As National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (Feb. 22-28) approaches, it’s important for parents to be aware of how social media affects adolescents’ body image. 

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., a senior research scientist and director of the Youth, Media and Wellbeing Research Lab at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), recently published a study on this topic in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.

Charmaraman and her team found that middle school students who reported social media-related body dissatisfaction checked their social media more frequently. When compared with those who did not feel negatively about their body image because of social media, those who did had higher rates of depressive symptoms, had online social anxiety, had found it harder to make new friends, and were more socially isolated. Those who followed celebrities checked social media more frequently and were more likely to have depressive symptoms and online social anxiety.

Charmaraman says:

“Despite the expansive literature on mainstream TV’s effects on young people’s body image, evidence is only emerging on social media’s role in influencing healthy body image.”

“These results show that there may be negative socioemotional health consequences for early adolescent social media users who are exposed to particular sources of social media content, such as photographs of celebrities. Knowing this, we can tailor interventions for teens and their families that minimize negative consequences and promote healthy body image while using social media.”

“Teens can be taught that being aware of their mood as they scroll through images on their social media feed is one way to assess whether these images can potentially be harmful to how they see themselves.” 

The study was coauthored by WCW Research Associate Amanda Richer, M.A., Cindy Liu, Ph.D., Alicia Doyle Lynch, Ph.D., and Megan A. Moreno, M.D., M.S.Ed., M.P.H. (You can also watch the video abstract.) 

Charmaraman is available for interviews on the connection between social media use and body image, and how parents can help their children learn to use social media in a healthy way.