How can eating disorders be related to societal pressure?
A personal testimony of my struggle with anorexia and how social media and media play a role into the development of eating disorders in teenagers.
In the past 20 years, the need to be connected to everyone, everywhere, all the time has increased tenfold. With the development of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Tumblr, everyone feels the pressure of social media.
One of our most vulnerable groups is teenagers. The brain doesn’t stop developing until 25 (or, in my opinion, ever as we learn new things constantly), and as teenagers, we were especially vulnerable to the negative effects of social media. Our brains are still malleable, easy to change, and the teenage years are extremely critical to the development of self. This is the time we start to find ourselves, discovering what we like and dislike, sexual preferences, and gender identity.
We make mistakes, we learn from them, and we grow.
Social media influencers are almost all thin, tall, and extremely attractive. Including advertisements for fad diets, the quickest way to lose weight, etc., our teenagers are directly influenced by all of this. Our sense of body image becomes warped by what we think we should look like, more often than not the pictures we see on social media are heavily edited to make these men and women seem flawless and perfect. Because of this, teenagers feel immense pressure to look like influencers, which has damaging effects on their mental health.
Depression, anxiety, loneliness, and eating disorders can sometimes, although not all the time, stem from social media and these warped images of models and even everyday people. The immense pressure from society, peers, and family can affect a teenagers mental health. Many parents want their children to be perfect, often causing their children lots of unnecessary stress. Perfection and pressure from parents can look like wanting their child to have straight A’s, get acceptance letters from every single college, and looking thin and attractive. Some of this pressure, especially around food, can be controlled portions, dictating what the child can or cannot eat, and forcing them to either work out or join many sports teams to achieve this level of ‘thin’ demanded by society. Sports can play a role with eating disorders and distorted self image. Coaches, parents, and peers alike all encourage others to be the best they can be and sometimes that means pushing yourself past your limit.
Eating disorders can be developed from traumatic events, an abusive household, the desire to have control, and many other factors. Teenagers can feel like they don’t have control over their lives if their parents are strict and limit them on what they can do, so they take control on what they feel is the only thing in their life: food.
In my own adolescence, I felt the lack of control in my life. My parents controlled almost every aspect of my life, what I could do, who I could be friends with or hang out with, what I could do with my body and hair, and even what clothes I wore. The one thing they didn’t control was what I ate, I was able to control what food I ate and how and when I exercised. I became obsessed. Counting calories, starving myself, you name it, I probably did it. I won’t go into more depth, the last thing I want to happen is to lead anyone else down this rabbit hole. Seven years after I developed an eating disorder, I officially got diagnosed by a doctor who said that eating disorders are a mental disorder, not a physical disorder. These disorders don’t pick and choose who gets it, it’s not specific to any body type, gender, or race. Boys and girls alike are affected by eating disorders, but are often not diagnosed due to lack of access to mental health providers or parents refusing to believe that their child could have something wrong with them.
How can we change social media’s effects on teenagers' mental health?
There’s no definite answer. We can’t stop models, influencers, and brands posting their pictures and outfits daily, nor can we change how our teenagers think. Having more access to mental health facilities AND making them more affordable can help teenagers cope with how they feel. It may even help them realize that nothing is wrong with them, and that society is, well, virtually made up.