Instagram leads to eating disorders… news flash?

Ila Gordon

More stories from Ila Gordon

A couple weeks ago, news sources such as the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and The Wall Street Journal released coverage about former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen who testified in front of the Senate. She exposed Instagram and Facebook’s heinous corporate intentions coming at the expense of the mental health of our youth– particularly sparking eating disorders in teenage girls.

The various news sources presented this information in a shocking manner, emphasizing the horrendous impact that these social media platforms have on young girls. As if this was surprising, front page worthy even. While the impacts of social media are atrocious, the development of eating disorders and other mental illnesses in teenagers is nothing new. It is just now that people are really paying attention, only because someone brave enough, labeled a ‘Facebook whistleblower,’ spoke up.

First of all, it shouldn’t take a ‘whistleblower’ testifying in front of the Senate to bring national attention to this issue. But, for whatever reason, the impact that social media platforms have on teenage girls’ mental health and body image wasn’t already clear enough? Skyrocketing statistics of suicide and eating disorders associated with social media weren’t enough?

Every couple of years, there is some new report released or new research conducted discussing social media’s horrific influence on teenagers. However, after a matter of weeks, or rather days, the headlines disappear and again fall under the category of being insignificant and seemingly obsolete. Nothing ever comes from these appalling statistics, and they are left ignored, only worsening the matter at hand. Society has made it clear that eating disorders and mental illnesses are simply subordinate and inferior to the billions of dollars that social media companies profit at the expense of the physical and mental health of our youth.

One of the most personally troubling aspects of the recent eating disorder-social media ‘revelation’ was that the news only focused on Instagram and Facebook. Yes, those were the only companies involved in the reports and testimony, but are we really so narrow minded to think that only Instagram and Facebook are involved in this?

None of the news coverage surrounding this ‘breakthrough’ thought to even mention the impact of TikTok, Snapchat or any other social media platform teens use on a daily basis. Because the unfortunate truth is that it is all social media platforms, and the way societal practices are perpetrated through such platforms, result in increasing mental health issues, insecurities, FOMO (fear of missing out), and negative body image for nearly all teenage girls.

I have friends who have deleted TikTok because the app has given them eating disorders, or at least contributed to the disorder. Who thought that posting ‘what I eat in a day’ videos was a good idea? Because whoever it was succeeded at predicting what people would respond to because those were the videos that were trending and painfully famous. If that doesn’t tell you how far off from perfect we are as a society, I don’t know what does.

On one hand, the negative impacts of social media aren’t entirely the fault of the platforms themselves, but rather are demonstrative of major flaws in our society, executed by social norms and stereotypes. If we, as a society, weren’t so diet-obsessed, or our image of beauty wasn’t based exclusively on one’s physical appearance and body, then social media wouldn’t promote these values to our youth.

On the other hand, however, the flaws in our societal priorities and values might not be as prevalent in the minds of teenagers, nor would they impact teens as significantly, if social media didn’t provide a platform for these values to be spread.

I think it goes without saying that social media’s impact on teenage girls shouldn’t be newsworthy because it is new, but rather the focus of the matter should be the magnitude of these effects instead of the atrocity of it all. Unfortunately, society doesn’t see it this way and thus these issues have gone largely unnoticed, only continuing to heighten the rates of eating disorders and mental health issues for teens. At this rate, we must ask ourselves; is the issue social media, or is it society itself?