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    Influence of social media on teenagers' body image

    Visually oriented social media platforms created by their peers can have a significant negative impact on adolescents’ body image.

    Most adolescents are active users of social media, a newer type of media that differs from mass media in that users are both consumers and creators of the content. Visually oriented social media platforms are particularly popular among teenagers. These platforms can have a significant impact on adolescents’ body images, mirroring the effect mass media has had on prioritizing certain body types as more attractive than others (eg, extreme thinness, large breasts for women, and V-shaped body for men) and the impact this has had on the development of poor body image and associated eating disorders.

    To help pediatricians understand the strong influence of social media on body image and eating disorders in adolescents, and ways they can help teenagers in this new pressure-cooker digital space, Megan A Moreno, MD, MSEd, MPH, associate professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington, Seattle, discussed why visually oriented social media platforms are so popular with adolescents and examined how social media may contribute to the development, severity, and prolonged illness course of eating disorders in a session titled “#Selfie esteem: Social media’s influence on adolescent body image and eating disorders“ at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition on September 18.

    Recommended: Talking to parents about social media

    The added pressure of social media on influencing body image for adolescents is heightened by the content on these visually-oriented social media platforms that are created by one’s peers, Moreno explained. “This can present a significant source of influence, as the ‘role models’ adolescents see on social media are often peers,” she noted. “This can present a pressure to achieve a certain body appearance, as there is the pressure for teens to generate content and post pictures of themselves.”

    In her presentation, Moreno also reviewed the existing literature on how the type and quantity of media exposure affects body image among adolescents and described the connection between media exposure, body image, and eating disorders.

    Moreno ended her presentation with specific ways that pediatricians can help adolescents counter the media-generated messages on body image. These include providing adolescents with information during clinical visits on what normal and healthy body weight is, which often doesn’t cohere with the media standard, and supporting parents by encouraging them to also underscore with their adolescents that body types seen in the media do not reflect the norms and that healthy and beautiful bodies come in all types.

    In addition, Moreno emphasized the need for clinicians to educate medical students and trainees on how to talk to adolescents about weight while addressing the importance of accepting different body types. Finally, and importantly, she encouraged pediatricians to look at the magazines and other material in their clinic waiting rooms that may contribute to the body image message promoted by the media that the pediatrician is trying to counter.

    “Social media offers both new challenges and new opportunities to promote a healthy body image,” Moreno said, underscoring that pediatricians can use the information adolescents are obtaining from these platforms to educate and reinforce the message that media-generated body images often are not the norm and that healthy and beautiful bodies come in many shapes and sizes.

    NEXT: Commentary

    Mary Beth Nierengarten, MA
    Mary Beth Nierengarten is a freelance medical writer with over 25 years of experience. Her work appears regularly in a number of print ...

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