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Social media may inspire unhealthy body image

Photos like this one from Pinterest may be encouraging unhealthy habits and disordered eating. Many appear encouraging at first glance, but could be playing a role in dangerous decision-making.

The rise of social media is changing the way we interact, get our news and even conduct business. But the rise in this connectivity has also boosted concerns for teens, including bullying and negative body images.

As many people pin their at-home workout routines or follow Tumblr’s fashion blogs, experts say many young girls are being presented with increasingly troubling images and messages about a healthy body and how to get there.

“It hasn’t been studied a lot yet, but it is likely some of these sites are giving vulnerable people inspiration to make dangerous decisions,” said Scott Crow, M.D., professor in the Department of Psychiatry and specialist in eating disorders.

All social media sites, including Pinterest, Facebook, and Tumblr, discourage posts promoting or glorifying self-harm, even posting warnings and resources, but the messages still get through. A recent piece on Good Morning America discusses the issue with teenagers who feel confronted with trends like the thigh gap, or space between thighs when the knees are touching, every time they go online.

“I see these pictures on Tumblr and stuff and I think that, wow, they look so good and then I realize how unhealthy it is,” one of the high schoolers tells GMA.

Many of the posted images are disguised as encouragement, showing dangerously thin or unattainable bodies with slogans including, “Be the girl you were too lazy to be yesterday” and “Every time you say no to food, you say yes to thin.” Often, the images are doctored to create perfect angles or staged to maximize the model’s shape.

“We really need education to increase the sophistication of young people about media images and how the images are manipulated,” said Crow. “Better utilization of media awareness programs could go a long way.”

Unhealthy body images and extreme fitness or eating habits are serious problems. If you or someone you know may be at risk for an eating disorder, the first step is asking for help. Primary care physicians and collegiate health services are good resources for beginning the discussion. Eating disorder programs like the Emily Program are also excellent ways to seek help; many communities have similar resources, which can be found through the National Eating Disorder Association.

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