How harmful are viral body image trends?

How many of these hashtags have you seen lately: #thighbrow #thighgap #bikinibridge #SunburnArt #CollarBoneChallenge #BellyButtonChallenge #DontJudgeMeChallenge #KylieJennerChallenge?

We're betting that if you spend any time at all on social media, you'll be familiar with at least a few of these. Viral body image trends and challenges are the latest craze, but it's not all fun and games. The latest trends have teens balancing coins on their collarbones and sucking on shot glasses in a bid to get 'plumper' lips. It might sound comical, but in reality, it's far from it.

The #thighbrow craze

This week, instagram's latest body image craze, first mentioned in Elle magazine, is the thighbrow? "What?" you might be wondering. According to Elle, the 'thighbrow' is the set of folds between the top of your thighs and your butt, that's visible from the front when you kneel, sit or bend forwards - it looks like a pair of eyebrows. This trend could be due in part to the popularity of high-cut bodysuits and swimsuits (known as 'frongs' - front-facing thongs). Harmless it might seem, but is there a darker side?

Self-obsession - a generation of narcissists

What are these trends and challenges actually doing to our self esteem? We already know that teens who spend more time taking selfies and obsessing over their appearance are at an increased risk of depression and disorders such as body dysmorphic disorder. Desiring approval for every picture you post on Facebook or instagram could damage self-esteem and may even be linked to narcissism. A study carried out on 1,000 men aged 18 to 40 assessed how many selfies they had taken and posted on social media. Participants were also asked how much time they spent on social media and how often they re-touched, filtered or cropped pictures of themselves.

The results showed that those who spent more time on social media and editing photos also showed higher levels of self-objectification and narcissism, both linked to self-esteem issues (1).

Body trends on social media

Social media challenges such as the latest 'Collarbone Challenge' promote body-shaming and comparison, and can lead to problems for girls and young women with or without eating disorders, promoting an unhealthy body image. The collarbone challenge in particular claims that if you can balance a row of coins or other small objects on your collarbone, you're 'skinny and sexy'. When in actual fact, your collarbone is just another bone in your body and has nothing to do with weight, health or body image!

These social media challenges fuel insecurity and encourage young people to compare their bodies with those of others. Body-shaming trends such as this, the Belly Button Challenge and the Dont Judge Me Challenge could be more harmful to our teens than we realise.

A dangerous trend

Challenges such as the Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge, where girls placed a glass over their lips and sucked, forming a vacuum which it was said would give them 'fuller' lips, left many teens with temporary swollen, disfigured lips, facial bruising and in some cases even scars, after the glasses used shattered. Kylie Jenner's 'fuller' lips were down to lip plumping injections. Another recent challenge which took off in the USA, the 'Cutting Challenge', encouraged kids to cut their arms with scissors and other objects, taking pictures and sharing them on Facebook. Two terms coined on social media, the 'thigh gap' and 'bikini bridge' could contribute to the development of eating disorders amongst teen girls and young women who are pursuing an unrealistic body image, rather than learning about exercising and eating healthily.

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Thinspiration - what's the deal?

Social media trend 'thinspiration', where people post photos of women possessing 'perfect' bodies is another trend damaging self-esteem amongst young women. These images may have 'inspirational' text that inspires the viewer to take action, with some photos even linked to sites with diet and exercise advice.

Eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia are serious, life-threatening psychiatric conditions, and nobody really knows how or why they develop. Factors which could put you at an increased risk include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling inadequate
  • Tendency to be a perfectionist
  • Craving control/feeling a lack of control
  • Being ridiculed or bullied about weight

When you consider that around 80% of teens use social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr on a regular basis, it's easy to see how teens are regularly exposed to images and messages about body shape and size. A study carried out by researchers in Israel revealed that teenage girls who spent more time using Facebook were at an increased risk of developing negative body image and eating disorders (2).

Why the danger?

Social media trends and challenges have the power to influence eating habits and body image in a number of ways:

Peer influence/competition

Research shows that influence from peers can contribute to body dissatisfaction (3). The study didn't find a conclusive link between poor self image and time spent on social media, but teens may use social media sites as a way of comparing themselves with others.

Low self-esteem

Regular use of social media could contribute to low self-esteem and worthlessness or inadequacy. One study showed that college students felt worse about themselves after spending time on Facebook (4) This could lead to feelings of not measuring up and hating your body. Social media puts girls and young women under constant pressure to attain unreachable physical ideals, and because we use devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones nowadays, it is always accessible.

Unrealistic weight loss expectation

Social media images could lead to the development of unrealistic weight loss and fitness goals. For example, a girl with slim hips may never achieve a thigh gap, as her body just isn't built in that way!

What can you do as a parent?

If you're a parent concerned about your teen's body image, there are some things you can do:

  • Discuss body image with your children so that they're aware that images they see on social media don't always represent a normal, healthy ideal and that they can be photoshopped or manipulated
  • Limit social media exposure, particularly for younger children who may be more easily influenced by what they see online
  • Monitor for eating disorder signs such as a preoccupation with food/body image, refusal to eat in front of others, weight fluctuations and fear of gaining weight.

Viral body image trends could spiral out of control and increase the number of young women (and men) affected by eating disorders, so make sure you're aware of time your child is spending online and what they are being exposed to. These dangerous trends have to stop - but the only way to make them do so is to ensure your children avoid participating!

READ THIS NEXT: Are we obsessed with appearances?

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Author By Paula Beaton
Date On 17th Sep 2015 at 13:10

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