In today’s world, social media is ubiquitous, and the true impact it has on our lives can sometimes go unnoticed . Thanks to this technology, the vast majority of those of us who live in developed countries have a showcase from which to show ourselves to the world and, at the same time, almost inevitably, the windows of others parade before our eyes.
One of the consequences of this saturation has to do with the perception we have of ourselves, and especially (although not only) of our own body image , which is so important in these shop windows. Indeed, it is not surprising that numerous investigations have confirmed the negative impact that social networks have on the health of many young people, including some carried out by nothing more and nothing less than Facebook.
“Self-esteem always depends on social comparison”
Of course, social networks are only one element in the complex equation that is the formation of one’s own body image. This is how Marcos de Andrés Ortega, psychologist, social worker and disseminator on the Youtube channel enGrama explains it to 20Minutos , from where he has extensively dealt with the issue of body image and more specifically anorexia .
“We build our body image based on socialization. There are no innate ideas about what is aesthetic or not,” says Ortega. “In general, a person will feel dissatisfied with his body at the moment in which it does not conform to what we have socially consensual , to all those cultural patterns that we have been learning and assuming.”
Ortega clarifies that “a person may not fit in, and yet give the same. This is where our individual and personal interaction with the environment comes in: our life history. Self-esteem is always dependent on third parties, on social comparison. Therefore, that a person is affected more or less will depend on the behaviors that have punished or reinforced us during their history. If, for example, someone has been greatly reinforced by behaviors that seek to preserve the body image, to seek the aesthetic, the beautiful, it is likely that within his self-concept aesthetics is a fundamental pillar “.
“As soon as any event occurs that shakes that pillar, the person feels very vulnerable,” he continues, and recalls that “personality is not something innate, it is nothing more than a relatively stable behavioral repertoire. How we usually behave in certain contexts “.
This becomes problematic “the moment it causes recurrent anguish or suffering; the moment they avoid plans or begin to condition their life” , although it clarifies that “it does not mean that the person has a pathology or is ill “.
Be that as it may, “whether or not to comply with all the requirements of a manual is not a reason not to ask for professional help, a diagnosis is not necessary for a person to be carrying out problematic behaviors.” And he warns: “all people are susceptible to it if contingencies arise.”
“We live all the time in a shop window”
This reinforcement or punishment of certain behaviors can occur in many different environments , explains Ortega, something that exemplifies with “a person who can be shy with his family and the life of the party with his friends. This does not mean that he has changed or has uninhibited, but his family reinforces him and punishes him for behaviors that are the opposite of the other environment. “
In any case, he explains that “all people are subject to a similar, generic socialization framework. Each person has their own learning history, but in the end we all live in the same world and there are a series of cultural patterns that are common” .
In fact, he argues that “there have always been problems related to eating behavior and self-image.” However, he adds, “today we live all the time in a shop window, all the time exposing our daily lives. Therefore, it is easier to fall into social comparison.”
“In the past, that comparison was between people in your own environment. But today you enter any social network at any time and they are bombarding you with information that makes you compare all day long.” For this reason, he believes, ” these problems may have proliferated more now.”
Another change that Ortega believes he has observed is that “in the past, body image did not seem to be so important in men. Right now, body image problems continue to affect mostly women, but they also occur more and more in men.”
“What is unfair is blaming the individual”
This psychologist also highlights the significance of phenomena such as the famous Instagram filters in this regard. “The filters and the retouching of the photos are gradually making it more and more difficult for us to expose ourselves to our own image and to our own ‘imperfections'”.
Despite everything, it is true that social networks also host movements that try to fight against the damage caused by this body dissatisfaction, the most visible being perhaps the one known as Body Positive . But, although Ortega admits that “I do not have a very formed opinion about the Body Positive” and that “seeking the acceptance of all bodies and non-regulation can obviously be positive,” he argues that “the fundamental thing is not to give so much importance to the body and reinforce other aspects of the person “.
Children today have smartphones earlier and earlier.
“That the attractiveness, the desirable, does not come all the time from the superficial and the aesthetic, but also from other facets”, he adds.
This is a change that, he acknowledges, is difficult to achieve. “If we gradually act in our environment, perhaps in the long run a systemic change can be achieved. It is very difficult for steps from the ‘micro’ to penetrate the ‘macro’, but there is no other way” . And he gives an example: “try to avoid comments such as telling a person who has lost weight that they are beautiful, because in this way we reinforce behaviors aimed at losing weight even when they are not healthy.”
In any case, “what is unfair is to point to the individual. The person himself cannot do anything on his own and cannot do much if his environment continues to reinforce or punish the same behaviors.”
“Pointing out the individual is part of the neoliberal logic that blames him for his own condition, but that is not the case. An individual, no matter how much he is convinced that it does not matter if his body is not normative, it is quite difficult not to fall into it. that suffering if a whole system watches out otherwise “.