The Effects of Social Media in Young Americans: Eating Disorders and Body Image


Photo credits: Chameleoneyes

By Maria Alejandra Albarracin

November 17th, 2021 at 7:00 P.M. EST.  


          Social media has both negative and positive effects on health in America's youth. Even before the advent of social media, young people, specifically young women, fell victim to the messages they saw on magazine covers. Guisell Gomez, former Urbana Literary & Arts magazine editor-in-chief and current BeLatina News deputy editor, mentions how “she grew up in an era where social media wasn’t as prevalent. Instead, magazine covers, especially in the early 2000s, were at the root of my body image issues. However, at the same time social media was becoming a part of our lives, I was working on recovering, so that did not help. As social media became more present in our lives, it did trigger some of my ED tendencies; there have been times where I’ve considered an ED relapse because of something I’ve seen on social media. Thankfully, I have a great support system who helps me through these moments.” Throughout the years, with the help of some influencers, platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter, have been able to create a space for healthy body images for all genders; however, this is not always the case. Social Media Influencers (SMI’s), with a large or smaller following, are an important factor in this problem. Some SMI’s post advertisements that may trigger unhealthy body images, unrealistic eating habits, and fake exercise trends. An example of toxic SMI’s  is the infamous Kardashian family, viewed and followed by millions. The Kardashian sisters, more specifically Khloe, have been known for promoting detoxification teas to her audience, all for a large sum of money in return. Usually, brands take advantage of their audience through social media platforms and the influencer they are paying by creating unreasonable standards and targeting and building on insecurities. By doing so, companies can stick to their agendas and increase the chance of having their product purchased. In a study from the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, researchers observed that "Seventy percent … surveyed report engaging with food and beverage brands on social media and 35 percent engaged with at least five brands." The constant targeting of America's youth from brands leads to many adverse physical effects such as eating disorders.

         Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia, body dysmorphia, orthorexia, and anorexia athletica. In some cases, some may starve themselves, induce vomiting, over-exercise, binge, or become obsessive about their diet. The physical effects of eating disorders can vary depending on each person; eating disorders are highly dangerous both mentally and physically.


In the article, "Body Image, Eating disorders, and the Media," medical professionals Marjorie J. Hogan and Victor C. Strasburger state that "Almost half (46%) of teen girls and even a startling 26% of boys are unhappy with their body shape and size; only 12% and 17%, respectively, reported liking their appearance." Although it is typical for young people to be concerned with their body image, as they join at least one social media platform, this medium introduces them to becoming more troubled with body image. A student impacted by this issue from Miami Dade College, who wishes to remain anonymous, states that social media platforms such as Instagram and Tumblr were heavy influencers that encouraged eating disorders through hashtags. For example, the student states how hashtags such as “#mia” were used to promote bulimia. As we can see, social media introduces new beauty standards set by what is considered trendy, attractive, and the norm. This trend is concerning for the physical and mental health of social media users. 

        Social media advertisements encourage this eating disorder prevalence, knowing the risk they are placing on America's youth with their primary purpose being profit. In order for social media platforms to fix these issues, they should encourage these brands to not reach such a young platform. Influencers should also discuss these issues with their younger audience and spark a conversation to encourage people to speak up about their body issues and feelings. They should create a safe environment that allows people to love their bodies, and be themselves without feeling ashamed. 

Some change is happening already.


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Maria Alejandra

María Alejandra Albarracin is a first-year student at the Miami-Dade Honors College at the Eduardo J. Padron Campus. She is a communications major and plans on transferring to the University of Miami. She is currently an intern at Academica, one of the largest education service providers in the country. She loves to roller skate and has a passion for watching movies!