Facebook connects you. Disconnects you. You’re not using it enough. You’re using it too much. Better play it safe and balance that Facebook usage. But everything these days requires a Facebook login. And now it seems, with whatever else is going on with the Facebook phenomenon, there’s also a risk that it could trigger eating disorders, says a new study from The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt.
Of 600 participants ages 16–40, 51 percent had notable feelings of self-consciousness after looking at photos of themselves on Facebook. While 600 people isn’t an enormous sample group, it’s still difficult to overlook such a big percentage. Could the social network really be having an impact on so many people? Yes, says Dr. Harry Brandt, the director at the center. He chalks it up to technology and our hyper-connected lifestyles: “…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.”
It would be simple to say, “Just don’t go in there, problem solved!” but that’s easier said than done. We can’t seem to resist logging in, with 80 percent of the respondents admitting to accessing Facebook at least once per day.
The study definitely takes a headline-grabbing position, but let’s add some perspective here: The results reveal that more than half of the participants felt insecure after seeing themselves on Facebook — not necessarily that they have full-blown eating disorders. If a person has a healthy sense of self-esteem and no other psychological or psychobiological factors, then he or she shouldn’t be vulnerable to “catching” the condition like some form of modern-day cooties. In other words, the social network can’t actually give people eating disorders or spread them around like a contagion.
However, for people who are at risk to begin with, this platform may be like a lightning rod that draws out or exacerbates their negative body image issues. After all, it’s pretty much a fixture of modern life, which makes it tough to ignore and — for these people — impossible not to obsess over. This obsession can spiral out of control, leading to problems that can further impact their body image, like a vicious cycle.
“When people become more concerned with the image they project online and less concerned with holistic markers of health in real life, their body image may suffer and they may even turn, or return, to harmful fad diets or dangerous weight-control behaviors,” adds Dr. Brandt. Can’t argue with that. But it’s also hard to overlook the fact that Facebook is being blamed for an awful load of things lately — from teenage depression to divorce. Is this just another study hopping on the “Facebook is evil” bandwagon?
We want to know what you think: Do you believe there are genuine risks associated with Facebook usage, or is this all just fear-mongering for attention’s sake? Weigh in.