Social media isn’t the only cultural influence on body dysmorphia. For decades, there has been a lack of representation of normal-looking people in modeling, advertisement, and entertainment. Rather than including normal variations in the way people look, visual media mainly shows people who represent unrealistic beauty standards.
Unrealistic beauty standards didn’t start with social media but it has contributed to its continuation. People in this narrow category of beauty standards receive the most likes and attention which can reinforce the cultural illusion that people should look a certain way.
Consequently, the amount of time people spend on social media makes it a major influence on body image and dysmorphia. Social media provides endless content and has become a place where everyone is trying to achieve the “ideal” aesthetic for likes and followers.
To achieve this, people edit and use filters to portray an image of false perfection. Instagram, for example, has countless free filters to alter your appearance. You can also download apps like Photoshop and Lightroom to change your skin texture and body size.
It can be difficult to determine if a person has altered their appearance if you just see them on social media. All you’re seeing is a beautiful, 2-dimensional image of someone’s seemingly perfect aesthetic.
If you see that the way they look is getting them a lot of attention, you may begin to reflect and wonder if you should also change your appearance. This can create a gap between what someone actually looks like versus what they think they should look like.
With body dysmorphia, social media can trigger obsessive thoughts about appearance. Their feed may be full of people looking “perfect”, which can be a constant reminder of their perceived flaws.
This can lead to compulsive actions to try to remediate the issue. This isn’t to say that social media causes body dysmorphia, but rather that it can contribute to this condition.