Helicopter parents, listen up! You may risk hearing, “I hate you!” followed by a slamming door as your teenager storms away. But this is an important credential to add to your (so your child thinks) overprotective parenting resumé. Social media and body image research are on screen-time overdrive for kids. And you ought to be aware of the messages those impressionable minds are seeking — and getting.
Pre-millennial adults may have difficulty remembering when the world went digital.
“I vaguely remember libraries with physical books and card catalogs.”
“Computers were enormous, alien objects that competed for valuable decorating space in the house. And there was none of this ‘internet’ stuff.”
“Salespeople used to knock on doors to sell encyclopedias. If your family had the money to own a set, you could do research for your science fair project right at home. The information may have been 50 years old, but still….”
“Cameras used to use this stuff called film….”
“And pay phones…are there even any pay phones left?”
Once upon a not-so-long-ago time, moms did a weekly sneak-swipe of their teens’ rooms to check for dirty laundry and dirty magazines.
They didn’t have to investigate “search histories” or worry about their kids’ alter-realities on social media. And body image research? WTH is that?
Today, however, parents have to be on top of their game. And their kids’ game.
Would you be surprised to learn that, according to a 2018 Pew study, 45% of 13-17-year-olds are online almost constantly?
Being on social media
And 97% use a social media platform like Facebook or Instagram.
Let that sink in for a minute.
We are all so accustomed to being in constant engagement with the digital world that we are, at least as a society, practically numb to authentic person-to-person engagement.
You know, the “IRL” kind of interaction.
The eating-dinner-as-a-family-with-no-phones-or-TV kind of interaction.
The looking-up-from-your-phone-and-into-another-person’s-eyes kind of interaction.
The “I-want-to-meet-your-friends-and-know-where-you’re-going” kind of interaction.
So it may not even dawn on many parents that their kids’ well-being could be directly related to their time spent online.
But such is our (relatively) new reality.
As you do the dance of holding-on-while-letting-go, it’s more important than ever that you pay attention to your child’s moods and self-concept.
It’s also critical that you keep at least a side-eye on his or her eating and exercise habits.
Between growing bodies, chaotic hormones, mood swings, and physically active lives, teens especially can make detection of eating disorders difficult.
But here’s a reality check that might – and should – frighten you:
Also, eating disorders have the highest rate of death of any mental illness.
Again, let that sink in for a minute.
“Mmyyy child? My cheerleader, church choir, straight-A, always respectful child? An eating disorder? Mmm noo, I don’t think so.”
So what does all this have to do with social media?
Here are several things that parents need to know about social media and body image research:
Research shows a correlation between negative body image and time spent on social media, especially when study participants were scrolling through appearance-related content (models, fitness trainers, etc.).
Social media is not necessarily detrimental to body image.
It can actually have positive effects, especially if the content is about inclusion, “ditching the make-up,” and “regular” people doing “regular” activities.
Social media, like other sites on the internet, can be a great resource for useful information.
A site or Facebook page for healthful recipes, for example, may seem harmless enough, especially if your teen has an interest in cooking.
But what happens when a teen who is shunned at school and teased online for being “chubby” finds social media ads for weight loss?
Suddenly an appreciation for healthful cooking and eating can become a cunning way to hide a developing eating disorder.
Another positive of social media is that it allows kids to create online identities and to build a sense of community without geographic barriers.
Social media platforms allow for creative expression – through words, photography, graphics, and even the choice of what external content to share.
Kids can join groups based on common interests and/or support.
And they can learn about people across multiple variables like race, religion, talent, interests…and physical appearance.
A negative of social media is that it allows kids to create online identities and to build a sense of community without geographic barriers.
Social media platforms allow for creative expression – through words, photography (often filtered through glamorizing photo apps), graphics, and even the choice of what external content to share.
See where I’m going with this?
The very qualities that are positives when used properly can become negatives and even dangers when they’re not.
Multiple studies have been done to determine relationships, if any, between social media use and mental health issues.
The results probably won’t surprise you, but they should give you pause.
From spending more than three hours on social media daily to using social media more than three times daily, the correlation and predictability are there.
It’s not just how much kids use social media, but how they use it.
Those who turn to social media and body image research for comparative reasons prove to be definitively less happy.
They’re also more prone to depression and anxiety.
Because they’re convinced that everyone else they see is happier – and prettier/skinnier/more buff and (fill in the blank) than they are.
Even the passive viewing of others’ posts and photos on social media can lead to lower body and life satisfaction.
People, especially kids, who participate in social media aren’t always prudent about what they share. And they can inadvertently open themselves up to the cruelty of those on social media who don’t have a self-filter.
Now apply that to personal photos posted for all the world to see.
Suddenly it’s not difficult to see how reactively a teen in the throes of a developing self-concept can end up with body image issues.
What’s the takeaway for parents when it comes to social media and body image research?
First, social media in and of itself is not a bad thing. Like everything else, it’s how/how much/why it’s used that determines its influence.
As a parent, you have more control than you may think.
First, take stock of how you use social media and what your body image is like. Social media can affect body image for people of all ages, parents included.
Limit your child’s use of cell phones and social media. Put boundaries around the time and setting of cell phones (not after a certain time at night, not during meals, etc.).
Monitor your child’s accounts (and let him/her know you are doing so).
Talk with your child about what is true, right, healthy, kind, appropriate.
And always encourage the first part of social media: social(ize)…
Dr Elayne Daniels is a psychologist, coach, and consultant who specializes in helping people of all ages feel more comfortable in their bodies.
You’re aware. Of darn near everything. It doesn’t matter if it’s outside of you or inside of you, it doesn’t get by you. And by golly, that goes for your body, too. Thanks to Diet Culture, feeling badly about your own body is more common than not. Add in the heightened awareness and depth of processing characteristic of Highly Sensitive People, and your body-awareness is probably off the charts. So we’re going to go all Hallmark and pull out the body image affirmations to shift your awareness to what truly matters.
If you struggle with body image, you probably believe that the only way to feel better about your body is to change it.
And changing it typically means depriving it so it becomes smaller, thinner, more toned….and therefore more desirable to others.
It’s a formulaic process, really: Tiny-fying your body = success and happiness.It’s also bullshit.
Sorry not sorry for the language, but it is.
All that nonsense is a big “fat” lie.
Whether your body is a size zero or a size twenty-two, loving your body lies in changing your body image, not its appearance.
What is body image?
Body image refers to the way you perceive your body and how you believe others perceive it. It includes thoughts, feelings, behaviors, perceptions, and a sense of connection with your own body.
Body image is a big chunk of your self-esteem and self-confidence.
Developing and sustaining a positive body image is essential for living a happier life.
Relying less (or not at all) on unrealistic beauty standards opens the door to nurturing and respecting your body.
However, improving body image is tough, especially when you’ve been hating and criticizing your body for so long.
(If it hurts to read the words “hating and criticizing your body,” good! We’re making progress.)
Feeling the urge to change your body’s appearance stems from dissatisfaction with the way it looks.
Changing that perception is tough. And it doesn’t happen passively.
What is the secret sauce to improving negative body image?
Three words: changing your thoughts.
If you wonder how “just thinking differently” can help, I get it. Using different words to improve your relationship with your body sounds ridiculous.
But words carry weight (no pun intended).
How does changing self-talk about body image help you approach body image differently?
Reading and reflecting upon body image affirmations has the potential to help you to feel more comfortable in your body.
No matter how ridiculous or Pollyannaish it sounds, healthy mantras can be life-changing— even at a neurological level.
If you’re a Highly Sensitive Person, body image affirmations can be especially helpful because of the way they fit in with your neurological processing. (Not sure what a Highly Sensitive Person is? Read about it here.)
The only real, sustained way to feel better about your body is to change your relationship to (and your thoughts about) your body.
(And, as more people do just that, the sooner the societal ideal will become less scripted, less narrowly defined. Perhaps it will even become inclusive!)
What matters most about improving your relationship with your body is what changes in your mind, not in your body. I’m talking about thoughts, reflections, and ideas as opposed to specific actions.
I used to think affirmations were just a cheesy attempt to inspire and uplight. There may be times that’s still true; but I’ve come to realize there is more to them than empty promises of rainbows and butterflies.
The words we say to ourselves really do matter.
Where thoughts go, energy flows.
Shifting self-talk is about more than mere semantics.
Body image affirmations are helpful for anyone who struggles to love his or her body. But for an HSP? They’re a card-carrying essential. Here are a few power-packed body image affirmations to make you pause and see your physical self in a whole new light:
1. I’m grateful to have a body.
Because I have a body, I am able to feel, hear, see, smell, and taste. I can (fill in the blank).
I imagine her saying, “Yes I am happy to have a body! Very! How else could I chase my little brother? And I stayed up late last night and hung out with the grownups! We ate chocolate-covered strawberries. Thank you, Body. I was able to do all of that because of my body. And I love this dress because it is fancy and makes me feel like a princess.”
2. I can trust my body.
This Highly Sensitive woman feels free and comfortable as she enjoys time outside…in her body. She is not hiding any parts of her glorious body. The soft breeze, warm sun, and scent of the beach are possible for her to experience because she has a body.
“This bathing suit feels so comfortable, and I really like how relaxed I feel just enjoying the warmth of the sun, the gentle breeze, and the laughter of my friend— especially because she is laughing at my jokes! Being carefree and funny comes naturally when I am not preoccupied with my weight.”
3. My body deserves respect.
With a big brimmed pink hat, she walks down the street with pride in and respect for herself.
With body-respect comes self-respect.
“When I smile at people, they usually smile back. They aren’t looking me up and down or evaluating my weight. If they are, so what? What they think of me is none of my business. Plus, I have so many other things to think about…or not to think about!”
4. My life’s purpose is about so much more than to shrink my body.
This Angie Weiland-Crosby quote is a reminder of the intricate, sensual ways your body takes in and experiences the world. But only if you allow it to do so.
“Living in the empty, stark jail cell of my own body of hate means I limit what I see, feel, hear, taste, and touch. I deserve more, and so does my body. I have the key to leave this prison, and I will unlock the door and escape back to my birthright of living life fully.” (Pun intended. Living life fully means you see through a different lens than you did when living life chronically hungrily.)
5. My body provides me infinite ways to experience life.
Sometimes we take for granted what brings us pleasure and opportunity. (Or we default to negative commentary about it.)
The phrase “you don’t know what you have ‘till it’s gone” comes to mind.
Why not delight in your one-and-only body in the here and now, while you can?
Relating to your own body more as an instrument than as an ornament is like discovering a secret treasure in a place you have gone for years but have never really seen.
“I am tired of seeing, feeling, touching, hearing my world in colorlessness. I am not a robot. Turning on and up the colors of emotions, touch, sounds, and more means I am appreciating the beating of my heart, the pulsing of energy throughout my body, and the wonder of my senses. That is what it means to have a body. How closely my body matches an unrealistic objectified ideal is not the purpose of having a body. Being in it as I travel through each moment is the purpose.”
“Because I have a body, I am able to feel the softness of the sand as it flows through my fingers. I also get to wear purple nail polish that is so fun to look at my fingers and see!”
Being a Highly Sensitive Person has its perks, one of which is your natural ability to deeply feel the joys and beauty in the world. The way you take in the world through your senses is magical.
Unless they familiarize themselves with the beautiful things High Sensitivity offers, HSPs have a hard time understanding why they have the thoughts and feelings they have, how to appreciate them and make healthier choices.
6. What if you did not revolve your life around fitting into cultural beauty standards?
Whatever your body size and shape, being more comfortable in your body means changing your mindset, not so much your appearance.
Your relationship with your body affects all aspects of life. Body image is central to self-esteem and self-confidence.
Worrying about what other people (whoever they are) think about your body highlights their value system over your own. Do you really want to do that?
If your answer is no, or if you’re just curious about other options beyond living with “normative discontent,” try the following . And consider it to be an experiment.
What if you used body image “iffirmations” rather than body image affirmations?
Try the “what if” version of statements.
This version of self-talk goes well beyond semantics, even beyond my delight of quirky word puns.
Think of it as an experiment, just to see what happens.…
Take the statement, “I love my body.”
Repeat it to yourself and notice what happens.
Maybe your recoil? Snicker? Giggle? Feel warmth spread throughout?
There is no wrong way to feel.
Now ask yourself, “What if I (were to) love my body?”
Notice the feelings and sensations that arise.
Even if you do not believe it, saying it to yourself can help you recognize improved body image as an intention, as something to be working toward.
By saying “what if,” you add space and ‘energy’ to the possibility of actual contentment in your body.
As an HSP, you’re especially aware of internal sensations, both those that feel good and others that don’t feel particularly good.
You get to choose the input, and therefore the outcome.
7. I’m just missing out by refusing to eat cake, pasta, chips…or anything. Food is meant to be enjoyed. My body is meant to be a happy (or at least neutral) place!
However, improving body image is a tough journey, especially when you’ve been hating and criticizing yours for so long. (Thanks a lot, Diet Culture.)
Feeling the urge to change your body’s appearance stems from dissatisfaction with the way it looks.
You and I were not born dissatisfied with the way our bodies look. Diet Culture taught us dissatisfaction.
How to chip away at negative body image and start finding peace — and even joy — in your body? Notice what you are saying to yourself about your body. Gently shift the focus to the good that your body offers. Where thoughts go, energy flows.
So choose thoughts wisely. Be deliberate about using body image affirmations.
And make them your own.
Diet Culture will know when it has overstayed its welcome.
Dr. Elayne Daniels is a clinical psychologist and coach specializing in body image, eating disorders, and Highly Sensitive People. For over two decades, she has worked with hundreds of men and women to help them find comfort and even joy in their own skin.
Mind and behavior
Psychology may be the scientific study of the mind and behavior, but not to the exclusion of the physical seat of the mind, the brain. The interplay between physical and non-physical is as central to research and treatment as it is to everyday life. Within the seemingly isolated topics of depression, anxiety, and memory loss, for example, an important question is taking on attention: Can Depression And Anxiety Cause Memory Loss?
The human brain is a frontier under constant exploration. It’s not unlike the infinite universe that boggles the non-astronomical mind. For every discovery made, a new galaxy opens. More questions. More theories. And more research.
Take depression, for example. While contemporary psychology may employ a wide array of therapies to treat it, depression has a startling history of far-reaching diagnoses and “treatments.”
In the second millenium B.C.E., “experts” treated depression, like most illnesses, as a spiritual condition – the result of demonic possession.
Through the ages, theories have evolved. And “treatments” have run an often frightening course – from witch hunts to bloodletting to frontal lobotomies.
Today we tread with compassion and the backing of science in the quest for truth and treatment. Depression, like anxiety and other forms of mental illness, now has a voice and a spotlight for deeper understanding. Thank goodness.
One of the common complaints of those who suffer from depression and/or anxiety is memory loss, or cognitive impairment.
Specifically, the working/short-term memory is affected. Words, names, directions, executive functioning, decision-making, locating and misplacing objects – the crazy-making stuff that adds insult to injury.
The long-term memory – remembering key events and people from your life, for example – remains intact.
What’s the connection here? How is it that suffering from low mood, disinterest, irritability, hopelessness, and other symptoms of depression can wreak havoc with basic mental tasks?
With regard to depression, we know for certain it’s linked to structural and chemical changes in the brain. And these changes can begin at the onset of depression and even continue after depressive symptoms have been resolved.
Specifically, the affected areas are the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala. These areas are all involved in cognition and emotional processing, connected neurally via synapses and neurotransmitters. What affects one affects all.
In addition to the interconnection of these areas, there’s also overlap with the stress response systems.
In other words, your mood, cognition, and ability to handle stress are all firing off the same circuitry.
The way depression and anxiety cause memory loss has to do with stress.
The body’s stress response system is masterfully designed to engage during fight-or-flight situations. It triggers a cascade of changes that can be life-saving if you’re engaged in a staredown with a predator.
But it can also be counterproductive if it overstays its welcome or gets triggered in situations that don’t warrant it. (In that regard, one might wonder if perhaps the stress response hasn’t caught up with human evolution.)
Those who suffer from chronic anxiety, with or without depression, know the constant worry and fear, also known as are trademarks of the condition.
Everything is a perceived threat. A headache, a flat tire, something a loved one says (or doesn’t say), a message from Human Resources – it all triggers a stress response. And in flows the cortisol that, under acutely threatening situations, would sharpen the mind and give the body superhero powers.
But day in and day out? That kind of chronic stress response does more harm than good.
Add in the lack of sleep that usually accompanies anxiety, and “brainpower” spreads itself thin – or diminishes altogether.
What many people inexperienced with clinical depression don’t understand is the difference between situational sadness and chronic depression.
Everyone experiences periods of sadness, irritability, anxiety, and grief. But people who live with clinical depression don’t bounce back as quickly.
And the longer one lives with depression, the more permanent the effects become.
From a purely physical standpoint, depression related memory loss can be attributed to depression’s three startling effects on the brain:
- shrinkage (of the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and thalamus)
- decreased oxygen supply
When you think about the physical effects of anxiety and depression, chances are they’re effects you can actually sense. You feel your hands sweating, your heart racing, your head hurting. And you see the change in your weight from the change in your eating habits.
You also feel the frustration of not being able to complete everyday tasks. You’re distracted, preoccupied, exhausted, disinterested.
But your brain shrinking? Being inflamed? Not getting enough oxygen?
This all starts to sound like the defining brain atrophy of Alzheimer’s.
And that raises even more questions and cause for research.
If depression and anxiety cause memory loss, how do we need to change the narrative around these disorders?
And around mental health in general?
How do science, medicine, psychiatry, and psychology improve on the detection, intervention, treatment, and management of depression and anxiety?
If depression and anxiety can cause memory loss, is the reverse equally true or at least plausible? Can memory loss cause depression and anxiety in an otherwise non-depressed person?
Can we medically stop or reverse the changes to the brain caused by depression and anxiety?
If medical and psychological intervention can keep sufferers flourishing despite anxiety and depression, can memory loss be mitigated?
If depression, anxiety, and memory loss can co-occur symptomatically, can a “cure” for one hold the key to curing the others?
In the frontier of the human brain and mind, there will always be more questions than answers.
But look how far we’ve come.
Dr Elayne Daniels is a MA based psychologist and coach, specializing in eating disorders, anxiety and depression, and body image. She especially enjoys working with Highly Sensitive People.