebook, had the greatest influence on how they felt about themselves afterward.

In the study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, the scientists assessed how frequently the girls used specific Facebook features, such as “create an event,” or “view friends’ photos of themselves” by asking the participants to rate their typical use for each of the features on a 5-point scale from 1 for “almost never or never” to 5 for “nearly every time I log on.”

Girls who allocated the most time to photo-related activities were more likely to internalize a thin ideal, succumb to self-objectification, be dissatisfied with their weight, or report having a drive to become thin. Based on the data, the researchers were not able to determine whether adolescents who already had issues with self appearance were drawn to looking at photo-related Facebook posts, or if the images influenced the girls’ body image.

But they speculate that both may be at work, similar to the way beauty magazines influence how girls view themselves. Such images can both seed and exacerbate the way girls apply social ideals of appearance to themselves. “The nature of Facebook photo sharing may expedite this process,” the study authors write.

(MORE: Two-Faced Facebook: We Like It, but It Doesn’t Make Us Happy)

Such objectification may also contribute to eating disorders, making the influence of Facebook photos worth studying as a potential contributor to unhealthy diets, said Brenda K. Wiederhold, editor-in-chief of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, in a statement. “Given the connection between eating disorders and body image distortion and dissatisfaction, it is important to identify contributing factors in this particularly vulnerable group. By identifying these factors, we can move towards designing more effective prevention programs.”