In today’s digitally driven society, the power of social media is no secret. In 2016, the Sensis Social Media Report was conducted to investigate how Australian people and businesses are using social media. Studies found that 87% of Australians access the internet daily, with 55% of those people exploring the web more than 5 times a day- 26% of that being through social media networking.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat- these 24/7 apps at our fingertips have reinvented the way we think, share, and communicate. Social media provides us unlimited global connection, on a scale that was probably unimaginable 10 years ago. However, it has also provided us the ability to follow every move of complete strangers- idolising ‘influencers’ whose qualifications sometimes only extend to the little blue tick next to their name. Sure, it’s just a bit of fun for most people, but social media obsessions have infiltrated the lives of real people, and raise the serious question- is social media making us sick?
On Sunday, 60 Minutes will be airing a segment exploring this question from the perspective of our youth. Speaking with the program, psychiatrist Dr Mark Berelowitz from the Royal Free Hospital in London reveals the impacts of platforms such as Instagram have caused a spike in a different kind of eating disorder- Orthorexia nervosa.
According the Dr Berelowitz, orthorexia stems from the fixation on ‘clean living’ which can often spiral into the more well-known anorexia nervosa. He explains 90% of his patients start off following ‘self-titled wellness warriors on social media who claim to cure ailments and improve their followers’ lives through clean eating and fads-despite having no medical or nutritional training’.
Speaking with 60 Minutes, 17-year-old Ashlee Thomas describes her experience with Orthorexia at the ripe age of 14, which became so severe she eventually stopped eating altogether. Idolising social media stars, Ashlee began a ‘clean living’ lifestyle, under the impression that, by doing so, she would also look like the ‘beautiful’, ‘perfect’ influencers that she followed. “So I just gospelly followed it…”
‘Green juices and seven minute workouts’ led to a life-threatening eating disorder, but as her likes and comments increased, Ashlee couldn’t see the flaws in her new lifestyle. As a result, her parents had to force-feed her ‘seven times a day’, and she was eventually hospitalised. 3 years later and with a healthy, recovered daughter, the Thomas family are adamant that ‘without social media, Ashlee would never have developed orthorexia or anorexia’. “Social media just creates an intolerable degree of pressure, particularly on young women and men”, says Ashlee, “the idea you can be perfect, have the perfect body, perfect lifestyle and have everyone admiring you- life is just not like that, also it’s just not the way to be happy.”
These body image pressures, however, are not limited to young women. The same issues are well and truly prevalent amongst males, just instead of being unrealistically thin, young boys and men are faced with the expectation to fit the muscly, built mould they are constantly fed on social media.
Speaking with Deborah Knight on 2GB 873AM, Mitch Doyle describes his experiences with anorexia as an 11-year-old. “It was an incredibly young age to experience such harrowing self-doubt…” he explained, “this was before the rise of social media at that age, but I think in today’s world, it’s a very media dense and image based culture.” The now 27-year-old describes the social media pressures as ‘an uphill battle that you’re never going to reach the top of’.
Promoting The Butterfly Foundation’s ‘Reset’- a program educating young boys on how to cope with body image pressures, Doyle tells the program, it’s about “resetting the conversation around body image and eating disorders to let young boys know… this issue is not just affecting teenage girls.”
The idea of eating disorders and mental illness is no new feat, however, it’s worth considering- is our constant exposure to the highlight reels of other people’s lives a recipe for aggravating such unhealthy comparisons? Even more so amongst impressionable, young audiences who are already facing the endless challenges of growing up… Is social media just a bit of fun or is it truly making us sick?