Special Thanks to Susan B Krevoy Eating Disorder Program Blog for providing us with this material.
By Eliot Godwin
The Internet is not real. In real life, much less choice is involved in how we present ourselves. We are who we are, and even if we try to hide our secrets, they have a way of surfacing in subtle ways. Online, we can pick and choose exactly what we present to our ‘friends’ and how we present it. Our online selves are mostly trim and tidy, we allow sloppiness if it’s tasteful and mildly self-deprecating. Even the most blithe Facebook user has removed an unflattering tag or two.
But for young people who’ve never known a world without Facebook, the Internet is very real. A recent study conducted by Florida State University found a correlation between time spent on Facebook and eating disorders. Facebook combines peer influence with popular media, both of which are tied to self-worth. Instead of seeing only models in magazines and on television, now women can see their skinnier peers in swimsuits on their Facebook pages.
“Your friends are posting carefully curated photos of themselves on their Facebook page that you’re being exposed to constantly. It represents a very unique merging of two things that we already knew could increase risk for eating disorders,” Dr. Pamela K. Keel explains. Dr. Keel and other psychologists at Florida State studied 960 college women in their study and outlined their findings in a paper, “Do You ‘Like’ My Photo? Facebook Use Maintains Eating Disorder Risk”.
Just as Facebook and other forms of social media have contributed to increased and more tortuous bullying of adolescents, this study shows that it clearly contributes to what the National Eating Disorder Association calls “unprecedented growth of eating disorders in the past two decades.”
The problem is that we see our Facebook pages as parts of ourselves instead of what they are: pictures. Facebook is a brilliant concept, executed with precision and clean simplicity. But it’s not an accurate representation of who we are. For young people whose identities are often inextricably tied to Facebook, it’s hard to take a step back and see the chasm that exists between who they really are and their Facebook page. Dr. Keel reminds us to “consider what you are pursuing when you post on Facebook. You are a whole person and not an object, so don’t display yourself as a commodity that then can be approved or not approved.”
How we’re perceived, especially as it pertains to images of ourselves posted on the Internet, is not who we are. Feeling secure has to do with actions, deeds and life. Not pictures. It’s shallow and destructive to tie our self-worth to photographs. My Facebook page shows some pictures of me and that I ‘like’ broccoli, The Wire and Daft Punk. Is that who I am? Broccoli and Daft Punk? More revealing than my ‘likes’ is that I chose to post them on Facebook. I am the choices I make, not what I choose to reveal on a website. Are the choices you’ve made lately posted on your Facebook page? Is it a detailed representation of who you are, or an e-scrapbook with comments?