The Center for Eating Disorders Blog

Social Networks ~ Building a Body Positive Presence Online

Developing a positive body image isn’t necessarily easy and often takes a lot of work.  Creating a body positive Facebook page, however, can be easy with a few simple steps…

If you haven’t done this yet, start by recognizing any negative or positive effects that  your Facebook use may be having on your self-esteem or body image.  How often do you publicly or privately criticize your own body while on Facebook?  How much time do you spend comparing your body to other people’s bodies online? Do your comments on other people’s photos regularly focus on weight or appearance?  Do you ever get overwhelmed by this?

If the answer to any of these questions has you concerned, you’re not alone.  As we’ve been discussing here on our blog, the resultsof a recent public survey indicate that Facebook and other online social networks can be a tumultuous environment when it comes to body image.  Many survey respondents shared that seeing photos of themselves and others on Facebook often makes them more self-conscious about their own body/weight, even to the point that they often feel sad about it.  It seems that a lot of Facebook time is spent comparing, criticizing and lamenting our bodies, so today’s post is all about changing this online culture of negative body image. 

Read on for tips and ideas that can help us as individuals, and as a community, move towards building a body positive presence online.

Remember the basics while on Facebook:

  • People often go to great lengths to create a “perfect” image of themselves online – be wary of comparing your real life or your real body to someone else’s online persona. 
  • There are many benefits of online social networks. Most importantly, they offer an incredible way to connect with and learn from other people and organizations.  That being said, do your best to present your authentic self instead of a “perfected” or fake online persona (see above).  Be mindful that you are using Facebook and other social networks for purposeful, real, positive connections with people and organizations that you respect and that give you respect in return. 
  • Don’t forget – people tend to be mostly focused on themselves; your Facebook friends are never looking at photos of you as critically or as closely as you are of yourself.  

Interrupt the body negativity  in your social network feeds by subscribing to some body positive organizations.  These are just a few great body image advocates on Facebook, many of them are also on Twitter and Pinterest: 

Proud2BmeUS –   Making it cool to be body positive! An online community for teens who want to change the way teens talk about food, weight, and body image. Written by and for teens but great messages for adults too!

The Illusionists – A sophisticated look at body image across the world and the global effects of the beauty industry… uncovering how mass media, advertising, and industries manipulate and exploit people’s insecurities about their bodies for profit. 

Linda Bacon HAES –  Shifting the focus from weight to health, giving people of all shapes the tools to achieve better fitness, health and even happiness – all without ever dieting again.

Adios Barbie – A daily dose of beautiful. Their mission: to promote healthy body image and identity in folks of all races, sizes, ages, sexual orientations and abilities.

End Fat Talk  – Eliminating fat talk, changing the conversation about body image.

By subscribing to at least a few of these organizations, you set yourself up for a boost of daily body positivity – when is the last time you set yourself up to succeed?  Read their posts and click on their links.  Over time, you will begin absorbing these positive messages, and it can help you shift your own focus away from weight, back to health and holistic well-being. 

Take a stand  and make a conscious decision NOT to engage in weight obsession or “fat talk” within your online communities.  Here’s your challenge: try only posting about or commenting on friends’ non-physical accomplishments and successes instead of immediately zeroing in on how they look or what they weigh. 

 Here’s a few common Facebook examples:

~ Your cousin just had a baby and posts a picture of herself with her new bundle of joy.   A  common [weight-focused] Facebook comment would be:  “Congrats! You look great – You don’t even look like you just had a baby!”  Instead of focusing in on her body, consider adding something to the online conversation that honors her feelings and her role as a new mom without drawing attention to her waistline:  “Congratulations! You are radiating the happiness of a new mom! Can’t wait to see you and meet the baby.” 

~ An old high school friend posts something about meeting his weight loss goal and is receiving tons of compliments for it in the comments below his post. Instead of joining in the chorus of, “Wow- you look amazing!…Congratulations!…I’m so jealous!”comments, think about what you might be condoning by doing so. Would you still leave a celebratory comment on someone’s Facebook page if you knew their weight loss was a result of fasting, obsessive exercise, purging or other behaviors that were putting their health at risk?  Hopefully not.  The truth is, you can’t tell a whole lot about some one’s health from a picture on Facebook so you may want to abstain completely from commenting on people’s weight.      

Unfortunately, we hear from individuals with eating disorders all the time who get a lot of positive feedback for their weight loss – online and offline – from friends, family and even health care providers who don’t know what they’re really doing to lose the weight.  This positive reinforcement often promotes an escalation of  unhealthy behaviors and can strengthen a person’s reliance on weight loss for maintaining self-worth.  As columnist Yashar Ali wrote for The Current Conscience,   Think Twice Before You Praise Someone for Losing Weight, becuase you just never know what’s going on behind the computer screen. 

Draw the line when it comes to protecting your own well-being while online.  If you find yourself continually triggered by a certain Facebook friend, do not be afraid to unsubscribe from their Facebook updates.  It can be very empowering, and beneficial to your body image, to hide comments or unsubscribe from people if they continually focus in unhealthy ways on weight, dieting or superficial definitions of beauty. 

Take a break if you find yourself unable to escape feelings of jealousy, sadness or comparison while online.  Experiment by logging off temporarily and see how your mood and body image respond.  Use the time that you would have spent on Facebook to acquire a new hobby, connect with body-positive friends by phone or in person, or engage in other activities that honor your body and mind in a healthy way.

Are you willing to ditch the diet and weight obsession online?  Ready to make the change to a body positive page? Please join us on Facebook and share your suggestions for promoting a positive body image within your online social networks.

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If at any time, you are engaging in disordered eating or dangerous behaviors seek professional help right away.  You can visit www.eatingdisorder.org for information about treatment and support or call us at (410) 938-5252.

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