The Disturbing Side Effect Facebook Is Having on Young Women


"Ugh! My arm is looking too fat in that picture. Remove it!"

In an era when everyone's life is one big, public highlight reel, chances are good that many young people have made that request to friends who uploaded pictures to Facebook or other social media sites.

Admit it. You've been counting those "likes." While arguably not the best use of anyone's time, the obsession Americans have with their Facebook image is being increasingly linked to their self image in real life. The latest evidence that Facebook and similar sites are detrimental to body image is apparent in a new study that links frequent Facebook use to eating disorders among young women.

Conducted by researchers at Florida State University and published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, the study profiles 960 college women and concludes they are more likely to experience body dissatisfaction and disordered eating by spending just 20 minutes on Facebook versus spending that time on the Internet Googling mundane stuff.

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The correlation may be small, and the study notes it's not easy to determine whether these women already had issues with eating disorders or if the issues were triggered by Facebook activity. But the takeaway is nonetheless concerning.

And it's also not the first time researchers have connected Facebook use with emotional or physical well-being. In August, social psychologists from the University of Michigan tracked young adults and found that the more time subjects spent on Facebook, the less happy and satisfied they felt.

The reverse may lead to a lot of negativity and self-objectification. A separate study in December found young women who spend the most time on Facebook browsing photos are more likely to idolize a thin body structure and be dissatisfied with their weight.

Advertising and fashion magazines have always influenced women's standards of beauty and how they feel about their self-image compared to what they see on billboards. And it appears these negative influences are now being disseminated to younger generations via Facebook and social media. Facebook photos of our friends seem more real, more believable, more attainable and tend to induce a culture of "If my friend can pull off that hot dress, why can't I?" And the more dangerous idea of "What do I need to do to look the same?"

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Facebook use and how it affects our body image has been scrutinized before. But this latest connection to unhealthy behavior in young women is yet another warning that when it comes to the influence of social media on personal self-worth, there's still a lot not to like.