How social media promotes shame and body harm

Raise your hand if you have seen similar posts or comments show up on your Facebook or Instagram feed:

  • A selfie of a thin, idealized body with the message, “If I can do it, you can do it.”
  • A Whole30 post highlighting a friend’s great pride in her ability to restrict sugar
  • A photo of a grueling, borderline obsessive, work out with the words, “You need to dig deep to be beach body ready.”
  • A before and after photo that promotes weight loss by rejecting food for meal replacement drinks
  • “Got my workout in, so I can have a few more beers this weekend.”
  • A Sweat is fat crying” meme

We are regularly bombarded with messages that celebrate certain bodies as the standard for beauty, health and fitness. Sadly, ignoring body diversity, body appreciation and the importance of mental and physical wellbeing.

Thanks to diet culture, assigning value to thinness at any cost, these folks get likes, lots of them. On top of that, their comments include “You are my inspiration” and “Don’t stop! You’ve got this.” When someone tries to intervene with concern, they are swatted away with “Ignore the haters” or vicious remarks defending diet culture.

Taking up less space in this world does not make one more valuable.

Our culture routinely forces a narrow description of beauty in our face. It’s intentional and can generate a sense of not being “enough.” This “not enough” feeling is a psychological tool for financial gain. The worse you feel, the more likely you will pay for programs or products that promise an accepted space in society (i.e., thinner, fitter body).

There is nothing radical or unique about upholding dominant systems like diet culture.

As a client of mine recently said, “When I see posts promoting weight loss or someone’s fitness regime, it feels like a little ball of shamea jab that I “should” be participating in diet culture too.”

Ugh! Who wants to perpetuate this?

My hope is that folks who celebrate the thin or fit ideal do not seek out ways to make other people feel less than or encourage eating disorder behaviors. However, whether it is intentional or not, this messaging and behavior amps up food anxiety, body dissatisfaction and body shame.

Let me break it down for the folks thinking that I’m being too sensitive and that there is nothing wrong with acknowledging someone who is dedicated to “health” and who feels better about their body after weight loss.

These messages collude with eating disorder behavior.

The types of social media posts listed above regularly reinforce disordered behavior: eat less, count calories (or macros), avoidance of “bad” foods, exercise to compensate (burn calories to earn calories), tactics to avoid adipose tissue (fat phobic) and more. These are troubling, problematic behaviors, particularly for the many individuals struggling with an eating disorder.

Eating disorders demand that one does whatever it takes to remain small at the expense of wellbeing, relationships and life-fulfilling experiences. It can sound like this: “Look how disgusting your body is! Why can’t you eat less so you can look like them? They obviously have willpower. You are such a failure! Eat less. Workout more.”

As a result, the eating disordered voice is strengthened while the compassionate, accepting voice is silenced.

These messages perpetuate that you are not enough.

These types of posts support the systems that preach one’s worth is appearance based and keeps oppressed bodies stigmatized. This further promotes the messaging that who you are, right now, is not ok

The narrow version of beauty, representing a small percentage of the population, skews our own idea of beauty and what our society truly looks like.

It also burdens, and continually marginalizes, folks in larger bodies. The message being that one is in full control of their body size, that weight is a personal choice and that a person can exercise or eat clean to attain leanness. We have enough research to show this is an inaccurate assumption.

True inspiration does not borderline pro-anorexia or disordered eating territory.

In case you are wondering, here are few things I find admirable, which tend to be radical (unfortunately!) within diet culture:

  • People who realize striving for a “perfect body” is a waste of valuable time, and not doing so is liberating, not a sign of “weakness” or “giving up.”
  • People who enjoy delicious food without “paying for it later” or “earning it.”
  • People who choose physical activity to rejuvenate and to experience joy
  • People who accept and find beauty in all bodies, and ensure that all bodies are represented when posting to social media

You have the power to change what you consume through social media. Take time today, or sometime this week, to remove social media post that:

  • Leave you feeling poorly about your body
  • Value certain bodies over others
  • Speak to food or physical activity in a righteous, rigid and/or restrictive way

For more inspiration and body liberation check out this wonderful body activism resource list collected by Jes Baker, at The Militant Baker.

Or this beautiful, Body Sovereignty Workbook, put together by Rachel W Cole to “help transform the story you tell yourself about your body into a life-changing narrative.”

To further explore the rejection of diet culture, in favor of a compassionate, weight-neutral and liberating approach to caring for and living in your body, consider an upcoming intuitive eating process group.

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