This Week in #MediaLiteracy | 2 Campaigns You Should Know About

The world of social media presents an interesting dichotomy.  The challenges of existing in an online community are ever increasing.  Concerns about safety and security are high on the list of course (particularly for parents with tech savvy kids) but additional risks to overall well-being and self-esteem are lingering close behind.  Dangers include online bullying, exposure to harmful imagery or media, and the less sensationalized, yet still problematic, body bashing and body comparison often experienced within sites like Facebook and Pinterest.

Yet while these risks exist, these same online communities also provide a great opportunity for social change and grassroots organizing.  We’ve seen two such examples of powerful social media campaigns this week that we thought were worth sharing.  If you struggle with the body toxic environment online OR offline, perhaps these are opportunities for you to help create change for yourself and for others.   Take a look, find out more, get involved.  Just think, every minute you spend advocating for media literacy, body positivity and truth is one less minute you have to engage in the alternatives.

#TruthInAds

The Truth in Advertising Act of 2014 (HR4341) was introduced earlier this week with bipartisan support from Representatives in Florida and California and with collaboration from several great organizations including The Eating Disorders Coalition and The Brave Girls Alliance.

The groundbreaking bill calls on the Federal Trade Commission to develop a legislative framework for advertisements that alter the human body (i.e. shape, size, proportion, color, etc.) and asks for recommendations and remedies for photoshopped ads that are determined to be false/deceptive and which may contribute to a series of emotional, psychological and physical health issues, and economic consequences – particularly affecting, but not limited to, girls and women.” (via Brave Girls Alliance).  If this is something you support, its easy to get involved in any of the following ways:

  • Add your name to the Change.org petition by Seth Matlins
  • Read this great write-up about the Truth in Advertising Act by Matt Wetsel over at his blog, …Until Eating Disorders are No More.  He makes it easy to  find your representative in Congress and how to let them know you support the bill.
  • Take to Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and any other social media site with the hastag #TruthInAds to help spread the word. You can even stop by The Brave Girls Alliance for toolkits, images and talking points for the campaign.

#AdoptTheIllusionists

The Illusionists is a 90 minute documentary about the body as the “finest consumer object” and the pursuit of ideal beauty around the world. Or: how corporations are getting richer by making us feel insecure about the way we look. 

The hard thing for most people about speaking out against society’s narrow ideals of beauty is that it can feel like you’re a fish swimming upstream in a strong current of Photoshopped bodies, fat talk, and dieting.  Taking a stand can mean you’re up against some pretty powerful forces like the beauty and fashion industries, the diet and weight loss industries and even the larger television and film media that rely on funding from these sources. This pressure compounds when you’re an independent filmmaker working to expose the stories and financial benefits behind the WORLD’S beauty ideals.  That’s what filmmaker, Elena Rossini is doing with her documentary The Illusionists and it’s why The Center for Eating Disorders has been a supporter of the film since it first launched via a Kickstarter campaign in 2011.

Now that the film is almost complete, Elena is swimming against that cultural current once more, and has taken to Twitter with the #AdoptTheIllusionists campaign to help the film, and its message, get the widest possible circulation. On her blog, Elena writes, “My passion for the project stems from its potential to incite activism: I strongly believe that The Illusionists can ignite important conversations about consumer culture, mass media, and the epidemic of body image dissatisfaction around the world. It only takes one person to believe in The Illusionists for the fate of the film to change. It could be a producer. An actress. A writer. An activist with the right connections. It could be you.”

The film has already caught the eye of accomplished artists and activists including Geena Davis and Stephen Fry.  If YOU want to see the first 4 minutes of the film and then show your support for the film, visit Elena’s post, It Only Takes One Person or go straight to the #AdoptTheIllusionists campaign page for supportive statements that are ready-to-tweet.

Let us know how you’ve supported the above campaigns and other ways you engage in media literacy activism.  Leave a comment below or join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Photoshop Does Not Cause Eating Disorders – Media & Body Image

Media Literacy Infographic

Click to View (pdf)


National Eating Disorders Awareness Week
(Feb. 23 – March 1, 2014)

Did you know that photoshopped bodies and the unrealistic beauty ideals set forth by the media DO NOT cause eating disorders?  While these unfortunate elements of our society CAN contribute to widespread negative body image and promote an internalization of the “thin ideal”, they cannot be blamed outright for the development of the serious and complex illnesses such as anorexia, bulimia,  binge eating disorder and EDNOS or OSFED.

When it comes to Eating Disorders there are actually a variety of contributing factors, of which the strongest are likely to be genetics and biology. In fact, research suggests 50-80% of a person’s risk for developing an eating disorder is due to genetics which includes factors associated with heritable personality traits such as perfectionism.

That being said, some studies have documented a link between exposure to westernized, thin-ideal media and an increase in eating disorder behaviors.   So while Photoshop may not cause eating disorders outright, the bottom line is that we all stand to benefit from more positive and realistic bodies in the media.  After all, individuals who feel better about their bodies take better care of them, regardless of weight, shape or size. Plus, positive body image and media literacy CAN serve as protective factors against disordered eating which is one reason why The Center for Eating Disorders supports projects like the Love Your Tree Campaign and The Illusionists documentary.

The infographic above from the National Eating Disorders Association breaks down some of the important elements of the media’s effects on body image. Click on the image to open and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Read more about the etiology of eating disorders here: Underlying Causes and Contributing Factors

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I Had No Idea…Males and Eating Disorders – National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2014

This helpful infographic from The National Eating Disorders Association helps to break down some of the key facts. Spread the word and help others by breaking down stereotypes and supporting accurate information about  males and eating disorders.  Join us on Facebook for more information and to join the #NEDAWeek conversation.

Infographic: Males & Eating DisordersThe Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt has been treating males affected by eating disorders for over twenty years yet barriers remain for those seeking treatment.  Cultural stigma regarding males and eating disorders can make it more difficult for men to come forward and seek treatment on their own. The good news is that education, support and awareness about eating disorders among males are all improving so that more boys and men are seeking and receiving the treatment they need and deserve.

Integrating Art & Body Image in the 8th Annual Love Your Tree Campaign

The President’s Committee on Arts & Humanities released a report in 2011 entitled Reinvesting in Arts Education. The report included a long list of evidence to support the benefits of integrating art throughout various disciplines in schools by “teaching ‘through’ and ‘with’ the arts”.  These benefits included fewer discipline problems, increased graduation rates, and improved test scores.  Even more interesting, using artistic mediums to teach, led to more interest in the subject matter, increased motivation to learn the topic at hand, and even the “advantage of embedding knowledge in long-term memory”.  Simply put, art not only makes things more fun and enjoyable to learn, it helps the brain to convert information in deeper, more meaningful ways that we remember longer.

While the President’s report encourages schools to use these benefits to improve learning in subject areas such as science, math and language arts, there are great  implications for learning other things – like positive body image and media literacy.  These are the goals of The Center for Eating Disorders’ Love Your Tree Campaign.  Now in its 8th year, Love Your Tree is arts-based campaign open to middle school, high school and college-aged youth, many of whom subscribe very strongly to our culture’s “thin ideal”.

“Thin-ideal internalization refers to the extent to which an individual cognitively “buys into” socially defined ideals of attractiveness and engages in behaviors designed to produce an approximation of these ideals.” (source)

Love Your Tree utilizes the creative poster-making process, media literacy skills and cognitive dissonance theory to help students internalize new ideals that support body diversity and self-acceptance.  Based on the President’s Report, using art as the educational tool helps to convey this knowledge in an effective, enjoyable way.  It also means that positive changes in body image that take place throughout participation in the campaign are more likely to be long-lasting.  Why is this important?  A positive body image is associated with higher levels of self-esteem overall and can serve as a protective factor against the development of eating disorders.

The 8th Annual Love Your Tree (LYT) campaign launches officially on July 12th.  Visit the LYT website to find out how your school or community organization can get involved and schedule a Love Your Tree workshop.

Questions?  Call (410) 427-3886

*Love Your Tree posters from past years will be on display in a traveling exhibit on August 25th through September 2nd, 2013 at The Shops at Kenilworth in Towson, MD.  We invite you to stop by to view the artwork and get more information about the campaign.

 

 

 

 

The 7th annual Love Your Tree campaign ~ Promoting positive body image and self-acceptance through art

“Like a tree, my body is ENDURING.”

2012 Artwork by Meghan Cain, Notre Dame Preparatory School

WHAT is Love Your Tree?

Love Your Tree is an arts-based body image campaign based on the work of author and activist, Eve Ensler.  Ensler’s award winning play, The Good Body sends a message to stop hating our bodies and encourages us all to challenge society’s narrow definition of beauty. The Love Your Tree program was created seven years ago as a creative avenue for this important message to reach young people in schools and organizations throughout our state and beyond. Middle school, high school and college students from across Maryland are invited to create and submit original posters that illustrate their positive response to the phrase, “Like a tree, my body is…”. This campaign provides students with an opportunity to use art as an avenue for learning about and expressing messages of self-acceptance and appreciation for body diversity.  Center for Eating Disorders staff are available to provide free, on-site Love Your Tree workshops for schools and youth organizations wanting to take part in the campaign.

WHEN:

Love Your Tree workshops are offered to schools, clubs, and youth organizations August through December of 2012.  Call (410) 427-3886 or email kclemmer@sheppardpratt.org to schedule.  Poster entries must be submitted by December 14th, 2012.

August 9-12, 2012 : Join us for a community Love Your Tree exhibit to highlight the campaign at The Shops at Kenilworth in Towson, Maryland…read more here.

WHO:

Middle School, High School and College-age students throughout Maryland can participate.  One poster per person.  Educators, counselors, youth leaders and parents are encouraged to help facilitate participation in the campaign.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED:

Schedule a workshop and/or download the following documents for details on how to submit a poster:

  • 2012 Call-for-Posters (pdf)
  • Student Artwork Registration Form (pdf) - must be handed in with artwork
  • All artwork MUST reflect original student ideas and designs.
  • Poster entries must be no smaller than 9″x12″ and no larger than 12″x18″.  Only two- dimensional media will be accepted. Please be sure your name is on the registration for and the artwork itself.
  • For more information, contact the CED Outreach Department at (410) 427-3886 or email kclemmer@sheppardpratt.org.

MORE INFO:

The campaign will culminate in February 2013 with a special recognition ceremony and a public exhibit of student artwork.  Students will receive awards for their artwork and one poster will be chosen for professional reproduction and promotion of the Love Your Tree message.  You can check out photos of past exhibits and receptions  on our Facebook page.

The campaign’s central theme, Love Your Body, Love Your Tree encourages self-awareness, media literacy, health and well-being, advocacy and an appreciation for the diversity of beauty.

Nurturing a Positive Pregnancy…Lessons Learned from Eating Disorder Recovery

Several months ago, The Center for Eating Disorders had the pleasure of hosting former World Champion rower, Whitney Post, as a keynote speaker during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.  In her talk, Invisible Victory, she spoke about her identity as an elite athlete and how she ultimately used it to her advantage in recovering from her eating disorder (ED).  During her visit to Baltimore, Whitney also shared that she was expecting a baby this June, and that  her work in ED recovery had provided a unique perspective and helpful skills for navigating the ups, downs and body image challenges of pregnancy.  In honor of Mother’s Day,  we asked Whitney if she would help us re-introduce our Nurture blog series for moms and mothers-to-be, and she graciously agreed.  The result is this insightful and delightfully down-to-earth Q&A  post about her ongoing journey through pregnancy and recovery. 

 Q & A with Whitney Post

Q: Have you noticed any similarities or parallels between the pregnancy experience and the recovery process?

WP: I remember early on in pregnancy lying in bed and trying to take stock of all the changes that were going on in my work, my body, my energy, and my identity.  It felt overwhelming to say the least, but what occurred to me was that I was so glad I had all the training of recovery to help me navigate this new journey.  I already knew how to surrender large areas of my life for the sake of something new and different.  I think both recovery and pregnancy are about building new life.  In each the process is long, full of uncertainty and discomfort, and full of hope.  There is a great demand for outside support and people who have been through the process before, and the ability to surrender to what the process is asking of you vs. having things exactly the way you want them.

Q: Can you describe how the process of recovering from an ED has helped you prepare for the experience of pregnancy, particularly as it relates to your body image?

WP: I wanted to be one of those women who remained toned and just grew a big round belly out front.  I am not.  I wanted to be one of those women who stayed true to her satisfying workout regimes.  I am not.  And I wanted to be one of those women who seemed to get more stylish as her belly grew, with cool accessories and funky outfits.  I am not. 

But what I am is one of those women who is putting the health of the child growing inside me first, and doing my best with all the rest.  I just do it while wearing clogs, and in between very moderate (“lame” would be another term) workouts.  As the weight started to come on, I could feel two sides of my brain at work.  One said, “this is a miracle and weight gain is part of the process.  This is healthy and natural.”  Meanwhile, another, old part of my brain shouted, “Hello!!!! You are gaining weight!!  Remember how unhappy you were last time this happened?  Do something about it now!!!”  Every time another round of clothes has to be retired because it becomes snug, a part of me feels an old tug to feel bad about myself.  But recovery taught me the skills of being able to recognize these two different voices and gave me the ability to make a choice, vs. listening to whichever voice is scarier.  I am pleased to say that, “this is normal and natural” now wins easily over “go on a diet!”

At my OB office when they check you in for each visit they hand you a cup to pee in and ask you to weigh yourself.  They leave the room and come back in about ten minutes.  For several months I would worry about having to weigh myself, as part of my recovery has involved not knowing how much I weigh.  I could have asked them to weigh me and just looked away, that would have been totally valid, but I just chose to do the drill and let them decide if I was gaining too much or too little.  As long as I’m not trying to control my weight, but rather trust that to the doctors, and manage healthy meals and appropriate workouts, I feel I am on track.

Q: How can pregnancy positively or negatively impact recovery? 

WP: I have found that I have had to work pretty hard at taking care of my recovery because my needs changed suddenly.  I had to find a new way to eat when everything made me nauseated.  I had to find a new way to work the tools of the program when I was too tired to go to 12-step meetings I normally went to.  I had to find women who were in recovery who had been pregnant to learn from them.  So suddenly, the little world of my recovery resources needed to be updated and shifted, and that has been a big investment on my part.  So I think if you let the things that sustain you in recovery slide because you have less energy or those resources don’t fit as well, you can be on a slippery slope, because you may also find yourself (as I often have) more emotionally vulnerable than normal.  But if you look at it as a time to invest in a new phase of recovery and build a community around you, it can strengthen you.

Q: Can you share some concrete steps women can take during pregnancy to help them nurture a positive relationship with their changing bodies?

  • Recognize you may have conflicting feelings and impulses but make sure your actions reflect your goals and values.  (for example – I want to diet because I don’t like gaining weight but my goal is to have a healthy baby and pregnancy, and so I will accept that gaining weight is part of the process and is temporary).
  • Talk to other women who have been through it and speak honestly about your experience.  You can be a wonderful mother and still not enjoy every aspect of pregnancy – they are not mutually exclusive.
  • Ensure from the outset that you have an OB who is supportive of prioritizing health vs. weight.  Then, trust your doctors when it comes to monitoring weight, exercise, etc., and get someone (nutritionist or physician) to work with you on the food and eating part, if you struggle with it, so you aren’t alone.
  • Focus on the positive parts – go to birthing classes, pay attention to the baby kicks, pick out baby clothes, prepare the house, etc.
  • Go with your body’s intuition about when it needs a rest, a snack or a cry.  You may not be able to keep up with your old self, or your old standards, and that’s okay.  It’s important to accept that your body now has a whole new task to prioritize; supporting the physical growth and development of your baby requires a lot of energy.

Q: As an eating disorder treatment professional, a recovery advocate and now a pregnant woman yourself, what are your thoughts on the mainstream media’s representation of pregnant and post-pregnancy bodies? 

WP: Mainstream media has never been helpful when it comes to figuring out how my body should look, and a pregnant body is no different.  The women chosen to be pregnancy models or on the covers of magazines are a very select group of pregnant women who all look much the same, and are all captured in about their fifth or sixth month of pregnancy when the belly is often cute and round.  If you go to a prenatal yoga class and look at all the bodies (as I often did – I was barely able to focus on the poses) you will see all the different shapes and sizes of bellies regardless of the phase of pregnancy.  Some of them seem pretty wacky looking as we are just not accustomed to seeing really pregnant women!  I find it much healthier to see these real live pregnant women than to look at the models.

As for “after the baby” the media is obsessed with how fast a woman can “get her body back.”  I’m happy Heidi Klum made it her goal to be a sexy Victoria secret model within weeks of giving birth, but I don’t think that is helpful for most women.  I am really looking forward to being able to run and do a sit up and move my body with greater ease and speed after the baby is born.  But the reality is I will be sleep deprived and in a very demanding phase of feeding, soothing, and getting to know a new baby, and at that time, I don’t need to be preoccupied with how quickly I can lose weight.  Focusing on eating well and getting in some sleep and exercise will be my goal for good self-care.

Q: Is there one piece of advice that has been particularly helpful for you in terms of staying focused on wellness and body positivity during pregnancy?

WP: Trust your body and stay connected ~ not that different from recovery, right? : )  Pregnancy can make you tired and moody, and both of those things can make socializing less appealing. I have found that I need to push myself to stay connected to old pals and to reach out to start to create a new community of moms-to-be. 

Q: Are there any lessons you’ve learned through ED recovery that you think may also be helpful for individuals as they venture into the day-to-day life of motherhood with a new baby?

WP:In recovery I spent a lot of time learning how to figure out what I needed, and how to stand up for that need while being kind and respectful of others.  But I still need to fight a part of me that is stuck in the habit of  “people pleasing.”  In pregnancy part of my job is to avoid putting myself in bad situations (being around people who have contagious colds or flus, overdoing myself with social/work demands), even though I might have been fine with these situations when not pregnant. This means I have to say “no” to things more often.  I learned early on that if I went against an instinct about my limits of comfort, I was really uncomfortable. I imagine some of the same will be true with an infant.  So my lesson that I am learning over again is that I need to respect my instincts and boundaries, and while I may inconvenience people in the process, we will all survive.

Whitney Post is the President and Co-Founder of Eating for Life Alliance and spends much of her time educating college students, professionals, athletes and coaches about eating disorder prevention and treatment. The Center for Eating Disorders is incredibly grateful to Whitney for sharing her insights, experiences,  and advice about pregnancy and recovery for this post We wish her well as she ventures into motherhood!  If you’d like to share your own ideas on this topic, please leave your thoughts in the comments section below or join the discussion on our Facebook Page

If you enjoyed this blog, you may want to read these previous entries from CED’s Nurture Blog Series:

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*Significant health risks (for mom and baby) are associated with eating disorders during pregnancy.  It is recommended that the eating disorder be significantly resolved before a pregnancy is attempted.  If pregnancy does occur prior to recovery, it is imperative that you receive appropriate medical and psychological support. If you are struggling with an eating disorder during pregnancy, or are working hard to maintain your recovery during pregnancy, we would like to remind you how important it is to be honest with your OB and other medical providers during this time.  It’s critical that your providers are aware of your medical history and any current and past ED symptoms so that they can provide the best possible health care for you and your baby.  

What’s Really Going On with Facebook & Body Image?

The results of our recent survey regarding the intersection of Facebook use and body image have been highlighted by various news outlets over the past two weeks.  We discussed the implications of the survey results here (and as a guest post over at The Illusionists), drawing attention to the fact that 51% of the 600 survey respondents said they often compare themselves to others while on Facebook and that seeing photos on Facebook makes them more self-conscious about their own body and weight.  Additionally, 32% endorsed feelings of sadness when they compare their body to other people’s photos on Facebook which, for most people, is at least once a day if not more.

Facebook: Body Image Friend or Foe? at The Illusionists.org

We originally set out to do this survey because we were finding that patients with eating disorders were meeting with great difficulty in the recovery process when it came to logging into their Facebook accounts.  In fact, before we released the full survey results, one user on our Facebook page left the following comment:

Facebook definitely played a role in fueling my eating disorder symptoms and behaviors.  Most people only post pictures that glamorize their bodies and social life…There have been multiple times throughout my recovery that I have deactivated my account because the things I was seeing online were fogging my view of reality.  Realizing that the site was doing more harm than good for me has made me more aware of the things I post on my account.  I think it’s important to make sure we are trying to foster a safe and healthy community and we can only do that if we first change the way we act… .” -  Facebook User

While some media outlets have gone as far as to say that Facebook is a cause of negative body image and eating disorders, others have dismissed the significance of the results as par for the course in our  image and weight-obsessed culture.  Others, including this editorial assistant over at Allure Magazineonline, have spoken up in a personal, and humorous, way about the modern realities of  this pressure-to-be-perfect in Facebook photos. Despite the varied reactions, one thing became clear to us following the survey;   Individuals with eating disorders are not alone in their battle with body-obsession on Facebook.   

Since the survey, we’ve been asked multiple times about how body-pressure from online social media differs from the toxic messages we’ve been getting for decades from fashion magazines, commercials and weight-focused friends?   The answer: the content itself is nothing new to us as a society - conversations that are hyper-focused on weight loss, diets, bikini bodies, and who looks “hot or not” – but the delivery and dissemination of it is new.  We’ve noticed the following characteristics of online communities are unique in how they can potentially affect the relationship we have with our bodies: 

  • Accessibility - Online social networks never turn off.  Even when you’re by yourself you’re often not far from your laptop, iPad or Smartphone and the lure of logging in to Facebook.  In the past, waiting in line at the store might have included…waiting in line.  With a smartphone it could easily be spent browsing Facebook pics from your old college roomate’s beach vacation or reading about Aunt Sally’s 37th time going on a diet.  For better or worse, we have a lot more visual information at our fingertips than ever before. 
  • Immediacy – your status update or photo can literally be seen (and commented on) around the world in a matter of seconds.
  • Lack of control over what other people post and how people comment on it.
  • Two-way street- unlike with magazines or commercials, Facebook not only allows you to see photos of other people, but allows them to see photos of you.  Maybe even more importantly, YOU are seeing public photos of you which can sometimes create the most body anxiety, especially if your instinct is to zero in on all of your supposed “imperfections” in each picture.
  • Business or Pleasure? – there’s a unique mix between the personal and business realms on Facebook.  Users often use one account to stay connected with friends/family but also occasionally promote a product or business in their posts and photos.  This means we get advertisement-like messages about beauty, exercise and weight-loss products from people we like and/or trust.  Confusing? Definitely.     
  • The sheer number of people you are connected to on Facebook is more than you would ever casually socialize with on a Friday night. The thought of hundreds or even thousands of people zeroing in on what you imagine to be “imperfections” can be overwhelming when it comes to body insecurities.  (It’s important to remember that no one else is ever looking at you or your body in photos as closely as you are!) 
  • Body Comparisons while on Facebook take on new meaning because you’re seeing real people.  Unlike magazines and advertisements which feature [heavily photoshopped]models and celebrities, photos of Facebook friends may, unfortunately, feel like a more realistic or welcoming comparison.  

The truth is, when you get caught up in comparing yourself and your body to other people (online or off) you can’t win.  Blogger, Margarita Tartakovsky, shares her journey out of this comparison trap in How To Stop Comparing Yourself To Others, in which she reflects:  

When you’re rarely satisfied with yourself, your self-worth is shaky, and you see others’ lives as almost perfect – or definitely better than your own. You  constantly search outside yourself, and as a result, you knock yourself down. For many of us, comparing ourselves just changes stripes from time to time. One day, we want someone else’s abs, biceps or hips. Another day, we want their smarts or style. A few days later, we want their family life or financial situation.  Until we can truly believe in ourselves, the comparisons will swirl and sabotage…It’s interesting that now that I accept, appreciate and believe in my body, the physical comparisons have mostly quieted.

The trap of body negativity and comparisons on Facebook can certainly be difficult to avoid, especially if your online social atmosphere includes a lot of people who place a high value on appearance-only qualities or happen to be caught up in the diet mentality themselves.  The impact can feel much more powerful if your body image is already in a fragile state as is often the case for individuals with eating disorders and those recovering from eating disorders.  

The great news is that you can mold a more positive online experience for yourself.  If you’ve reflected on your Facebook use,  assessed its impact on your body image and realized that too much of your social networking time is spent feeling worried or sad about how you look, than it may be time to set some changes in motion.

You can start by vowing to maintain a body positive Facebook profile - this means not engaging in fat talk, self-criticism, diet discussion or body snarking while on Facebook. Once you’ve made the decision to do so, you can find tips and suggestions for incorporating body positivity in our post, Social Networks ~ Building a Body Positive Presence Online.

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Body Image Friend or Foe? How is Facebook affecting the way you feel about your Body?

ABC-2 News Interview - Does Facebook Make You Feel Fat?

Over the last year, major social networking and blog sites have taken steps to protect users from  dangerous Pro-ana and Pro-mia communities online.  These are sites that promote eating disorders as a way of life, instead of a genuine mental illness, and create an atmosphere that normalizes and encourages extremely dangerous weight-loss behaviors.  Most recently the popular photo sharing site, Pinterestupdated their policies regarding inappropriate content to include Pinners and boards that feature “thinspo” or “thinspiration” – images of dangerously thin bodies meant to motivate or inspire users to pursue greater weight loss.   While banning this content won’t cure eating disorders, it can certainly help to protect vulnerable individuals from tapping into these dangerous websites. 

Though somewhat hidden in “underground” niches across the web, the dangers of online pro-eating disorder sites have been well-documented, and we commend Pinterest, Facebook, and Tumblr for taking a stand to protect their users from these sites.  But perhaps more unsuspecting in their effects, are mainstream social network communities: general sites like Facebook that we all use everyday to keep in touch with friends and family across the world, to post pictures of our kids and pets, to share birthday wishes or follow favorite organizations.  

Have you ever thought about how Facebook use is affecting your relationship with your body? 

Recently, The Center for Eating Disorders commissioned a public survey of Facebook users age 16-40 and found that, for most Facebook users, the answer to this questions is actually quite concerning.  In response to the survey we found:

  • 51% of respondents said that seeing photos of themselves on Facebook makes them more conscious about their own body and their weight
  • 32% said they feel SAD when comparing Facebook photos of themselves to their friends’
  • 44% spend time wishing they had the same body or weight as a friend when looking at photos on Facebook
  • 37% said they feel that they need to change specific parts of their body when comparing their bodies to a friend’s body in Facebook photos

Now consider that 80% of the respondents in our survey reported that they log on to Facebook at least once a day and more than half of them log on several times each day.   Thus, we see the set-up  for a daily stream of negative body image thoughts which could potentially impact one’s self-esteem.

Recent articles on CNN.com and NYTimes.com have drawn attention to the heightened role that online social networks play in adolescents’ relationship with their bodies, specifically with regards to the sexualization of teens’ online photos.  Most recently, the self-esteem website Proud2BMe.org  featured a collection of sobering quotes  from real teens regarding their body image and Facebook use, a few of which are excerpted below:

“People get positive attention in the world by losing weight. And you can do it to an even greater extent on Facebook.”-Anika, 18

“It’s only the ‘standard beauty’ who gets the ‘likes’ I feel like to be the hot girl, you have to be like that, or wear your shirt too low and your skirt too high.” -Kirby, 18

“When looking at images of girls in a magazine almost all us know that they are altered electronically to appear perfect. When it comes to social media such as Facebook, most believe that they are looking at raw pictures, or ‘real girls.’ Whether this is true or not, they are ultimately used as a standard of comparison.    -Mary

What may be even more sobering is the reality that this mindset is not unique to adolescents. Survey results indicate that this is not just a phase we pass through or something teens will necessarily grow out of.   Respondents included adults in their 20s, 30s and 40s confirming that they experience similar patterns of body negativity and weight obsession when using Facebook.   

Body negativity on Facebook is not to be considered just a women’s issue either.  In this survey commissioned by CED, 40% of the male respondents agreed that they sometimes write negative comments about their own body in photos posted on Facebook (whereas 21% of females agree to doing so).

What do we gain from publicly, or privately, criticizing our bodies and constantly comparing our bodies to one another?  Does anyone really benefit from congratulating or praising people when they post about weight loss or diets in their Facebook updates?  Weight obsession and body shaming certainly isn’t new, but online social networks are creating a new frontier that seems to be publicizing our body insecurities while magnifying society’s love affair with diets and weight loss. CED’s associate director Dr. Steven Crawford had this to say in response to the survey results:

As people spend more time thinking about what’s wrong with their bodies, less time is spent on the positive realm and engaging in life in meaningful and fulfilling ways.  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. We hope the results of this survey encourage people to really look at how their online behavior affects their outlook, and we caution them against being overly critical of their own bodies or other people’s bodies while on Facebook and other social networking sites.

Consider reflecting on your own Facebook use and how it could possibly be affecting your relationship with your body.   We suggest asking yourself the following questions to discern whether certain online behaviors or patterns are harming your self-esteem or body image:

  • How often do you publicly or privately criticize your own body while online?
  • How much time do you spend comparing your body to other people’s bodies online?
  • What percentage of your status updates focus on weight, diets or exercise? 
  • Do your comments on other people’s photos regularly focus on weight or appearance in a negative or positive way?  
  • How do you feel when you look through friends’ online albums? Do you ever get overwhelmed by this?  

It’s important to remember that Facebook, and social networking in general, is a wonderful way to stay in touch with and connect to other people and organizations.  Facebook certainly doesn’t cause negative body image in and of itself.  It does however, provide lots of fuel for the weight-obsession and body criticisms that already burn out of control in our larger culture.  This can be particularly worrisome for individuals who already struggle with severe negative body image or eating disorders.  During a recent interview with ABC-2 News regarding the survey results, CED Director, Dr. Harry Brandt added that,     

Facebook may be another step in our culture that promotes self-consciousness about appearance and feelings of low self-worth around [the] body, and those are significant factors in the proliferation of eating disorders.

If you find that you’re using Facebook as an outlet for feeling badly about your body, comparing yourself to others physically, or hyperfocusing on appearance and weight in your posts, it may be time to renovate your page.  Check out these follow-up posts:

Do you have suggestions? Want to share about you own experience?  Join the conversation, and start the movement towards online body positivity on our Facebook page.

You can findmore information about The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt on our website, www.EatingDisorder.org

When Someone You Love Has an Eating Disorder

CED LeafThis is a special blog in advance National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (Feb 26th – March 3rd) and an upcoming free workshop, When Your Loved One has an Eating Disorder: Helping Them Heal on the Road to Recovery. You can find details about all of our upcoming NEDAWeek events at the end of the post.

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Guilt.  Shame.  Frustration.  Sadness.  Fear.  Anger.  These are just some of the emotions commonly experienced and expressed by support people when someone they love is struggling with an eating disorder (ED).  While each family experiences an ED, and the recovery process, in a unique way, there can be some commonalities that are important to talk about. Attending support groups, information sessions, and community workshops facilitated by treatment professionals are all great ways for support people to gain understanding and insight into the difficult journey their loved one is on.  It’s also a great way for family and friends to get feedback and support around their own feelings while they help their loved one navigate their way back to health.   A few of the most common struggles faced by family members are discussed below.    

Often times, parents and caregivers feel guilty and express concern that they may be to blame for their loved one’s eating disorder.

It can be terrifying for caregivers to find out that their loved one has an ED, especially as they begin to understand the level of suffering that comes with that.  A common reaction among parents is self-blame or intense guilt over the possibility that they may have contributed to their daughter’s or son’s illness.  This guilt can understandably create resistance or defensiveness and can be paralyzing for loved ones in the treatment process.  As long as the focus remains on “It’s all my fault.” it can be difficult to move towards “How can we as a family work together to support our loved one’s recovery?” 

While these illnesses have a complex combination of contributing factors, research has found them to be highly heritable, meaning 50-80% of one’s risk for developing an ED is dependent upon genetic factors. It’s important for families to receive reassurance that they are not to blame for their loved one’s illness while understanding that there are important ways they can help in the recovery process.  In fact, evidence-based treatment of EDs suggests educating family members and involving them in the treatment process greatly improves outcomes.  By identifying ways in which the ED has affected the family functioning and discussing dynamics that may be maintaining some of the person’s symptoms, families can work together towards improved communication, positive interactions and healing that extends far beyond the eating disorder.

Support people often feel anxious or frustrated about what to say vs. what not to say to a loved one with an eating disorder.  This can lead to fear that they are making their loved one worse because they don’t know how to respond in difficult situations involving food or body image.  Support people report that they often feel that they are “walking on eggshells” around their friend or family member with the eating disorder.

One of the most common examples of this dilemma occurs during the recovery process when support people may say something like “You look so much healthier,” but it is interpreted as “You look fat”.  Anyone who has been through an ED will tell you that they often feel irritable, and so much of their energy and time is spent thinking about weight and food that most comments people make about their appearance will automatically be construed in a negative way, even when they come from a place of care and concern.  Alternative comments that may be easier for your loved one to hear as they recover might be, “I’ve noticed you have a lot more energy lately” or “It is so nice to see you smiling today.”  One of the most helpful things support people can do is to communicate with their loved one by asking for a specific list of things that they can say or do that would be helpful to them when they are struggling.  Examples of things that are triggering or are not helpful to recovery could be useful as well.  Keep in mind that these lists may change at various points in the recovery process; communicate and revise often.

Also important to note: supporting someone through recovery from an ED is uniquely difficult compared to some other illnesses because of the cultural environment we live in.  Our society encourages and applauds hyper vigilance around weight, food and perfection yet recovery from an ED involves giving up some level of control over all three of those things.  Learning to filter unhelpful information and help your loved one resist damaging cultural messages about weight/food can feel like an uphill battle.  However, it does get easier with continued education about media literacy and guidance from therapists and registered dietitians who specialize in treating individuals with EDs.    

Support people are often so worried about the individual with the eating disorder that they focus 100% their energy on their loved one’s safety and recovery.   It becomes very easy to forget to seek their own support, neglect to keep up with their own self-care or let other personal priorities fall to the wayside. This can lead to mounting  feelings of exhaustion, depression or hopelessness.

Helping a loved one through the process of recovery from an ED can feel all-encompassing, especially when it’s your child or a spouse.   It often must become the family’s priority to get them back to a place of safety and stability, both physically and mentally.  However, support people can only offer stable, strong support when they are caring for themselves and staying stable, strong and rested themselves.  It’s important for caregivers to stay connected to their own friends, to seek out their own support and to set aside time to replenish themselves emotionally.  It could be as simple as sending a quick email to a friend every night before bed or scheduling a day trip to a favorite place. Whatever it is, remember the advice you get when you fly…you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can effectively help those around you.

The truth is recovery can be a challenging process for all involved.  Even as progress is made, there are often set-backs or plateaus that can be confusing and frustrating .   Can you relate to the experiences discussed above?  Did you encounter other difficulties and roadblocks while learning to support a loved one in recovery?  Leave us a comment below or join in the discussion on our Facebook page.

At the Center for Eating Disorders, we recognize that there is a special need for education and support for the supporters themselves.  When Your Loved One Has an Eating Disorder: Helping Them Heal on the Road to Recovery is a FREE workshop designed to help family members and friends receive specialized education about EDs and their treatment, as well as insight into various care giving tools that can help facilitate the recovery process. Check out the details below, and don’t forget to RSVP by calling (410) 427-3886.

MARCH 1st, 2012  ~ When Your Loved One Has an Eating Disorder: Helping Them Heal on the Road to Recovery [download the event flyer]7:00 - 8:30 pm in  Baltimore, MD

 

 

Visit our Events Page for a full listing of upcoming events, including our NEDAWeek kick-off event, Invisible Victory: An Athlete’s Story of Hope & Triumph in Eating Disorder Recovery.

 

Invisible Victory

 

 

 www.eatingdisorder.org

Making a Difference ~ Fat Talk Free Week 2011

This is the 6th post in an 8-part blog series  about eating disorders on campus.

Fat Talk Free Week 2011

“I’m having a fat day.”

“Does this outfit make me look fat?”

“I can’t go on that date until I lose more weight – I’m so disgusting.”

Have you ever uttered these words? Have you thought them? Heard other people say them? These types of statements have become far too acceptable as part of our every day speech and social conversation. In an effort to combat this way of speaking to ourselves and others, Tri Delta Sorority launched their fourth annual Fat Talk Free Week going on right now, October 16-22, 2011.

The following description of this initiative is posted on their website:

Fat Talk describes all of the statements made in everyday conversation that can contribute to women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies by reinforcing the thin ideal. Examples of fat talk may include: “I’m so fat,” “Do I look fat in this?” “I need to lose 10 pounds” and “She’s too fat to be wearing that.” Statements that are considered fat talk don’t necessarily have to be negative; they can seem positive yet also reinforce the need to be thin –“How do you stay so skinny?” or  “You look great! Have you lost weight?”

Fat Talk Free Week, our cause campaign in support of Reflections, is an annual week-long event to raise awareness about the damaging effects of Fat Talk. We’re encouraging everyone to change the conversation to create a more positive body image for women everywhere!

Negative body image is one of the most persistent symptoms of an eating disorder. In fact, for many people, their eating disorder symptoms will be well under control before their body image begins to improve. This is a frustrating experience that can also be very triggering, leading some, unfortunately, to revert to their eating disorder behaviors. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to actively work on nurturing and accepting your body. There’s still time to enlist some friends or family members to take part in Fat Talk Free Week to support you in creating a world less focused on appearance and unrealistic body ideals.

Stop Fat Talk: Instead of talking with others about your appearance, start conversations about which classes you are taing, your weekend plans or how you are feeling that day. Compliment others on their accomplishments, style, or humor instead of highlighting their appearance or weight. If others are engaging in fat talk, politely redirect the conversation or let them know about your goal for the week and encourage them to join in.  You can connect with others on the End Fat Talk Facebook Page.

Make a List, Don’t Check it Twice: On one half of a piece of paper, write a list of the things you dislike about your body. On the other half write the things that you like about your body, you accomplishments and your personality. Tear off the half that details the negatives and rip it up into pieces. Throw it in the trash where it belongs! Put the positive half somewhere that you can look at it frequently to remind yourself of your great qualities.

Treat Your Body: This would be a great week to schedule a massage or a pedicure. Strapped for cash? Check out local spas that might have student discounts or get some friends together and swap accessories that emphasize your favorite feature. Sometimes, it is a treat to simply take a nice, long shower at home and actually take time to enjoy the scents of the shampoos and soaps that you use.

Apologize: It may seem silly, but every time you catch yourself thinking a negative thought about your body, pause and apologize to your body for being so harsh. Instead, try to express your gratitude for what your body does for you. For example, if you are thinking your thighs are too big, stop and thank your legs for giving you the ability to walk from place to place.  You might even want to write your body an apology letter for having been so critical in the past. Then write your resolutions for how you will treat it better in the future.

Get Creative: Tap into your inner artist and create a poster for CED’s 6th Annual Love Your Tree positive body image and poster campaign.  Colleges and  student organizations in the state of Maryland can even request a free Love Your Tree creative workshop for your campus facilitated by the program’s creator, Julia Andersen.  More details here.

Out with the old, In with the new: This would be a great week to do your body a favor and get rid of any old clothes that don’t fit or simply don’t make you feel great when you wear them. What is the point of holding onto jeans that don’t cooperate with your body? They’re only taking up space in your closet, and you could be focusing on the jeans that fit you and flatter you now. Host a clothing drive in your dorm or with your friends; donate those clothes to Goodwill or take them to a consignment shop. Everyone wins!

We at The Center for Eating Disorders encourage you to sign the Fat Talk Free Week Pledge.  Over 3,000 other people have already made the commitment to befriend their bodies, will you?

Remember, Fat Talk Free doesn’t have to end on Friday.  See how much better you feel when you focus on life outside of clothing sizes, diet goals and the media’s harmful messages about beauty. You may find that you want to make it a daily commitment.  Need a little extra motivation?  Check out Positive Body Image is Always In Season: 7 Tips for Year-Round Body Image Boosting and join us on Facebook.

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Written by Jennifer Moran, PsyD. as part of CED’s 8-part college blog series for students struggling with disordered eating and body image concerns on campus.