Public Survey Conducted by The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt Reveals that Facebook Drains Body Image and Self-Esteem

75 percent of Facebook users unhappy with body - 51 percent of respondents reported Facebook makes them more conscious about their body and weight

Mar 28, 2012, 08:30 ET from The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt

BALTIMORE, Md., March 28, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- "l look so fat in that photo – untag me," "You look so skinny, I could never wear those jeans!" "Did you see how much weight Greg gained?" "Totally pigged out today – gotta start that diet," "Just ran 10 miles," "I need to hit the gym," "You don't even look like you had a baby!"  –  Body and weight obsession seem to be reaching new heights in our society, and it looks like Facebook may be fueling the fire.  The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt took a look at Facebook behavior and commissioned a public survey to examine how social media is influencing body image and hyper-awareness of body size. With 51 percent of respondents reporting that seeing photos of themselves and others on Facebook makes them more conscious of their body and weight, The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt is encouraging users to be mindful of their Facebook use and cognoscente of the role it could play in negative body image and the promotion of eating disorders. 

"Facebook is making it easier for people to spend more time and energy criticizing their own bodies and wishing they looked like someone else," said Dr. Harry Brandt, director of The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt. "In this age of modern technology and constant access to SmartPhones and the internet, 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."  

The toxic effects of public body shaming, body comparisons and self-criticism on Facebook extend far beyond the adolescent years.  

The national survey of 600 Facebook users ages 16 to 40 revealed four clear themes:

1. People spend a lot of time on Facebook and in doing so, spend a lot of time analyzing their bodies and the bodies of others:

  • 80 percent of respondents log into Facebook at least once a day. Of that, 61 percent say they login several times a day.
  • 51 percent of respondents said that seeing photos of themselves make them more conscious about their body and weight.
  • 51 percent agree that they often find themselves comparing their life to that of their friends when they read status updates and see pictures posted.
  • 32 percent said they feel sad when comparing Facebook photos of themselves to their friend's photos.
  • 44 percent wish they had the same body or weight as a friend when looking at photos.
  • 37 percent feel they need to change specific parts of their body when comparing their bodies to friend's bodies in photos.

2. Facebook appears to be fueling a "camera ready" mentality among the general public:

  • 44 percent said they are always conscious when attending social events that photos of them might get posted on Facebook.
  • 43 percent will avoid having people photograph them at a social event if they don't feel they look their best.

3. Advances in Facebook technology such as Timeline, are making it easier for people to track body and weight changes:

  • 53 percent have compared their body and weight in photos taken at different times.
  • 14 percent have used Facebook's new weight loss tracker. 37 percent are interested in trying it.

4. People are not happy with their bodies and are engaging in dangerous behaviors in connection with those feelings:

  • Only 25 percent of respondents said they are happy with their current body and weight.
  • 69 percent said they would like to lose weight.
  • 31 percent have avoided intake of specific food items, food groups, or entire categories of foods in an attempt to lose or control weight.
  • 17 percent said they have engaged in binge eating with 7 percent reporting that they have purged.
  • 12 percent said they currently have or have had an eating disorder. 8 percent said they have thought they may have an eating disorder.

"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," said Dr. Steven Crawford, The Center for Eating Disorders' associate director. "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."

The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt suggests the following tips:

1. Recognize the effect that perusing Facebook photos may have on your self-esteem or body image. How often do you publicly or privately criticize your own body? 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 so, how do you cope?

2. Interrupt the negativity by subscribing to body positive Facebook pages such as:

3. Take a stand against the body negativity and weight obsession within your online communities.  Try only posting about or commenting on friends' non-physical accomplishments and successes instead of zeroing in on how they look or what they weigh. 

4. If you find yourself unable to escape feelings of jealousy, sadness or comparison while online, consider taking a break from Facebook and logoff. Use the time that you would spend on Facebook to acquire a new hobby, connect with body-positive friends, or engage in other activities that honor your body in a positive way.

5. If you find yourself engaging in disordered eating or dangerous behaviors seek professional help right away.

About the Survey

The results are based on data from an online survey conducted by The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt from February 14 to February 15, 2012 among a national sample of 600 Facebook users age 16 to 40. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent at the 95 percent confidence level based on a Facebook population age 16 to 40 of 112,200,740 users. The survey sampled Facebook users from all four census regions: Northeast 22 percent (n=132), Midwest 29.8 percent (n=179), South 29 percent (n=174) and West 19.2 percent (n-115) .The survey sample was 32.8 percent male (n=197) and 67.2 percent female (n=403).  

About the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt
The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, located in Towson, Md., offers a comprehensive continuum of treatment services for the patient with complex eating disorders. The continuum includes inpatient, day hospital and intensive outpatient services, as well as ongoing outpatient treatment provided by The Center for Eating Disorders, P.A. The program is designed to respond to both the psychiatric and medical aspects of eating disorders, with a comprehensive array of mental health and consultative medical resources. For more information, visit www.eatingdisorder.org and www.facebook.com/eatingdisorderhelp

SOURCE The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt



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