Social media has long been the bane and the muse of anyone suffering from an eating disorder. To exist online with a pulse in the year 2012 was to understand the cesspool of “thinspiration”-style content that proliferated on platforms like Tumblr, Xanga and Pinterest, and more recently, the rise of “influencer” culture has all but ensured that an endless stream of images of thin, toned and otherwise perfect-presenting women are ever-present in Instagram and Youtube feeds.
On Monday, a handful of social media platforms introduced new policies aimed at providing support to users who might be suffering from body image issues and disorders in honour of eating disorder awareness week (February 22-28) — a positive sign that platforms are finally coming to terms with the idea that they can play a useful role in mitigating the spread of harmful images..
Instagram announced that it would be rolling out new features designed to support people suffering from negative body image on the platform, including “surfacing more expert-backed resources when people search for eating disorder-related content, expanding our work with experts to help inform our policies, and collaborating with community leaders to help them create and share positive, inspiring body image content.” The platform already preemptively blurs posts containing potentially triggering images or anecdotes about dealing with an eating disorder, but going forward, it will also now include contacts for local eating disorders hotlines in the UK, Canada and Australia, and will also provide advice on how to build body confidence that was developed in partnership with the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) in the US.
TikTok and Pinterest also separately announced partnerships with NEDA on Monday. On TikTok, users who search for terms like “eating disorder,” “edrecovery” (eating disorder recovery) or “proana” (pro-anorexia) will now be directly linked to advice from eating disorder experts on “how to identify negative self-talk, think about one’s own positive attributes and strengths or support a friend who may be struggling.” Pinterest announced that it planned to host a series of roundtable discussions aimed at “challenging systemic biases and sharing stories from all backgrounds and experiences,” in honour of NEDAwarness Week.
Instagram in particular has long struggled with its policies over diversity and female nudity, although it’s arguable that no social media platform is really doing a great job of promoting body inclusivity right now. As the ever-advancing tide of social progress bears down, let’s hope the conversation around what constitutes a beautiful body continues to expand — and that social media platforms continue to acknowledge their responsibility in helping to get it right.