Eating disorders in teens: A social media problem, or something else?

Macey MacArthur, People Editor

Recently, major problems with the well being of teenagers seem to all be blamed on the rise of social media.

Mental illnesses, high suicide rates, and even eating disorders have been said to stem from the overwhelming amount of media teens intake each day; but is that really the case?

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Not all eating disorders manifest themselves in the same way. Some teens become obsessed with “healthy eating” and limit their diets to almost no calories in an attempt to follow strict diets and get thin. The rise of raw diets and extreme veganism all contribute to this strand of significantly unhealthy eating habits in young teens.

Sophomore Eve Heslin said, “I think other girls make girls not want to eat as much, not Instagram or anything.” Heslin was referring to the peer pressure friends can put on each other to look the same way, or fit into the same dress size.

While social media platforms continue to grow more progressive and implement features such as banning harmful content that could trigger disordered eating or self harm, other contributing factors become more easily evident. 

Eating disorders are more common in women (6% of all girls) than men (4% of all boys), and it is no secret that thousands of little girls are enrolled in ballet classes each year. This may seem irrelevant, but industries such as dance, modeling, fashion, and other female-marketed pastimes and professions all enforce strict body images on the minds of girls from the very first time they step into a ballet studio, which can be as young as two or three years old. 

The activities we enroll our children in set them up to view anything other than the standard tall, skinny model or dancer as ugly and unhealthy. Social media is a catalyst to the eating disorder pandemic, but it is not the cause. 

Platforms such as Instagram and Twitter allow for companies to market products and images towards young girls and boys. Being flooded with images of airbrushed actors all day long certainly isn’t a positive thing, but ditching the internet won’t solve that problem. 

Many jobs require women to wear makeup, or even wear heels. Always seeing adults of high status looking perfect while they go about their day to day lives can be just as harmful as looking up to social influencers for body image ideas.

Young girls are not exposed to natural looking women, which teaches them that they must alter their own appearance to be beautiful. 

Censoring exposure to the media for children will not stop the expansive amount of girls and boys who refuse or regurgitate meals; the structure of our society must be altered to praise natural beauty in all shapes and sizes before we can expect our teens to be comfortable in their own skin.

No matter what the cause, self-image issues and eating disorders are common in teenagers and can be deadly.

If you or anyone you know has trouble with wanting to eat meals, purposely throwing up after eating, or any other symptoms, you can call the helpline at (888)-245-6555 or visit this website for more information on how to get proper care.