A recent study has linked Facebook use to eating disorders, finding that “the more teenage girls are involved in Facebook, the higher their risk of having a negative body image and developing eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.”
Prof. Yael Letzer, Prof. Ruth Katz and Zohar Spivak of the University of Haifa observed a sample of 248 girls ages 12-18. The girls were polled on their media consumption and completed surveys on their level of Facebook use. They also completed questionnaires asking them about their self-conception and body image. The study found that “the more [the girls] were on the social network, the more they were likely to suffer from bulimia (eating a lot of food and then vomiting it) or anorexia (starving themselves) dissatisfaction with their figures and pursuit of a weight-loss diet”
The girls who spent a lot of time watching TV and reading women’s magazines also demonstrated unhealthy eating trends, but the correlation wasn’t as strong as the link between Facebook use and problems with food.
As someone born in the late eighties, I didn’t grow up with Facebook. It wasn’t until I was in my first year of university that I caught wind of a campus networking site organized by the smarties at Harvard. Unlike me, the girls maturing today find themselves in a world where their lives are more photographed and mediated than ever before. At school, while out with friends, and even at home, teens are increasingly photographing themselves and each other, making them more image conscious. This is, of course, in addition to absorbing pervasive images of “beauty” and femininity” that circulate in women’s magazines, on TV, and across the internet.
While Facebook itself can’t be blamed for body image disorders, the study hints that the social network promotes a single-minded focus on oneself, and especially emphasizes one’s looks. University of Haifa professors advise parents to supervise their children’s web use in order to reduce the danger. Perhaps what’s more effective than mico-managing you teenager’s Facebook use is telling her how powerful she is – regardless of her profile picture.