Feeding, Eating Disorders, and Body Dissatisfaction

Adolescence is a temporal frame during which physical changes and identity development occur, and teenagers acquire a greater awareness of the body, both their own and those of their peers (49). Posting pictures on social media is one of the most common practices among young people, especially self-photos (commonly known as “selfies”) (89). Exposing and being exposed massively to pictures of body might lead to negative outcomes, such as body image dissatisfaction, defined as “the discrepancy between identification of one’s own figure (actual) and the figure chosen as the desirable self-image” (90), or alterations in nutrition habits, to the extent of the development of EDs. With regard to Instagram, body image dissatisfaction mediates the relationship between PSMU and internalizing symptoms differently in males and females, with the latter showing a stronger indirect effect
(58). Evidence from a study involving Singaporean girls showed that selfie practice on Instagram (browsing and editing) and body esteem are mediated by appearance comparison operated by peers’ groups with a negative association, while posting self photos and body esteem are directly correlated (49). With regard to Facebook, Tiggemann and colleagues investigated social media exposure and body image concerns in girls, finding that time spent on the online platform was strongly correlated to body surveillance and the ideal of a thin body shape (26). An analysis of a Canadian sample of teenagers highlights that more frequent and prolonged usage of social media services is associated with body dissatisfaction, with a trend to perceive oneself overweight in both boys and girls (36). Recent findings from a study by Fardouly and colleagues indicate that more frequent appearance comparisons with others on social media and considering them to be more attractive than oneself is negatively correlated with body image satisfaction and positively linked with eating-related disorders in both male and female teenagers (60). Evidence from a sample of Italian adolescents highlights the role played by appearance control beliefs and body image control in photos, as these dimensions could be configured as predictors of problematic usage of social media and negative mental health outcomes (59). Overall, the findings indicate a higher vulnerability for girls to develop a negative image of their own body. This risk can be compounded by misleading and harmful content that can be found on social media.
Presentation of Eating Disorders on Social Media Platforms
In recent years, groups supporting anorexia nervosa in several ways (endorsement and promotion of dysfunctional eating behavior, maintenance of the disorder, and interference with recovery) have been spreading across social media platforms. The dynamics of the Proana Movement, which promotes behaviors relating to anorexia nervosa, have been examined using Twitter, finding that adhering people and/or promoters were almost totally teenage girls (31). In the midst of the factors mediating the risk to develop body dissatisfaction or EDs, one study focused on teenagers’ offiine social environment, finding that a positive mother-adolescent relationship can exert a protective function against the adverse effects of social media usage on body perception (50). An alarming factor is determined by the support of pro-EDs in online networks. As popular platforms started blocking pro-ED related terms, users supporting dangerous eating habits have begun altering the hashtags, bringing forward their approval toward endangering conducts. On the other hand, it is not unusual that people rehabilitating from an ED seek support during their journey to recovery by sharing their testimony through textual posts or visual media (i.e., pictures, video, and gif). This dual nature of online communication represents a great challenge for research, as the analysis focused uniquely on hashtags may be misleading (91). Moreover, people supporting ED behaviors often alter the terms in hashtags or post them in comments in order to overcome social media censorship policy, with a possible risk to expose more fragile or sensitive people to explicit content.

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