Negative body image concerns increase as pandemic creates 'virtual world'

NOW: Negative body image concerns increase as pandemic creates ’virtual world’

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It is National Eating Disorder Awareness week. According to researchers, one potential cause of eating disorders is body dissatisfaction. Now, experts say they have seen an increase in negative body image perceptions for children. They say the cause? The new virtual world.

“There is a huge correlation to how I feel about my body and how I feel about myself as a person and addressing one really requires addressing the other,” mental health counselor, Heather Blackford of Family Psychology.  

Body image is how you see yourself when you look in a mirror. These thoughts toward your body start at a young age. According to NEDA, by age 6, girls start to express concern about their weight. Additionally, 40-60% of elementary school girls are concerned about becoming too fat. Now, as schools take on virtual platforms during the pandemic, mental health specialist have seen a rise in concerns over body image.

“In normal conversation, we do not see ourselves, we only see the other person. Now we are constantly seeing this feedback of how am I getting across because our video is there constantly,” says Blackford. “Because they cannot turn that off, especially with school they do not have the option to hide themselves, so they can just focus on what is being said. They are always there, and we are finding that is getting in people’s heads and causing them to question and compare at even higher rates than before.”

Teenagers, with a heightened awareness of how they look via zoom, also deal with the struggles of social media outside of the classroom. With unattainable beauty standards and filters flooding their timeline, it makes it easy to over consume and add pressure. Blackford says when a teenager’s life is consumed with these thoughts and concerns, that is when it becomes a problem.

“If somebody is trying on 10 outfits before they head out the door, that’s a big red flag. If somebody does pop on Instagram and next thing you know they were having a great day, and now they have gone down, that’s a big red flag. It is taking up too much space in our lives,” says Blackford.  

Blackford says if you notice your teenager’s mood being determined by social media or spending too much time worrying about their perception, the best thing to do is have that open conversation. In order to create body positivity, she says there needs to be trust. But what about adults? With most people working from home, these negative impacts of the virtual world can have the same effect.

“I think anytime things are feeling out of control, and I think 2020 we really felt out of control. My body is something I can control. I can try to control the impression that I am making, the size, the shape, the styling, focus on that because all of the other things I want do aren’t possible right now,” says Blackford.  

Typically, when two individuals talk, you only focus on that one person. Today, people are able to watch themselves just as much. As a result, there is an even greater awareness of one’s body image. Blackford says the best thing to do is to take note of these feelings.

“The strongest thing I encourage is a social media audit. When you take a look at what’s coming across your feed every day, how does it make you feel? When you are seeing these sorts of posts is that helping you feel good about yourself or is it creating this spiral where suddenly you are having a terrible day and before you were fine,” says Blackford.

For further information about Family Psychology of South Bend and to contact Blackford visit here.

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