Contributor: Staff at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center
You’ve just seen every romantic comedy.
In reality, you just watched one movie. But for the most part, the story is the same as the last time you saw the credits roll. A contrived meeting, a stretch of unbridled affection, a conflict, a breakup, and then the realization that they were meant to be together.
There’s one other element that’s perhaps even more common than those tried-and-true plots: the casting. With rare exceptions, the stars aren’t exactly covered in pimples or affixed to a corner of the couch. They are A-list handsome or drop-dead gorgeous – even if it took a brief makeover or the removal of a pair of glasses for their love interest to realize it.
Watch enough of these at an impressionable age, and it’s hard not to come away with the feeling that attractiveness is the key to acceptance.
The danger social media plays in body image
There is no single cause of eating disorders, but research shows that body dissatisfaction is the leading contributor to the development of both anorexia and bulimia . And these concerns tend to manifest at a depressingly young age in the United States. According to one study, 40%-60% of elementary school girls are worried about their weight .
These feelings start well before puberty and can happen long before girls show interest in pursuing romantic relationships. But why does the concern with body image begin at such a young age?
Our rom-com example is hardly all-encompassing. Given today’s era of social media, what once was simply a fascination with the seemingly unattainable beauty of Hollywood celebrities can now feel much closer to home.
Instead of limiting exposure to the occasional movie, billboard, or magazine spread of a starlet, young women can now scroll through the well-curated Instagram feed or Facebook page of a friend or classmate. Keeping up with the Joneses can seem a lot more important – and achievable – than keeping up with Ariana Grande.
“Social media has become a way to put these false images right in your field of vision whether you opt for them or not,” Dr. Nancy Mramor, a psychologist and media expert, said in a recent WebMD article. “You can turn off a movie, close a magazine or consciously step back from a billboard, but not so with social media. If young women want to know what someone is doing today or stay connected to their friends, they (just) have to turn it on .”
Body image dissatisfaction can have far-reaching romantic ramifications
As girls and young women reach the age where they’re interested in finding romantic partners, the significance of body image and the concern of body dissatisfaction hardly go away. Instead of worrying about how they’re viewed in the eyes of many, women tend to be more concerned with what a potential mate thinks of their body.
The landmark 1997 Psychology Today Body Image Survey showed that 40% of women say their partner’s opinion about their appearance is “very important” to their body image . A quarter of respondents said the same goes for someone rejecting them.
These findings are easy to believe. If someone sees you as beautiful, it’s only natural that you’d feel beautiful. If someone sees you as ugly, that feeling of rejection can spawn a lot of soul-searching.
The aesthetic pressure to please a partner extends to sexual experiences as well. Discomfort with your body image can translate into discomfort with intimacy. Without being upfront about those concerns, a partner might feel that there are problems in the relationship that extend well outside the bedroom.
By fearing that your body will disappoint your partner, you’ll tend to keep finding reasons not to have sex. Body image satisfaction can lead to a mentally and emotionally satisfying relationship in the same ways it can be linked to a physically satisfying one.
Learning what you want can help you reconcile who you are
The links between eating disorders and body image are inexorable. In order to meet what our society perceives to be the physical ideal, some people will allow nothing to get in their way of chasing unattainable perfection in order to satisfy themselves, their peers, and their partners.
Ask yourself this: Would you want to be in a relationship with someone who sets or explicitly adheres to the physical standards social media and our society layout for us to achieve? Or would you be more comfortable with someone who accepts you for who you are and what matters to you?
By simply learning to question standards before accepting them and being skeptical of things like fad diets, bingeing, and skipping meals, it becomes much easier to reconcile what’s actually important.
So tune out the noise. Surround yourself with positivity. See yourself as a whole person, not just your body. Save social media stalking for someone else.
Your happily-ever-after starts with you.
References: Stice, E. and Shaw, H.E. (2002 Nov.). Role of body dissatisfaction in the onset and maintenance of eating pathology: a synthesis of research findings. PubMed. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12445588.  Cash, T. F. and Smolak, L. (Eds.). (2011). Body image: A handbook of science, practice, and prevention (2nd ed.). Guilford Press. Retrieved from: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2011-20792-000.  Thompson, D. (2018, May 4). Social media may harm a woman’s body image. WebMD. Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/women/news/20180504/too-much-social-media-may-harm-a-womans-body-image#1.  Garner, David G. (1997, Feb. 1). Body image in America: Survey results. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/199702/body-image-in-america-survey-results.
About Our Sponsor:
Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, which is located in suburban Chicago, Illinois, provides comprehensive, personalized services in a supportive, gender-specific environment for adolescent girls and adult women who have developed eating disorders, substance use disorders, and certain co-occurring mental health concerns, including depressive disorders. Treatment options at Timberline Knolls include residential care and partial hospitalization. Additional features include specialized faith-based services, family support, and a robust alumnae program.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Reviewed & Approved on February 3, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC
Published February 3, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com