OK, let’s face it. Sometimes on Facebook, it’s all about “me” – a singleminded focus on one’s looks, habits and behaviors. In fact, teenage girls who are constantly on Facebook may be more prone to an eating disorder, according to a recent University of Haifa study that found that the more time Israeli teen girls spent on Facebook, the more likely they were to have an eating disorder or be unhappy with their bodies.

Bodimojo asked Dr. Melissa Freizinger, the clinical director of an eating disorder treatment center in Medford, Mass., for her opinion about how Facebook affects teen girls with poor body image. “I don’t think the problem is with Facebook per se, but with how people use the Internet in general,” said Freizinger. “You can use the Internet for good or for evil.” Freizinger did an informal search on Facebook for Pro-Anorexia websites and said, “I stopped counting when I hit 60!” She warned that anyone on the Internet or Facebook can access these dangerous websites that promote eating disorders and share dieting tips and techniques to hide eating disorders. “These sites are very dangerous and although there are many organizations that shut down these websites, more pop up,” said Freizinger. “Eating disorders are a serious mental illness that can have dangerous medical consequences—girls should not be glamorizing this illness. She added, “On a positive note, there are many wonderful websites that are focused on recovery and health.”

My reaction to this study is along with the peer pressure from Facebook, media images, movies, television shows, and commercials promote an unrealistic, Photoshopped, and unhealthy image of women being too thin that is also most likely over-sexualized. “Eating disorders are all about self-blame and condemnation, so when girls compare themselves to an unrealistic body ideal, it is a set-up—it fuels negative self-talk and low self-esteem,” said Freizinger.

So, how can teens prevent themselves from having low self-esteem and body dissatisfaction?

The study found that parental involvement reduced the chances of developing an eating disorder, such as Anorexia or Bulimia, by monitoring Internet use and encouraging personal empowerment.  It’s natural and normal for teens to compare themselves to each others and to popular media images, but at-home discussions can reinforce healthy behaviors and being confident in who you are. There are also many organizations that help girls with a FB presence to counteract the unrealistic ideals, pressures and standards, such as PBG – Powered by Girls, The Girl Revolution Body, Girls, Inc., and many others.

Dr. Freizinger recommends the following tips on increasing positive body image:

1) First and foremost, focus on what you do, not on how you look. There are so many girls doing amazing things every day.

2) Reject our culturally imposed ideals of unrealistic thinness. If you have a curvy body, embrace your curves as symbols of power and pride.  All bodies are beautiful.

3) Think about how much time you spend worrying about your looks instead of being aware of what is going on inside of you or around you. Try practicing mindfulness, a technique used in meditation and yoga.

4) Remember that all pictures in the magazines are digitally enhanced. Be careful with what magazines you read, shows you watch, and sites you visit on the Internet.

5) Pick healthy role models—women who have achieved greatness based on their intelligence and passion, not on their looks.

6) Kill your inner supermodel.  If you have an image of perfection in your head to which you’re constantly comparing yourself, get rid of it. Perfection is subjective, unrealistic and so so boring. Value diversity and individuality.

Dr. Frezinger suggests these other inspirational tips for a healthy body image.

Read how to feel better about your body on BodiMojo.

Samantha Burns learns about eating disorders and how to treat them in her graduate classes at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology.

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  5. Eating Disorders: Not just an Adolescent Illness

 

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