Get Talking!

Okay, so I was not going to write another blog post so soon. However, given that I set this blog up just a couple of days ago and have been contacted this morning by a number of friends to ask if I had seen the news on body image today, I thought it was worth talking about. As I mentioned in my previous post, social media is often apportioned a considerable amount of blame with regards to negative body image and body dissatisfaction. If we take in to consideration the findings of the study by the National Citizen Service, which has been circulated by several national media outlets this morning, we can see why this may be the case. Indeed, reporting on this study, Sky News highlighted the suggested negative impact of social media on body image, stating that 58% of respondents surveyed said social media elicits feelings of jealousy, insecurity and negativity.

Within the social sciences, we are often interested in attempting to establish causal links to an outcome. In doing so, this allows further investigation into any indicated factors (both positive and negative), which may help us better understand an issue or phenomenon. However, through the critical lens that my research is underpinned, it is important to understand that whilst statistics indicating links can certainly be useful, unless these are considered in more depth, they may only offer the ‘what’, and not ‘why’ and ‘how’. Thus, in relation to the evidence published on the negative effects of social media on body image, I consider further qualitative investigation as paramount to understanding not just ‘how’ and ‘why’, but also possible avenues to reduce negative outcomes.

With this in mind, social media has become in increasingly important part of our lives, and an ever increasing component of the construction of adolescent’s social reality (Shapiro and Margolin, 2014). Therefore, it seems unlikely that attempting to address the suggested issue by reducing the use of social media can be considered a plausible intervention strategy. As a result, it seems we must increase the positive messages available for public consumption, in attempt to promote body satisfaction. In addition, it is important to provoke critical discussion of those messages and activities on social media which may contribute to the alarming statistics. Campaigns such as that discussed in my previous post are certainly one way of doing this. So too are interventions such as Media Smart, a media literacy programme aimed at educating 7-16 year old children in thinking critically about the social messages being disseminated. However, we need to do more!

We need to understand that whilst these statistics may make it easy for us to continue to ‘blame’ social media or the advertising agents which promote ideal images, we are all active social agents who have the ability to challenge those representations available to us and support others to do the same. If the reach of content and activities which ’cause’ negative body image is so great on social media, we need to ensure that so too, is the reach of that which promotes body appreciation. We need to share, discuss and critically engage in the body image conversations that are available to us, or start our own. I say we, because as active social agents with bodies ourselves, who identify that 58% of teenagers reporting insecurity and negativity as a result of social media is not okay, it is our joint responsibility to talk about it.

We may think that we are just one person, with little impact in the grand scheme of things. However, I urge you to think again. I refer you back to the opening of my post, where I told you that a number of my friends had contacted me today. Yes, these are my friends, who know about my interest in body image. Nonetheless, a conversation (albeit a small one so far) has started and that is several more people who are actively engaging in this important issue. So let us talk, let it be okay to discuss body image, let us increase the discussion which may help others realise that they are not alone with their body worries – EveryBODY Talk!

Shapiro, L. A. S. and Margolin, G. (2014) Growing up wired: Social networking sites and adolescent psychosocial development. CLINICAL CHILD AND FAMILY PSYCHOLOGY REVIEW, 17(1), pp.1-18.

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