[TW: This blog discusses disordered eating habits.]
Picture it: It’s 2014 in the sunny streets of Philadelphia. A bright-eyed and bushy-tailed baby Queer Alex appears on the scene, ready to take on the world. This was a pivotal moment in my life, as coming into one’s own tends to be for a lot of people in college. Moving to a new city brought forth so many possibilities, new adventures, and a fresh start. Escaping the conservative clutches of my hometown allowed me to fully accept who I am and step into the LGBTQ+ community with pride.
As often happens when a Queer person “steps out of the closet,” a glow up occurs… a metamorphosis, if you will. As I began to shed my chrysalis, social media as a whole was also starting to transform. Tumblr had me in a chokehold, Instagram was gaining popularity fast, and sites like OkCupid! and Tinder were whispers in the wind. If you didn’t take a photo of it, it didn’t happen, and social media consumption became my new religion.
Nowadays, we have icons like Lil Nas X, Sam Smith, and Laverne Cox to look towards for inspiration, but back then, being openly Queer in popular media wasn’t necessarily as mainstream as it is today. I turned to social media to learn the basics of what it meant to be an out, Queer, man… and into the rabbit hole I fell.
The Adonis Effect
The Adonis Effect puts an emphasis on “proper” proportions of the male body, achieved through extensive diet and exercise. Either it was a sign of the times or the algorithms had me in the center of their bullseye, but content after content showcased what I thought, at the time, was considered to be the “perfect” male physique. Consistently scrolling through these posts started to have a negative effect on my psyche.
In 2020, Thomas Gültzow, a researcher at Maastricht University in The Netherlands, conducted a study which was published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking that found 62% of social media accounts associated with fitness or fitness related hashtags showcased a certain physical appearance “norm” (six-pack abs, flawless skin, and of course, thin). Not only did I begin to feel pressure from the media I was consuming as a man, but I also began to feel as though to be accepted into my newfound LGBTQ+ community, I needed to reach these unrealistic body standards.
In 2013 I remember seeing a Dove campaign focused on showcasing the way women view themselves versus how others view them. I was drawn to this, curious if I had been placed in this scenario, what the outcome would be—and I wondered why there wasn’t a version with men. At this moment in time, the mainstream conversation surrounding body neutrality became more prevalent amongst women. Body image issues affect one in three girls, but while teenage girls are widely understood to be susceptible to negative messaging about body image, research shows that teenage boys and men are just as vulnerable. The relationship between men’s body image and social media is far less discussed than it is for women, despite it being as common an issue.
The Ugly Truth
By 2014, I was in the gym 7 days a week, weighing out every gram of my food and counting calories.
While disordered eating often centers weight loss as its “goal” in mainstream conversation, that isn’t always the case—especially when societal norms uphold the appearance of a trim, muscular physique for men. There is a fine line between healthy exercise and eating regimens versus an obsessive exercise routine and restrictive eating habits. In 2016, researchers from Flinders University in Australia reviewed 20 studies looking at the effect of social media on body image and disordered eating. They found that the use of social media is associated with negative body image and disordered eating—and that there was no difference in how social media affected men and women.
The Double Edged Sword
So yes, social media can obviously have negative effects on men and women alike. But it can also be full of positive experiences. The consumption of information can have a different impact on everyone, with so many personal factors going into how one processes this information. Learning to set boundaries is key, which can range from how much time you spend on your phone, to the accounts you choose to interact with and follow.
Social media doesn’t have to be an inherently negative space. There are tools available today to help form healthy habits, seek advice or therapy, and stay on track to living a well rounded mentally, physically, and emotionally stable life.
A sense of community can also be found via social media, something I can attest to through personal experiences. Being open and vulnerable about my own struggles with body image, disordered eating, and obsessive workout regimes brought me closer to people around the world who shared in these struggles—which I was only able to connect with through social media. I found that living a happy and healthier life incorporated therapy, enjoying whatever foods I want, and (this is a big one) curating what’s on my social media feed.
I like to follow accounts surrounding food and working out that have the goals of living a happy and healthy life—no pressure, no expectations. Whether it’s one of my best friends, Alyse Ruriani, who is a kick-ass Queer Art Therapist that creates a lot of work surrounding the stigmas of fatphobia, or fitness accounts that are built on the foundation of progressing at your own speed, emphasizing goals of strength and health (not appearance).
While there can be a difficult line to walk in terms of having healthy goals and habits for yourself, it’s always important to center yourself and your own happiness for the right reasons. Never compare yourself to others, especially in the fantasy world that is social media, and learn to love every inch of the only body you have. Like anything that glows, your glow up has to start from the inside and shine outward—not the other way around.
Other great social media resources:
If you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating or unhealthy habits, please visit NEDA for more resources.