Social media triggers body image issues in young people, according to a study by Bodywhys, the eating disorder association of Ireland.

“Bodywhys carried out qualitative research with young people from Comhairle na nÓg, in relation to body image and self-esteem,” said Fiona Flynn, the association’s youth development officer.

“They were asked a range of questions, regarding the type and source of stress faced by young people, in relation to body image and how to manage it.

“Social media emerged as the primary source of concern around body image,” added Ms Flynn.

The research also showed the impact a ‘like’ on social media had a person’s self-esteem.

“The young people described how the number of ‘likes’ on profile pictures was frequently a source of worry, and they felt that responses through social media were associated with self-judgement.

“The focus groups also discussed a preoccupation with updating photos online and the potential negative impact on someone’s quality of life.

“Low body image, along with feeling consumed by pressures from social media, was discussed as a hindrance to enjoying life and other activities,” said Ms Flynn.

More focus groups were carried out in a Dublin school and these students reported social media as the main source of pressure in their lives.

Bodywhys has since developed pilot materials, as well as video footage of young people talking about such issues.

The information was piloted in one secondary school last December. It is under evaluation, prior to final materials being developed.

Clinical psychotherapist, Joanna Fortune, who works with children and adolescents, said that young people are bombarded with images of perfection, and not of reality.

“In a world of filters and Photoshopping apps, our social media selves can make it difficult to attune to our real-world selves, where we may feel we never look quite right or good enough.

“We are also bombarded with picture-perfect images of everyone else, and that can lead to a feeling of not measuring up and feeling less than everyone else.

“It skews our perspective and sense of self, and this can cause a significant impact on self-esteem, and lead to a high emotional charge around our physical bodies, causing other, related issues,” she told the Irish Examiner.

“Social-media posts tend to be about showing our very best selves and the very best of our lives.

“But real life has ups and downs, and focusing only on the very best can leave us ill-equipped to cope with the challenges that life throws our way.

“It can also leave us dependent on external validation from others, which will negatively impact our sense of self and self-esteem,” she added.


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