Social media addicts victims of body image disorder

By Xanh Le   January 26, 2024 | 04:24 am PT
Minh Tuan, spending most of his day on social media except for two to three school hours, dislikes his body due to constant exposure to images of male models with six-pack abs.

"They have good bodies and muscles since they work out at the gym," said Tuan, a 20-year-old university student in Ho Chi Minh City. "They also have their own unique dressing style."

Over time, Tuan began to detest his reflection in the mirror and felt inferior for not resembling these models. Despite trying to transform his appearance by hitting the gym, he saw no significant improvements even after a long period. Tuan eventually shifted his focus to changing his fashion style to emulate the influencers he followed.

"I spent a lot of time going to different clothing stores, even those far from my home, to find clothes similar to what those models wear," he explained. "I thought about what to wear every day every time I went out, which I found tiring."

This pursuit led to both mental and physical discomfort, as Tuan’s body, which naturally overheats, required more comfortable clothing than what the influencers wore.

"I constantly put pressure on myself," he reflected.

A man holding a phone Illustration photo by Freepik

A man holding a phone Illustration photo by Freepik

According to Datareportal, 78.1% of the Vietnamese population regularly uses social media. The Digital 2023: Global Overview Report, cited by Yahoo Finance, notes that a Vietnamese internet user spends 2 hours and 32 minutes daily on social media on average.

Experts point out that in the digital age, social media users are bombarded with hundreds, if not thousands, of images on social media daily, often without realizing that these photos are selectively chosen or edited to cast the best light on their owners. Such idealized, yet unrealistic, online images can lead to dissatisfaction with one’s appearance.

A 2019 British survey by the Mental Health Foundation showed that 40% of British people aged between 17 and 24 felt their body image was negatively impacted by social media images. 35% reported that they had stopped eating at some point or restricted their diets due to body image concerns.

While there is no specific survey for the Vietnamese, similar trends are observed, with Tuan representing a broader pattern.

Tran Vinh, a 19-year-old university student in Ho Chi Minh City, also faces body image issues. He often spends nights scrolling through Facebook and TikTok, becoming increasingly dissatisfied with his own physique after seeing slender figures online.

"I am considered overweight, and browsing on social media and seeing people with beautiful or skinny figures made me start body shaming myself," Vinh admitted.

His insecurities intensified, leading him to skip meals and even induce vomiting after eating.

"That was how obsessed I was with my appearance, I felt like I should not eat at all in order to lose weight," he said. "Not allowing myself to gain even a kilogram, I made myself throw up after eating."

Similarly, Thu Mo, a 23-year-old Hanoian, struggled with how she was perceived on social media.

"People kept saying that I was too skinny, and I started feeling self-conscious, inferior, and thinking a lot," Mo shared.

Her self-consciousness led her to use weight gain supplements.

Psychologist Tran Kim Thanh sees Tuan, Vinh, and Mo as experiencing body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), which affects 1.7% to 2.4% of the global population.

"Social media addiction is not a direct cause of body image obsession, but it increases factors that significantly raise the risk of triggering these obsessions," Thanh explains.

Social media overusage often leads to one’s negative attitudes regarding their appearances, according to Thanh.

"They [social media users] always compare themselves to those images," she said. "Seeing those beautiful slim people makes them feel worse about themselves, increasing the pressure and distorting their self-perception."

The biggest challenge for treating these people is that they barely share about their inferiority, because of their feeling of inferior itself.

Thanh thus suggests that people like Mo, Tuan, and Vinh control their social media use and seek help from trusted family or community members that they respect, like pastors or monks, as a short-term solution.

"However, for long-term effects, consulting with psychological or mental health experts is advisable," she added.

Otherwise, these people can end up like Mo, who suffered from adverse health effects due to her appearance obsession.

"My stomach started to hurt and cramp after about 10 days of taking weight gain supplements," she recalled. "There was this one day when I felt so uncomfortable that I fainted at work, and I was then taken to the hospital."

"The doctors said my kidneys were affected because of them [the supplements]."

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