Eating Disorder Therapy

5 Ways to Use Social Media to Inspire (Rather Than Wound) Body Confidence

In the years following my eating disorder and body dysmorphia recovery, I thought, “Recovery was hard enough in the early 2010s without a constant cascade of digital content reminding me how flawed and inadequate I was. I can’t imagine trying to do it in an era where I see more primped and primed influencers on Instagram and TikTok in 10 minutes than I do unfiltered, real-life humans in an entire week.”

Without question, social media can be a risk factor for developing body image issues. But in an age where movements like body positivity and health at every size (HAES) are growing in force and popularity, we also can’t denounce the power of social media to promote body confidence and acceptance, especially when used and curated in a certain way.

A recent article put out by the American Psychological Association discussed the role parents can play in monitoring and guiding their children’s social media use to safeguard their mental health and social development. In ways both similar and different to those mentioned in the APA guidelines, here’s how you can keep up with the latest and greatest social content while also building your own body confidence along the way.

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Fight Back Against That Finicky Algorithm

Oh, algorithms. By default, they often appear to be more of a foe than a friend, always trying to convince us to “buy this” or “do that” so we can feel better about ourselves. 

Put simply, algorithms gather information about users, including their preferences, interests, browsing history, engagement patterns, and demographic details to determine the type of content they present to a user. 

As such, if you like or watch a video of an influencer flaunting her toned (and quite possibly retouched) abs, you’ll continue to receive videos of thin-privileged individuals showcasing their bodies and portraying themselves as the gold standard.

Contrarily, if you seek out and engage with content that welcomes (rather than shuns) your appearance, you may begin to find your inner critic starting to hush up. 

Searching for and using hashtags that boost body confidence is a great first step for training the algorithm to deliver you content that helps you see the beauty in every body type—yours included. Some hashtags to consider:

  • #bodylove
  • #worthyoflove
  • #bodypositivity
  • #innerbeauty
  • #bodyacceptance
  • #bodypositivitymovement
  • #morethanabody
  • #haes
  • #bodykindness
  • #bodyrespect

Hashtags like these expose you to a world of content that shows how true confidence comes not from trying to attain unrealistic beauty standards but by embracing each perfect imperfection and striving to take care of your body rather than reject or mistreat it. 

Follow (and Unfollow) Wisely

So many of the negative thoughts we have about ourselves are amplified by unhelpful comparison. While anyone is susceptible to falling into the comparison trap, women tend to be the most self-critical when comparing their faces and bodies to other same-sex individuals whom they perceive to have better physical qualities than themselves.

“If you are always trying to be “normal,” you will never know how amazing you can be.”

– Maya Angelou

Still today, as an overall confident woman who accepts even her most “flawed” body parts, I make a point to curate my social media feeds in a way that lifts me up versus pulls be down. This entails unfollowing anyone who touts outer beauty as the be-all and end-all meaning of life and following women who show how being beautiful means so much more than looking any particular way. 

Some truly beautiful women to follow if you aren’t already:

  • Alicia Keys
  • Chrissy King
  • Eve Ensler
  • Geneen Roth
  • Gloria Steinem
  • Janelle Monáe
  • Kate Winslet
  • Lady Gaga
  • Louise Haye
  • Megan Jayne Crabbe
  • Meryl Streep
  • Michelle Obama
  • Nicola Jane Hobbs
  • Serena Williams
  • Tina Fey

Crowding in people who make you feel worthy and confident in your own skin is one of the best ways to use social media to your advantage.

Adjust Your Content Settings

Another measure you can take to minimize the amount of unhelpful and unsolicited thin-spiration and fit-spiration content you see on social media is by making a few quick tweaks to your settings. Here’s the step-by-step process for a few staple social platforms.

Instagram

  1. Click on your Instagram profile image in the top right corner of the app
  2. Go to “settings”
  3. Choose “ads”
  4. Select “ad topics”
  5. You should see “body weight control” as an option
  6. Choose “show less ads about this topic”
  7. Repeat step 5 using other search terms like “weight loss,” “diet,” and “fitness.”

To adjust the ads you see in your profile:

  1. Go to your profile, and tap the menu button with three lines in the top right corner.
  2. Select “settings and privacy”
  3. Scroll down to “ads.” 
  4. Tap on “how your ads are personalized”
  5. Check if any of your inferred interests are diet or exercise related. If so, tap on that interest and select “turn off.”

To adjust the ads you see in your feeds: 

  1. Go to your profile, and tap the menu button with three lines in the top right corner.
  2. Select “settings and privacy” 
  3. Scroll down to “content preferences.” 
  4. Choose “filter video keywords,” then add the words you’d like to filter. Examples: “weight loss” “thinspiration,” “fitness,” “weight,” “workout” and “gym.” If a specific video pops up with this content, you can press your thumb down on any part of the video and select “not interested.”

Facebook

  1. Open the Facebook app, and click on your profile picture with the three lines running through it in the bottom right corner.
  2. Scroll down, and click the dropdown arrow on “settings and privacy.”
  3. Select “settings.”
  4. Under the Meta Accounts Center, click “ad preferences.”
  5. Select “ad preferences” again.
  6. Select “ad topics.”
  7. Use the search bar to find “body weight control,” and tap “show less ads about this topic.” Repeat for “weight loss,” “fitness,” “weight” “diet,” and any other related categories.

For extra protection, return to the Meta Accounts Center and select “Ad Settings” where you can make further adjustments in terms of how Facebook can or can’t use retargeting practices that may also be contributing to the ongoing #WhatIEatInADay content you’re still seeing.

Last but not least, you can select the three dots at the top of any sponsored content post and opt for Facebook to show you fewer ads like it or hide this particular ad to ensure it never appears in your feed again.

Google/YouTube

  1. Go to MyAdCenter.google.com to view what information Google uses to target ads to you and what types of ads you see. 
  2. Go to “customize ads” in the left-hand menu. 
  3. Click on the “sensitive” tab.
  4. Go to “weight loss,” and turn off the slider.
  5. Next, go to the “topics” tab, and select the minus icon on topics you want to see less of, such as fitness or diet.
  6. Next, go to the “brands” tab, and deselect any brands that you’d like to see fewer ads from.
  7. Lastly, go to “sensitive,” and untoggle “weight loss” if you’d like to see less weight loss-related sponsored or paid content.

While all of these settings adjustments can greatly improve your user experience on Instagram, TikTik, Facebook, and YouTube, bear in mind they won’t make you entirely immune to receiving any body-centric content. Creators have a tendency to really niche down by using hashtags like #JuicyGlutes or #AbsAreMadeInTheKitchen, so some content may still make its way to your feed. 

Your next best move is to train yourself to hide/block or scroll past any triggering content, and keep your eyeballs on the posts that have something of value to offer you.

Create a Library of Love

Once you’ve curated your content in a way that suits your individual needs, it’s time to create your own personalized library of love. 

Anytime you see self-love affirmations, body positivity quotes, body confidence quotes, or general inspirational quotes, save them in a  place where you can easily access them. This can be as simple as taking screenshots of posts and creating an album in your photos app on your phone or sending yourself the links to each post and storing them in a spreadsheet.

Each social media platform also has features that allow you to save posts within your profile, usually with the quick tap of a button.

Take it one step further and set a reminder for yourself to visit your library of love on a regular basis, whether that’s each morning, every night before bed, or even once a week to create two or three mantras to repeat to yourself throughout the week. 

Write Your Own Body Confidence Captions and Affirmations

Saving positive quotes, especially from people you admire, is a great way to build body confidence, but being your own best friend and advocate is key to maintaining that confidence. 

Sometimes the quotes we see from others are more aspirational than they are palpable at the moment because we’ve been so engrossed in our own negative thoughts about ourselves. 

Though it takes great courage to do so, consider crafting your own social media posts that encapsulate where you are on your personal journey to body acceptance and confidence. Not only does this kind of vulnerability equate to strength, but it also serves as positive reinforcement of what you’re aiming to achieve. 

For example, if “My body is beautiful just the way it is” feels too far-fetched, you could rephrase it to something like, “I am doing my best to remove any judgments about my body in hopes to someday feel more beautiful in it.” 

Explain why this more neutral statement rings true to you, and don’t put pressure on yourself to share it with the world if that’s not for you. Writing them in a journal only for your eyes to see is also immensely valuable. 

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Remember That True Beauty Doesn’t Come With a Filter

The fact of the matter is, you can update all of your settings, unfollow all the beauty and fitness influencers, and customize your user experience to work 95 percent in your favor, but the insidious nature of social media will always find a way to slip in content that tries to take a hit on your confidence.

When that happens, remember that the true essence of beauty isn’t what’s being shown to you. It’s not touched-up photos of women free of tummy rolls, stretch marks, or cellulite. 

True beauty, as the trusty Urban Dictionary so eloquently puts it, is when you don’t need someone to see you physically to already know that you’re absolutely beautiful. 

So watch your cat videos, take on the latest TikTok challenge, and stay up-to-date on all the hot goss, but the second that inevitable #JuicyGlutes Instagram post sneaks through, give it a block and pay a visit to your library of love.

We are a a group of body image, anxiety, and social anxiety therapists helping change the world one caring session at a time.