Facebook Fast: Eating Disorders and Social Media

A typical Mercy student goes home after school. She has a snack, changes out of her uniform, and goes upstairs to do her homework. Suddenly, her phone vibrates. Three people liked her picture at Mercy homecoming. Later on, when she is on her laptop, she checks Facebook again, pouring over the pictures her friends have posted. For this Mercy student, social media is everywhere. It influences her style, her social life, and according to a recent study, her eating habits.

Florida State University researchers conducted a study that concluded that there is some connection between Facebook use, more generally social media, and disordered eating risk and that a significant part of the problem lies in liking and commenting on Facebook. 84 women were studied and split into two groups to observe the effect of Facebook on the body image of young girls. One group was asked to use Facebook as they usually would for 20 minutes while the other group was told to research a rainforest cat on Wikipeida and Youtube. The women who spent 20 minutes on Facebook reported greater body dissatisfaction than those who were looking at the cat photos.

“Social media is very new and we haven’t been able, as scientists, to fully examine the impact of social media and the internet,” senior lecturer at UCLA Dr. Nadia Micali said. “It’s one of those things where if it’s not controlled it could be harmful, but it potentially could be used by healthcare professionals in a good way.”

Though the tenuous connection between social media and eating disorders may shock and anger some professionals, it is not a revolutionary discovery to students and teachers. Mercy health teacher Katie Callan acknowledges that the current system of liking and commenting on Facebook is a vicious cycle.

“People only put pictures of themselves on Facebook that are attractive and they don’t put picture of them when they’re normal,” Ms. Callan said. “When others look at that, they feel inferior and like they’re not good enough or pretty enough.”

Traditionally, girls have compared themselves to images in magazines. In today’s society, they compare themselves to pictures of people they know on Facebook: their best friend, a girl on their basketball team, or even someone they don’t like.

“Everyone criticizes each other on everything,” junior Madeline Bresson said.

Others are skeptical of the research done at Florida State and doubt that there really is a significant connection between eating disorders and social media.

“I think that everyone’s brain works different, and although people are born and more prone by the way they think when they see something. Others might go, “Oh, she’s pretty”, and others might say, “Oh, I want to look like her”. I don’t think it’s the cause, but I think it enables girls with that sort of mentality to be more likely to act on their thoughts,” junior Becca Kmiecik said.