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Social media filters are ruining kids’ body image

Social media filters are ruining kids' body image

Social media filters are impacting our kids’ body image, and luckily there’s something parents can do to help. We’ve got to have “the talk” with our kids about social media, and we’ve got to do it soon.  

We’ve entered a deeply fraught period in which our kids are seeking body modification – surgical, fitness, and food – in pursuit of a completely inaccessible beauty ideal.

The source of this problem? Social media. Social media use is strongly associated with explosive increases in body dysmorphia and eating disorders. There are three drivers of this phenomenon: 

1. Social media platforms use algorithms to maximize time spent on the platform because time spent directly equals revenue.

2. Celebrities and influencers exploit social media algorithms and use filters to gain traction (and revenue).

3. Peers seek emotional validation and social proof on social media. Most teen girls will not post a selfie without a filter.

tiktok body image eating disorders

Unhealthy exposure

Basically, our kids are being exposed to highly curated and heavily filtered images of “beauty,” and they find themselves coming up short with their real body, hair, and face. Social media filters are making it harder to raise kids with healthy body image.

  • 34% of teenagers spend at least three hours a day scrolling on social media
  • 80% of girls say they compare the way they look to other people on social media
  • 24% of girls think that they don’t look good enough without photo editing
  • Girls take on average up to 14 selfies in an attempt to get the right “look” before choosing one to post

Source: Dove

What can parents do?

The facts about the dangers of social media for girls are devastating. But there is a lot that parents can do. And most parents are underutilizing their influence. We can counteract the impact of social media filters on our kids’ body image.

While about 80% of parents have the “sex talk” with kids, only 30% talk to kids about responsible social media use. Most of this comes from our own lack of knowledge and understanding about the topic and a healthy amount of pushback from kids when we challenge their preferred form of socialization. 

While it would likely be better for our kids’ body image if we banned social media completely, that’s about as unrealistic as banning sex. Abstinence-only programs and policies are a failure. They do not reduce how much sex people have or the consequences of risky sexual behavior.

An abstinence-only approach to social media, while tempting, is unlikely to be effective. Instead, parents should integrate conversations about social media, particularly how the algorithms work, the impact of filters, and the way we feel about ourselves as a result.

Having “the talk” about social media

It may be uncomfortable at first, but parents should have “the talk” with kids about social media. And just like with sex education, this talk should not happen just once, but instead, be woven into conversation regularly. We also need to be clear that our goal is to share ideas and information. If we try too hard to convince or get buy-in, it can backfire.

Here are the three main elements of body image education with social media filters: 

1. The algorithm

Kids need to know that social media is not a natural social environment, but a capitalistic pursuit. Social media companies collected $41.5 billion in 2020. They make money not by providing a fulfilling and safe social environment but by exploiting natural human curiosity and impulses.

Social media algorithms are sexist, racist, and discriminatory. They lean heavily towards promoting posts that perform well for the algorithm, which are most often thin white women in provocative poses.

What to say: kids hate the idea of being controlled, so let them know that the algorithms are designed to generate revenue for billionaires.

2. The filters

Social media filters are so common that unfiltered photos are novel and unusual. And they tend to not get as many likes as filtered photos. Social media filters are now associated with increases in cosmetic surgery. 

Snapchat Dysmorphia’ is a term that was created by plastic surgeon Dr. Tijon Esho in 2018. It describes the increasing phenomenon of people seeking out cosmetic surgery to look like their filtered face in real life. 55% of plastic surgeons in 2018 reported that patients were seeking surgery to look better in selfies.

What to say: filters are so normal that people are taking filtered photos to plastic surgeons … and even surgery cannot achieve what a filter can. That’s the definition of “unattainable beauty standards.”

tiktok body image eating disorders

3. The feelings

Social media has an unquestionably negative impact on self-esteem. The platforms are designed to keep us scrolling because they exploit natural pathways in our brains. Dopamine hits from social media likes are intense, but they are ultimately empty. You can feel great for a post that does well, but then feel crushed if a post doesn’t do well.

Then there’s the comparison effect. We naturally compare ourselves to others. Endless images of filtered, conventionally attractive images that uphold a rigid beauty standard are harmful. Our brains don’t naturally differentiate between what we see on the screen from real life. So we feel less attractive, less important, and as if we must compete to be worthy.

What to say: social media gives us dopamine hits, but they aren’t meaningful or lasting. It drives insecurity and comparison, the opposite of fulfillment and connection.

We can do it!

There is no way to perfectly protect our kids from the impact of social media on body image. But we can do a lot to counteract the negative impact of social media. And it’s not all bad! Some kids adjust the algorithm to fit their interests and hobbies. 

Social media does have tremendous opportunities to teach and inform. For example, the rise of transgender awareness has been powered by social media. We just need to make sure that kids recognize the opportunities and limitations of social media. 

Recognize that social media companies will never protect our kids from harm. We must take that responsibility on ourselves.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Is social media causing our kids to get more eating disorders?

Is social media causing our kids to get more eating disorders?

Our kids are developing eating disorders at higher rates than ever before, and many are asking whether social media is causing the spike.

One of the things that makes people think social media may be causing eating disorders is because it creates a powerful community around weight loss and body-based goals. Even when models are literally fake, people still see them as relatable.

Miquela (@liliquela) is an artificial intelligence ‘influencer’ who has 2.8 million Instagram followers.

For example, Miquela (@liliquela) is an artificial intelligence ‘influencer’ who has 2.8 million Instagram followers. She looks like every other fashion blogger, right down to her “useful advice” and “can I just tell you guys” relatable tone of voice. But she’s entirely fake. She literally does not exist, yet still influences millions of people.

Social media is dangerous because of its believability. Our brains believe (often subconsciously) that the posts are from “real people.” This belief makes people on social media more likely to influence how we feel about ourselves and others. On social media, everyone seems as real and approachable as your next door neighbor.

Social media posts often:

  • Use filters to enhance body shape, skin tone, eye and lip size, and more
  • Are boosted by an algorithm that naturally favors thin, conventionally attractive people
  • Show only one side of a “real” person. Just like models, the person behind the account becomes invisible, and their body becomes an object for consumption.
  • Create a “compare and despair” situation in which consumers of the media believe they are not as good as others.

The unattainable beauty goals previously modeled by professionals are now perceived as more achievable because they’re being modeled by “real people” on social media. Even if kids know that social media is “fake,” they still subconsciously believe they can and should look like their favorite influencers.

Many people suspect that social media is likely contributing to increased rates of eating disorders. And this is most likely partly due to the highly visual nature of social media. Also, social media influencers regularly give disordered diet and fitness advice.

tiktok body image eating disorders

Social media is full of:

  • “I did it and so can you!” messages that promote ways of eating and exercising that meets eating disorder criteria
  • Paid promotions for diet aids that promise to burn fat, reduce calories, and achieve a thinner body
  • Non-scientific claims of “health” and “wellness” that can be dangerous
  • A powerful pull to jump on the bandwagon and join a community even if it is disordered

Social media is an environment that encourages and even provides a guidebook for developing eating disorders.

Eating disorders are more than vanity, and they are not a choice. But social media can make it easy to begin using disordered behaviors. For those people who are vulnerable to developing an eating disorder, social media can be an easy place to begin.

Who is more susceptible to developing an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are biopsychosocial in nature. This means they combine biological, psychological, and social factors. Thus, social media alone can’t be causing eating disorders, but it can definitely contribute to them. A person becomes more vulnerable to developing an eating disorder when they have these elements in their lives:

  • Biological: there are certain hereditable traits that can make a person more likely to develop an eating disorder.
  • Psychological: a person who has other psychological conditions like anxiety and depression is more likely to develop an eating disorder.
  • Social: a person growing up in Western society, which favors very thin bodies for women and muscular, lean bodies for men, is more likely to develop an eating disorder

Eating disorders and the pitcher plant

pitcher plant and eating disorders (1)

To tell this story, I’m going to use an analogy. The pitcher plant is a carnivorous plant that has flowers shaped like pitchers. The flowers emit a tasty scent that is incredibly appealing to its prey. The bee is attracted to the pitcher flower. It cannot resist the tasty smell, flies over, and lands on the edge. It circles the top of the flower, sucking up delicious sweetness.

But, without noticing it, the bee starts slipping down the tube of the plant. It’s enjoying the food so much that it barely notices that it’s going deeper and deeper. It believes that its wings will save it when the time comes to make the choice to fly away. But the plant is sticky and slippery, and the insect slips further and further down the tube until it becomes stuck in a gooey mess at the bottom.

The bee just wants the sweetness of the pitcher flower. But it’s all too easy to go deeper without even realizing it.

Social media can be a sort of pitcher plant for eating disorders. If a person is vulnerable to eating disorders, they are attracted to social media posts that promote them. They think they are just sniffing along the rim. But then they may find themselves fully in an eating disorder without even realizing it.

Like the pitcher plant, eating disorders are very compelling for certain people. If we have the right combination of genetic, psychological and environmental factors, eating disorders are easy to fall into. This is why social media may be contributing to higher rates of eating disorders by making them accessible to more people.

Social media can make eating disorders more attractive

Just like bees are attracted to the sweet smell and taste on the rim of the pitcher plant, some people are attracted to eating disorder behaviors. They can find endless posts to feed their curiosity. Social media provides inspiration, how-to, encouragement, and community. These can be irresistible for some.



Social media influencers post photos of themselves and tie their appearance to their behavior. So a very thin, pretty woman will say she is so happy to be vegan and gluten-free. Her next post may show her lifting weights or doing a yoga pose. The message is that she is thin and beautiful because of how she eats and exercises. Her followers believe that if they do what she does, they will look like her.

This applies equally to men and women. A muscular, lean man will say he uses protein powder, counts macros, and lifts weights every day. He’ll post shirtless photos of himself at the beach, in the weight room, and with other attractive people. The message is that he is strong and attractive because of how he eats and exercises. His followers will believe that if they do what he does, they will look like him.

FACT: body size, shape, and composition is largely outside of individual control. There are bodies that are genetically predisposed to be thin, lean, curvy, muscular, etc. Just because a social media influencer shares their diet and exercise routine does not mean that their followers will look like them if they do the same.



The deeper you dive into social media, the easier it is to find support for eating disorders. Influencers share details about how they distract themselves from hunger. They show their food diary, often falling well below caloric needs. Many share steroid and supplement advice.

While lots of influencers skate across the surface of eating disorders, others are actively pro-eating disorder. These influencers actually share tips and tricks for hiding eating disorder behaviors.

NOTE: Instagram has tried to protect its users from pro-eating disorder information. It has a warning system that allows followers to report dangerous behavior. But of course many pro-eating disorder posts slip through the cracks.



One of the things that makes social media so compelling is the encouragement that people can find. Posts that share weight loss and physical transformations receive a lot of attention, likes, comments, and shares. They may be the single most popular type of social media post.

But people don’t even have to share a photo of themselves to find encouragement. They can see other people’s posts and follow comment threads filled with positive affirmation for weight loss. Even if they aren’t directly told that they should lose weight, the social media environment encourages weight loss in thousands of ways.



The deeper a person goes into dieting, weight loss, and body modification on social media, the less able they are to see they are trapped. Just like the bee in the pitcher plant, they can get so deep in the sticky sweetness that they feel safe even when they are in fact in danger.

Social media communities arise when lots of people are going through the same experience. And one of the most powerful types of community on social media is diet. You can find a community of people around almost any type of eating behavior, including:

  • Low-calorie
  • Vegetarian
  • Vegan
  • Low-carb
  • Low-fat
  • Paleo
  • Gluten-free
  • Sugar-free
  • Macros
  • Whole30

These limited ways of eating aren’t always disordered, but they tend to be very attractive to someone who is vulnerable to an eating disorder. Social communities that promote a limited and rigid approach to eating flourish because people are seeking belonging and approval. In our increasingly fractured society, finding belonging in a rigid eating and exercise program can seem like the only way to feel good.

tiktok body image eating disorders

Understanding the allure of social media

When we think of social media as a very attractive flower, we can understand why our kids are attracted to it. And people who are susceptible to eating disorders are more attracted to dangerous eating disorder influencers.

Since eating disorders have a large social component, social media can be a major driver. Social media provides inspiration, how-to, encouragement, and community that can be overwhelmingly compelling for someone who is vulnerable to eating disorders.

How parents can protect kids on social media

Our kids are the “test generation” of social media. They are the first teens to go through adolescence with 24×7 access to each other and the whole world via social media. And we really don’t understand enough about social media to protect our kids completely from its risks.

It’s very hard to keep kids entirely off social media, so the best most of us can do is limit access and exposure. We can also actively counteract social media messages that may encourage eating disorders.

Here are 5 things parents can do:

  1. Put time limits on social media, especially during sleep and school hours.
  2. Tell your child that you can and will access their phone to review their social media activity at any time. In addition to reviewing their posts and looking for warning signs, parents should also check kids’ feeds to see the type of posts they’re seeing.
  3. Talk to your child about the dangers of social media. Help them understand that as sweet as it is, it’s important to set healthy limits to avoid falling in too deep.
  4. Talk about body image and eating disorders with your child. Help them understand that bodies are largely out of our control. Most people who look lean and fit on social media are genetically built that way. And very few people can achieve the same, even if they follow the same food and exercise programs.
  5. Help them build healthy, offline relationships that provide belonging and community. They need to feel as if they belong in real life, free from filters and algorithms.

It’s time for us to get educated about the damage social media can do to our children who are at risk of or already have an eating disorder.

Because, just like the Pitcher Plant, our kids may stumble into an eating disorder by mistake, but, once stuck, it is a very difficult thing to get out of.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Analyzing science-based health advice for weight and racial bias

Science is full of weight and racial bias

There is significant weight and racial bias in science. This bias means that parents need to be careful consumers of scientific media and health recommendations. Otherwise, we perpetuate weight and racial biases in our homes and pass them along to our children.

Most scientists are not intentionally fatphobic or racist. But science is dominated by white people. Only 13% of scientists are neither white or Asian. Most scientists make the assumption that weight is a causative factor in disease, despite the fact that there is no causal evidence. In fact, high body mass is a very weak predictor of mortality and may even be protective in some cases.

Science cannot show a causal link between weight and disease. And they continuously recommend weight loss. But the only proven outcome of intentional weight loss is weight regain. The scientific and medical communities have deeply rooted weight bias. And the bias remains largely unseen and unexamined.

Parenting for positive food and body

When consuming science media that links weight to health, we need to consider the following facts: 

  • We live in a heavily biased society
  • Our society favors thin, wealthy, white people
  • Scientists are people first (i.e. not immune to societal forces)
  • We must assume that most science has weight and racial bias

It’s up to us to teach our kids to be critical consumers of all media, including scientific papers. Nobody will expose weight and racial bias in science for us. Here is a demonstration of how we can take a critical lens to scientific health recommendations. 

A parents’ guide to analyzing science-backed health recommendations

Let’s look at the American Cancer Society Guideline for Diet and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention, published by the American Cancer Society Journals, June 9, 2020.

Recommendations for individuals:

  • Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight throughout life.
  • Be physically active.
  • Follow a healthy eating pattern at all ages.
  • It is best not to drink alcohol.

We will take a deeper dive into the weight bias, racial bias, and corporate influence contained in these recommendations. Our premise is that this paper demonstrates weight and racial bias in science.

Recommendation 1: Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight throughout life

Keep body weight within the healthy range, and avoid weight gain in adult life.

Problem 1: Unclear causative link between weight and cancer

Nearly 40% of American adults are considered obese* but not all of those people get cancer. And cancer does not only affect people who are overweight and obese. Approximately 38.4% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes. It may be true that slightly more than 40% of people who get cancer are obese. But that does not mean that being obese causes cancer.

Weight is largely a result of genetics and environment. And we know that genetics and environment are also risk factors in cancer development. Therefore, scientists cannot say that obesity causes cancer. All they can say is that it’s possible that the same conditions that cause cancer also cause obesity. In fact, the authors acknowledge that the 2016 IARC expert working group found that the evidence on weight loss and cancer risk was insufficient to evaluate.

*The terms “obese” and “obesity” are objectionable. They they are medicalized terms intended to pathologize a human body doing what it was naturally designed to do in response to genetic and environmental conditions. We use the term here with extreme caution.

Problem 2: what is “healthy body weight?”

The authors define weight based on BMI (body mass index), which is based on the height and weight of a person. Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine stated that BMI is an inaccurate measure. Because it does not take into account muscle mass, bone density, overall body composition, and racial and sex differences.

Furthermore, the BMI categories for “healthy” changed in the 1990s. The World Health Organization (WHO) significantly adjusted the categories of “overweight” and “obese.” This means that millions people went to bed one night in the “healthy” range and woke up “overweight.” This arbitrary change in BMI standards accounts for many of the alarmist headlines regarding the “obesity epidemic” that have proliferated in the past 30 years. 

Additionally, weight is a racial issue. The prevalence of obesity varies considerably among racial/ethnic groups:

  • Asian: 12.7%
  • White: 37.9%
  • Hispanic: 46.8%
  • Black: 47.0%

A Black person is 10% more likely to be obese compared to a white person. This shows how both weight and racial bias can creep into science. In fact, Sabrina Strings and others say that weight bias is rooted in racism.

Problem 3: How can people “achieve and maintain” a certain weight?

The authors do not spell out how exactly a person is supposed to “achieve and maintain” a “healthy weight.” Nor do they define exactly what “healthy” weight is (other than to refer to BMI). But anyone who is alive today knows that to “achieve” a “healthy weight,” we need to engage in intentional weight loss. It’s the same if we want to “maintain” a “healthy” weight. Maintenance requires vigilant weight oversight and intentional weight loss when weight inevitably creeps up.

There is no proven, effective, and safe method to intentionally lose weight. In fact, weight loss efforts come with significant side effects, including increased levels of cortisol. This is of special note since cortisol is linked to cancer risk. So recommending that people “achieve” a certain weight, which is presumably through weight loss efforts, actually increases cancer risk. 

A second known side effect of intentional weight loss is weight cycling. In fact, about 95% of people who intentionally lose weight will regain the weight they lost. And more than half will gain more. This creates a cycle of weight gain and weight loss. Weight cycling results in higher lifetime weight and increases mortality. Thus anyone who has ever sought to “achieve” a lower weight is likely to weigh more and be sicker than if they had not done so. 

It is notable that the authors specifically recommend specific behavioral changes for the other recommendations. But they offer none for this first (presumably most important) recommendation.

body image for girls ebook

Problem 4: Weight is not a modifiable behavior

This paper aims to provide behavioral recommendations for individuals who wish to prevent cancer. However, this first guideline assumes that weight is a modifiable behavior. Weight is not a behavior, it is a physical fact.  

In fact, body weight is largely genetic and environmental. It is 70%-80% heritable, which is as closely related to genetics as our height. (And nobody is asking us to achieve a “healthy height” – that would be bizarre.) The next greatest impact on our weight is our environment. Everything from our neighborhood to our society and food sources influence our weight more than our individual makeup. 

We cannot actually control our weight without significant health side effects. But we believe we can because of the $72 billion weight loss industry. Their marketing strategy is simple. They shame us for gaining weight, then are part of the reason we gain weight again. They are always there to take our money when we inevitably regain weight. Then the cycle begins again.

And it is undeniable that the weight loss industry has directly funded obesity and weight research, making it deeply questionable. This is like the tobacco industry funding lung cancer research.

Most people cannot control their weight. And those who attempt to do so either drive their lifetime weight higher or develop an eating disorder

Recommendation 2: Be physically active

Adults should engage in 150 to 300 minutes of moderate‐intensity physical activity per week, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous‐intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination; achieving or exceeding the upper limit of 300 minutes is optimal.

Problem 1: Unclear link to cancer prevention and dose recommendation

The authors state that 1.5% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States are attributable to physical inactivity. However, they later state that beyond colon cancer, the strength of the evidence is inconsistent. Finally, they state that drawing clear recommendations for activity dose and intensity for cancer risk reduction is “challenging.”

What this says is that while these scientists assume that physical activity will prevent cancer, they cannot prove it. Furthermore, they cannot actually back up their recommendations based on scientific study. In other words, this is a recommendation based on assumptions, not science.

Problem 2: Racist recommendation

The authors recognize that these recommendations are difficult for less privileged racial minorities. They acknowledge that there are significant social, environmental, and economic barriers to exercise. For example, limited access to safe outdoor areas, the economic ability to invest in fitness, and a white-oriented fitness industry all make this recommendation out of reach for many Black people.

According to the 2018 Sports & Fitness Industry Association Topline Participation Report, rates of inactivity among the poorest households has increased. Meanwhile, activity levels have increased for more affluent households. As the SFIA puts it: “The affluent are getting more active while the less affluent are becoming more inactive.”

Poverty is broken down along racial lines (2018 US Census):

  • Native American: 25.4%
  • Black: 20.8%
  • Hispanic: 17.6%
  • White: 10.1%
  • Asian: 10.1%

This paper makes a health recommendation that is racially skewed and unattainable for our most vulnerable populations.

Recommendation 3: Follow a healthy eating pattern at all ages.

A healthy eating pattern includes: Foods that are high in nutrients in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight; A variety of vegetables—dark green, red and orange, fiber‐rich legumes (beans and peas), and others; Fruits, especially whole fruits with a variety of colors; and Whole grains.

Problem 1: Unclear link to cancer prevention

As with weight and exercise, there is an unclear link between food and cancer. The authors estimate that 4.2%‐5.2% of cancer cases are linked to to poor diet. But they admit this is a problematic concept to investigate. They say: “Determining the role of diet in cancer prevention is challenging, because consumption patterns of humans are highly complex, the food supply is constantly changing, and relevant exposure periods are not always known.” Additionally, “most current evidence concerning diet and cancer prevention is derived from observational epidemiologic studies.”

In other words, this is not objective scientific study. It is observational research, which is inevitably impacted by human bias. We have been told for decades that “healthy” food impacts cancer risk. Therefore it is impossible that researchers do not bring this powerful bias to their observational studies. 

Problem 2: Racist recommendation

The authors make these recommendations despite the fact that they also see how difficult it will be for racial minorities to meet them. In fact, they acknowledge that: 

“Communities with a greater proportion of ethnic minorities and residents with low socioeconomic status are often characterized by fewer supermarkets with healthy, affordable, high‐quality foods. In these areas, residents may not have the economic resources to purchase adequate and nutritious food.”

These communities are also more likely to be experiencing food insecurity. This is defined as being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. In 2018, an estimated 1 in 9 Americans were food insecure. That’s more than 37 million Americans, including more than 11 million children.

And, like all of the recommendations in this paper, this is a racial issue. According to the USDA, 22.5% of Black households and 18.5% of Hispanic households are food insecure. This is higher than the national average of 12.3%. How can we ask people who are already starving to improve their diets with more green, leafy vegetables? This recommendation misses our most vulnerable populations completely.

Recommendation 4: It is best not to drink alcohol

We will spend the least time on this recommendation. It is the only recommendation for which there is a clear link to cancer.

Alcohol consumption is an established cause of at least 7 types of cancer: cancers of oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus, liver, colorectal and female breast cancers.

Deep in the article, the authors state: “… there is no safe level of consumption. The evidence indicates that the more alcohol a person drinks, the higher his or her risk of developing an alcohol‐associated cancer. The risk of some cancers increases at even less than one drink a day. No type of alcohol beverages (e.g. beer, wine, liquor) is less risky in terms of its impact on cancer risk.”’

That’s a much stronger statement than “It’s best not to drink alcohol.”

Alcohol consumption and society

Approximately 50% of Americans over the age of 12 report alcohol consumption. And racial bias may (once again) be involved here. Alcohol abstinence is higher among Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, and Native Americans than among non‐Hispanic whites

This is the only item on the list that has a causal link with cancer. Why is it last on the list? The authors say that any consumption of alcohol causes cancer. Yet they soft-pedal the recommendation by starting with “it is best.” Why?

The authors say that alcohol caused 5.6% of all cancer cases. Meanwhile, exercise, the second recommendation, causes 1.5%, and nutrition is linked to 4.2%‐5.2. In other words, alcohol has the second-highest link to cancer in this paper, yet is listed fourth.

This is where it pays to take a look at the paper’s disclosures. Scientists are required to mention their funding sources. And, guess what? The authors of this paper receive funding from the diet and alcohol industries. The alcohol industry is valued at $72 billion, and very powerful. Could that be why this recommendation comes last and is couched in such gentle language?

Final analysis

We need to think about why there is no recommendation for reducing toxic, chronic stress. The link of stress and cancer is at least as strong as that of exercise and food choices. Yet it is not listed at all. Here again we must think about science through a weight and racial bias lens. The populations that experience the most chronic stress are racial minorities.

Specifically, Black and other racial minorities experience chronic systemic racism that negatively impacts their health. The fact that the authors left stress off the list suggests racial bias. Also, each of the four items listed happens to have a large industry attached to it. Eliminating racism does not.

When you first see this paper, you may take the recommendations at face value. You may decide it’s time for your family to lose weight, start exercising more, and eat “healthier.” You may even cut down your drinking for a little while.

But it’s important not to take scientific recommendations at face value. We must investigate science and learn to recognize weight and racial bias. There are serious consequences for making assumptions about health based on weight and racial bias.

First, we damage people’s health with weight bias. It is considered a toxic stressor which is linked to cancer and other deadly diseases. Next, we whitewash health recommendations, failing to consider racial diversity and social justice. Health is a social justice issue. We need to pursue racial justice for our own families, our communities, and our society at large.  

Learn more about racism and weight stigma:

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Teaching your child media literacy in the age of false claims and fake news on Instagram

Instagram is one of the fastest-growing social media platforms among teenagers and young adults. Many people spend at least an hour each day scrolling through their Instagram feed. This is a challenge for parents, since Instagram is full of false claims and fake news about health and wellness. It is a veritable hotbed of diet culture and bizarre and dangerous eating fads.

The celery juice fad

The latest food fad to hit Instagram is the celery juice fad. Yes, that bland, bitter vegetable that many of us crunched to trick our bodies into thinking we were eating nourishing food when we were starving on a diet, is back. But this time celery has been fully updated for the Instagram wellness circuit. Now it must be juiced and drunk in the morning to help you achieve almost every health goal known to our society.

Lose weight! Better digestion! Detox! Better Skin! Lower blood pressure! Reverse heart disease! Improve thyroid function! The claims about celery juice are almost endless, and not a single one of them carries any medical or scientific evidence.

The trend was started by an Instagram influencer who has zero medical, scientific, or nutrition training. He just “feels” things, and he “feels” that celery juice is a wonder-drug. His feelings, unfortunately, have taken over Instagram news feeds and have spilled over into online and print news media.

The celery juice trend is not innately dangerous. It is absurdly over-priced ($7 for celery juice) and doesn’t taste very good, but it is unlikely that our kids will get sick by drinking celery juice. The real concern is the speed at which unfounded claims can be developed and spread via Instagram and are quickly believed by hundreds of thousands of people.

The dangers of health fads

This is why media literacy is critically important for our children. Health fads may seem harmless, but our kids are consuming them at increasingly alarming rates. Our culture of assigning moral judgement to food – celery juice is “good” and carbs are “bad” – is creating massive problems for our children at a critical time in their physical and emotional development.

Falling prey to fad food trends may seem harmless, but each time our kids jump on another bandwagon, they become less connected with their innate appetite and food preferences. Each time they are told that they are putting their health at risk unless they follow any number of rules promoted by “wellness” gurus on Instagram, they lose faith in their own bodies.

Media literacy is critical in this time of food and body wars, because our kids are being constantly bombarded with information that is misleading and false. The confusion caused by this information can encourage our children to restrict foods they love and ban foods that are actually good for their bodies out of fear of doing something wrong according to “wellness culture.”

It’s not just weight loss

Instagram is full of before-and-after images and direct weight loss promotions. Every other wellness post mentions weight loss as a “surprise benefit” of eating a certain way.

But intentional weight loss is actually worse for the body than staying the same weight due to the tremendous stress that weight loss puts on the body and the inevitable weight cycling that occurs following weight loss. And intentional weight loss led to eating disorders in 25% of girls in one study.

Read more about the problems with intentional weight loss.

But we don’t just need to worry about weight loss on Instagram. We need to worry about all the food fads, including celery juices, cleanses, detox teas, nutritional supplements, appetite supressants, and more.

All of these trends lack scientific evidence and can even cause harm. They can definitely support eating disorders by supporting the idea that the body must be controlled, hacked, tweaked, and optimized by external factors. These trends directly discount the idea that a person can intuitively listen to their body and find health without going to any extremes or building an identity around how and what they eat.

Media literacy

Media literacy is a critical skill that we must teach our children in a world in which it is increasingly easy to access false claims and “fake news.” The human brain is primed to accept and believe attractive messages, especially when they are delivered in a friendly setting like social media.

Media literacy is the ability to identify different types of media and understand the messages they’re sending. It requires media consumers to carefully evaluate media messages and not take them for granted as fact.

Here are some guidelines for teaching your kids media literacy:

  • Ask questions. Teach your children to ask questions of all claims. What information was included? What information wasn’t included? Who says this is true? How substantial is the scientific evidence of this claim? Is there a company, industry, or person who will profit off me believing this information? How does this information fit with information I already know?
  • Spot magical thinking. We have a strong trend right now to see magical claims of a single product accomplishing a laundry list of solutions. For example, celery juice is attributed to better digestion, weight loss, lower blood pressure, better thyroid function, better skin, fight infections, increasing blood flow … and sooo many more claims. It is very unlikely that a single food item can accomplish these things all by itself. Furthermore, how is it possible that we have made it this far without ever recognizing the magical properties of celery juice? And why does it have to be juiced, not whole?
  • Look for point of view. We all have a point of view. Many of us don’t realize that when we’re consuming media, we are consuming a single person’s point of view. Identify the writer’s point of view and consider how it influences their claim. For example, an Instagram influencer is heavily motivated to gain followers and likes. Many of the most successful influencers make money by companies that want to reach their followers. This means that we must always weigh what they say against their need to be followed, liked, and paid.
  • Understand the goal. Media is created to influence the way we think about things. Consider what the person who created the media wants to influence. What is their goal? Are they trying to get you to buy something? Do something? Change something? Hint: anyone who writes anything is trying to influence. That’s not wrong. But it’s naïve to consume media without considering the goals of the person presenting it.
  • Be suspicious of testimonials. Testimonials are the favorite marketing technique in the weight loss and wellness arenas. Companies use testimonials as a way to make claims that are not backed up by any data. This is because a testimonial is a first-person account of a single experience using a product or technique, and therefore it is not judged in the same way that a company statement is. Testimonials are incredibly powerful and have built the $65 billion weight loss industry. Companies cannot provide good data to support their programs, but they can (and do) use testimonials liberally to convince consumers of their efficacy. Media literacy requires approaching any first-person testimonials with extreme caution. If claims are made via testimonial, they should be considered highly prejudiced, especially if there is no scientifically valid data to support one person’s (or even hundreds of individual people’s) experience.
  • Be a rebel. Many parents fear their children’s rebellion, but when it comes to media literacy, a little rebellion can go a long way. Teach them that just because an Instagrammer has 5 million followers that does not mean they need to do what they say. Our children should be encouraged to make informed choices about what they believe, not follow blindly in someone’s footsteps just because they are popular. Support your child in not following the trends and finding their confidence in being themselves.

There is very little we can do to control false and misleading messages on Instagram and similar social media platforms, but that doesn’t make us powerless. Talking to our kids (constantly) about media literacy can help them become more critical consumers of media and hopefully help them start to spot false and misleading wellness claims.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Nobody makes billions of dollars if we believe we’re fine just as we are

Eating disorders thrive in appearance-driven cultures. The U.S. is filled with powerful advertising executives who spend billions of dollars every year convincing us that we are not good enough as we are and that happiness and fulfillment can only be ours if we meet their stringent body and beauty requirements, which will we can do if we purchase their products.

Those of us who are vulnerable to eating disorders often fall prey to these diet, cosmetic and fashion messages without realizing it. With their messages driven deep in our subconscious, we believe we are fundamentally flawed, and that the companies promoting these products are here to help us get better.

We genuinely believe that following a diet, cosmetic, or fashion system will improve our lives. In the process, we fall down the rabbit hole of pursuing happiness through external appearance rather than working on our internal self-worth and identity. No matter how low our weight, how glossy our lips, or how perfect our outfit is, if we are fundamentally lacking in self-worth and identity, these things will not help

When looking at eating disorder ecosystems, we must carefully observe the diet, cosmetic, and fashion industries and unmask them for what they truly are: businesses. There’s nothing wrong with being in business and making money, but there is something wrong with making your money by telling people that they are flawed and need your products to be accepted and loved. Make no mistake: the marketing geniuses in the diet, cosmetic and fashion industry are key players in our eating disorder ecosystem.

Many of the best minds in business, marketing, advertising, psychology, and art come together in the diet, cosmetic, and fashion industries to build the illusion that physical perfection is possible and necessary. We don’t like to think this (free will is an illusion), it is a scientific fact that beauty standards are built, not inborn. The fact that predominantly white, blonde, very thin women have become recognized worldwide as beautiful is a function of global marketing campaigns, not something that is hardwired into our DNA. If the beauty industry had built itself on dark-skinned, curly-haired, larger-bodied women, we would firmly believe that all women should aspire to that beauty standard.

Diet industry

The U.S. diet industry made $66 billion in 2016. It is comprised of programs such as NutriSystem and Weight Watchers, meal replacements, prescription drugs, weight loss surgeries, medical clinics and franchises, diet food, websites, and apps. This income is shocking when it has been conclusively shown that 95% of intentional weight loss efforts result in regain and even more pounds. In short, the diet industry is openly operating despite the fact that there is zero data to support the efficacy of any of the products being sold to consumers.

The diet industry has succeeded in infiltrating two critical elements of society. First, the media is a major mouthpiece in promoting diets and weight loss despite the fact that neither has been shown effective. Second, the healthcare industry, including personal physicians, acupuncturists, hospitals, and nutritionists all promote intentional weight loss despite the fact that there is no evidence of efficacy or health improvement. In fact, people who have undergone intentional weight loss often suffer high levels of stress and higher set weights following their diet behavior.

With the media and healthcare industries fully supporting the lose weight at any cost message, the diet industry has an open path to convincing consumers to try their products. Amazingly, these consumers invest in diet after diet, consistently seeing negative results, and yet they never blame the diet – they always blame themselves. This is not by accident – the diet industry promotes the idea that “you fail the diet, the diet doesn’t fail you.” In fact, statistically, the opposite is true. In 95% of cases, the diet fails.

Pay attention to diet industry advertisements. You will notice that the vast majority of models are white, blonde, and smiling. All of these models are airbrushed and retouched. The message of these advertisements is all the same – buy our products and you will achieve lifelong weight loss.

diet industry sells false promises

Cosmetic industry

The U.S. cosmetic industry made $84 billion in 2016 alone. This category includes skincare, hair care, make-up, perfumes, toiletries and deodorants, and oral cosmetics. $84 billion worth of products is sold every year based on the marketed belief that we are unattractive as we are, and require adornment and concealment in order to show ourselves in public.

The cosmetic industry is the reason why many women refuse to leave the house without full makeup and hairstyling. The work of being beautiful (according to cosmetic industry standards) requires as much as an hour, or even more for many women. Cosmetic marketers tell women that they must be hairless, smell like flowers, have sparkling white teeth, bouncy, shiny hair, perfectly smooth skin, long eyelashes, rosy cheeks, and colored lips and nails.

Men are not immune. While the time invested in cosmetic industry beauty standards are often lower for men, they, too, are sold a host of products meant to improve their natural (presumably nasty) selves.

The cosmetic industry does not thrive by telling us that we are beautiful just as we are. They do not make $84 billion each year when we wash with basic products, brush our hair and teeth, and leave the house confident that we look great. They only make $84 billion when we believe that what they are selling is necessary to be acceptable in society.

Pay attention to cosmetic industry advertisements. You will notice that the vast majority of models are white, blonde, and very thin. All of these models are airbrushed and retouched. The message of these advertisements is all the same – buy our products and you will achieve perfection.

the cosmetic industry sells perfection

Fashion industry

The U.S. apparel market is the largest in the world. In 2016, fashion companies made approximately $292 billion dollars in 2017. U.S. consumers regularly spend more than $15 billion every month at retail clothing stores. The women’s and girls’ apparel market brings in about 25% more revenue than the men’s and boys’ apparel market.

The fashion industry thrives when we believe that clothing must be replaced and updated regularly. It also promotes the idea that we must wear different types of clothing for different events, and that our outer appearance tells the world who we are on the inside. And don’t forget that the fashion industry completely ignores 68% of women who are size 14 and above. This blatant disregard for more than half of the population can only be explained by discrimination, plain and simple.  

Many women change their outfits several times before leaving the house in the morning and will change again later in the day. No matter how many items of clothing a woman has in her closet, she is still likely to despair that she has nothing to wear. The thin ideal that sells clothing (thin bodies model clothing in advertisements and mannequins) often causes women to purchase clothing that does not fit their bodies well, hoping that if they buy something too small, they will be inspired to lose weight. This results in thousands of dollars wasted on clothing that is never worn.

Many women also keep multiple wardrobes to accommodate weight cycling as they go up and down in weight in an attempt to achieve the fashion ideal of having a body as those shown in fashion. Since 95% of all people who intentionally lose weight regain that weight plus more, even one diet in which weight is lost can result in numerous complete wardrobe purchases (the starting wardrobe, the weight loss wardrobe, and the weight regain + more wardrobe).

The fashion industry does not thrive by telling us that we can wear clothes that make us feel comfortable and confident. They do not make $292 billion each year unless we constantly buy new clothes, shoes, purses, and accessories. They only make $292 billion when we believe that what they are selling will bring us joy and happiness.

Pay attention to fashion industry advertisements. You will notice that the vast majority of models are white, blonde, and very thin. All of these models are airbrushed and retouched. The message of these advertisements is all the same – buy our products and you will be happy, sexy, and desirable.

the fashion industry sells perfection

We all live in an eating disorder inducing ecosystem. With these three industries forming a powerful alliance and setting the tone for what is beautiful and, therefore, desirable in life, all of us face tremendous pressure to conform – or at least spend a lot of money trying to conform – to these beauty standards. As a result, we starve ourselves, spend money we don’t have, and waste our time and brainpower on arbitrary, unnecessary standards that support nobody but the billion-dollar industries that fuel them.

These industries are not making the world a better place – they are making more money for themselves. To protect ourselves and our children, we must become aware of their messages and work to counteract them so that we can remain confident in our innate self-worth and value as human beings, regardless of what we weight or how we appear.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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10 facts about Instagram and body image in girls

Instagram and body image in girls

It’s fun to scroll through Instagram, but it can have a negative impact on body image in girls. Instagram is not inherently bad, but research suggests that people who use Instagram – particularly young women – need to be cautious about managing what they see on their feeds.

Curated feeds and sexy poses

The greatest danger for young women on Instagram is images of other women. These images are typically highly curated, Photoshopped or otherwise edited, and staged.

Furthermore, Instagram provides a platform that directly rewards women for posting sexy poses that focus on the body’s shape. This leads to something called “self-objectification,” a dangerous condition linked to eating disorders. We created a video showing how this works:

“Body image disturbance is one of the most common clinical features attributed to eating disorders.” (Eating Disorder Hope)

Instagram use has been directly correlated with poor body image in young women. Monitoring social media use may be very helpful in preventing and reducing the impact of eating disorders. This is why we believe it is critical for parents to talk to their daughters about the dangers of Instagram.

Parenting for positive food and body

10 facts about Instagram and body image in girls

Here are 10 facts about Instagram and its impact on young women’s body image and therefore potential for disordered eating:

1. Instagram ranked the worst app for mental health and body image, especially for young women. [1]

2. Instagram encourages young women to compare themselves against unrealistic versions of reality [2]

3. Instagram makes it easy for girls and women to feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough as they ar.e [2]

4. Young women who spend more than 2 hours on Instagram and other social networking sites report poor mental health. [2]

5. As little as 30 minutes per day on Instagram can make women fixate negatively on their weight and appearance. [3]

6. The more frequently that young women look at #fitspo images, the unhappier they felt about their own bodies. [3]

7. Looking at fitness influencers and models on Instagram has a negative influence on self-esteem, which could predict eating disorders. [4]

8. Women are less satisfied with their bodies after looking at #fitspo images compared to travel images on Instagram. [4]

9. When a teenager’s post gets a lot of “likes” on Instagram, her brain responds in a similar way to seeing loved ones or winning money. [5]

10. When young women make social media comparisons, they report being more likely to start unhealthy weight-loss activities. [3]

body image for girls ebook

What parents can do to help

Parents can help reduce the impact of Instagram on girls’ body image by doing the following:


Keep an eye on how much time your child spends on Instagram. Try to keep total social media time to an hour or less per day. Your child will grumble, but it’s important to stand strong. Every half hour spent on Instagram can decrease body satisfaction.


Monitor who your child follows on Instagram. Talk about the content you see. Are women being treated as objects? Have they been airbrushed, filtered, and perfected? Are all women very thin with shapely breasts and butts? Encourage your child to follow people who don’t make her feel bad about herself.

Be especially aware of #fitspo accounts that promote weight loss methods and “healthy lifestyles.” These are often diets in disguise, and they can be very damaging. Obsession with weight and food are both symptoms of disordered eating. And eating disorders related to following social media influencers are on the rise.


Talk to your daughter about what she’s posting on social media. Is her content highly curated and heavily filtered? Is she posting photos of herself in sexy, pouty poses? Does she post photos that expose her body in ways that make you uncomfortable?

It’s OK to talk to her about what is and is not acceptable to you. You don’t need to be draconian or a sexist about this. It’s not about her “tempting pedophiles,” it’s about learning healthy boundaries in a society that objectifies women.


Pay attention to how your daughter behaves after consuming social media. Does she seem upset? Maybe she spends more time looking in the mirror. Talk to your daughter about how she feels. Let her know that a lot of people notice that they feel bad about themselves after going through their feed. This is a natural response to seeing a false world in which perfection rules.

It’s very common for people to clean out their Instagram accounts of anyone they follow who doesn’t make them feel good. If someone doesn’t make your daughter feel good about herself, they don’t belong in her feed!

This is serious parenting

Putting limits on a girl’s social media is not for the faint of heart. This is serious parenting. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself confused, tripped up, and frustrated when you’re trying to set boundaries on social media. Social media can be fun, but it needs boundaries to be safe. Stay strong!

Consider reading the book Getting to Yes for help with negotiating difficult conversations with your child.

Ginny Jones is the editor of She writes about parenting, body image, disordered eating, and eating disorders.


[1] CNN: Instagram worst social media app for young people’s mental health

[2] Royal Society for Public Health: Social media and young people’s mental health and wellbeing

[3] Macquarie University: Impact of Instagram use in young women

[4] New Media & Society journal: Instagram use and young women’s body image concerns and self-objectification

[5] UCLA Brain Mapping Center 

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Instagram hashtags to avoid when your child has anorexia

Instagram hashtags to avoid when your child has anorexia

Everybody loves Instagram, but there are some hashtags you should avoid if your child has anorexia.

Hashtags are fun ways to navigate social media channels, especially Instagram. When we search for something using a hashtag, we get to see hundreds, sometimes thousands of posts regarding that topic. It can be really fun to navigate these hashtags and find out what other people are posting. This is how Instagram custom-makes feeds based on each person’s unique preferences.

Unfortunately, Instagram hashtags may be an unhealthy method for furthering disordered thinking about bodies, health, and dieting. Sadly there are Instagram accounts dedicated to supporting anorexia. And there are accounts that teach people how to “get better” at being anorexic.

tiktok body image eating disorders

Why kids with anorexia may need to avoid Instagram

Instagram has lots of accounts that support anorexia, restrictive behaviors, and over-exercise. You may be surprised by the many hashtags that:

  • say that food restriction is healthy
  • teach people to over-exercise
  • promote having anorexia as good
  • glorify extreme thinness

There are also people who are in recovery for anorexia who use Instagram posts as a way to document their progress. But their ongoing disorder means that these posts can be disturbing.

Even if the posts aren’t directly promoting anorexia, there are literally thousands of accounts that actively promote disordered eating and exercise.

Instagram’s community guidelines and warnings for anorexia

Instagram recognizes that it has a problem. It is a perfect environment in which vulnerable populations can promote eating disorder behaviors.

A good thing is that Instagram has created community guidelines. It is attempting to curtail the dangerous promotion of eating disorders on its platform. For example, there is currently no hashtag for #proana. And if you search for #anorexia, you will be shown this warning message:

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 3.57.50 PM

This is an important step for Instagram. We applaud their work toward minimizing the dangers of social media platforms being used to promote eating disorders. But it’s not enough. Instagram is known to be harmful to mental health, and there are several lawsuits against the platform for encouraging anorexia.

Inadequate safety measures

It’s really great that Instagram puts up that warning about anorexia. But unfortunately, they leave the option to “Show posts” related to anorexia. If you click through to “Show posts,” there are thousands of images, quotes, and posts from people who are still active in their anorexia.

These posts can be deeply triggering. They can provide instructions and information about continuing and hiding anorexia. Also, since anorexia tends to have a competitive edge, it can exacerbate symptoms.

It’s not uncommon for people who have anorexia to compare their bodies. They may strive for the lowest body weight and the highest degree of danger from the disorder. This is true even when they say they want to recover. It’s confusing and conflicting. Both are true. But Instagram can make it harder to overcome the drive to be thin.

Triggers are everywhere

Instagram is full of triggers and has millions of posts promoting diet culture. The culture promotes extreme eating, weight loss, and over-exercising as moral behavior. Diet culture persists in hating body fat and promoting weight loss. As a platform, Instagram is an excellent channel to support anorexia.

Even people who are in full recovery and enjoy Instagram often find triggering and upsetting images. This happens when they go to see our search results, or if they stumble across a positive hashtag like #health. Many people in early recovery find it easiest to avoid Instagram entirely.

While your child is in eating disorder recovery, you should consider eliminating social media from their daily activities. Until your child is fully stable, Instagram may be too much. It can trigger relapse and the desire to return to disordered behaviors. Of course, this is a hard thing to ask. Other options include limiting the time you allow them to access social media and insisting on reviewing their social media activity.

tiktok body image eating disorders

Even recovery hashtags can hurt

Even seemingly “safe” hashtags such as #anarecovery and #anorexiarecovery may contain triggering posts. Avoid those, as well as #eatingdisorder, #anorexia, #bulimia, etc. It’s not that there are not good posts under those hashtags. In fact, we often post them @MoreLoveOrg. But they simply pose too many dangers to someone who is in active recovery.

The problem is that while people identify as being in recovery, they may still be using their eating disorder behaviors. They may still suffer from obsessive thoughts about food and their body.

This is why Instagram hashtags about anorexia often include photos of food and bodies. It’s not necessarily that the people want to promote the disorder. Instagram provides a window into the person’s inner struggle with anorexia. As a competitive disorder, posts like this can be hard to handle in recovery.

Save our #EDWarriors from Instagram

There are many, many wonderful and excellent Instagram accounts that are supportive of recovery. But disordered posts will encourage an eating disorder. Someone in recovery from anorexia should probably avoid Instagram unless it is carefully monitored. This is hard to do, but parents must protect kids from potentially harmful social messages.

Surprisingly dangerous hashtags on Instagram

#health #fitness #fit #fitnessaddict #fitspo #workout #bodybuilding #cardio #gym #train #training #health #healthy #instahealth #healthychoices #active #strong #motivation #instagood #determination #lifestyle #diet #getfit #cleaneating #eatclean #exercise #bodygoals #selfietime #femaleform #thefemalebody #21dayfix  #beforeandafter #beachbodycoach #shakeology #realbodies #toneitup #healthyshake #shakeologycoach #shakeology

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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The “news” headlines that make us sick with eating disorders

news headlines focusing on dieting, exercise and losing weight all carry misinformation that is dangerous for people who have eating disorders

These headlines are from news sources that promise to tell us the latest and greatest, research-based information about our health. For those of us who have/had eating disorders, these types of headlines are more than just clickbait – they tap into the obsessive side of ourselves that desperately wants to follow rules and be OK. Our eating disorder sees these headlines and wants to follow them. We have tied our body size to our self-worth, and we want to do what the “experts” tell us is “healthy.”

If you have a child who has an eating disorder, please open regular conversations about how headlines like this can trigger our disorders. Help us work through the painful act of rebelling against the words that tell us how to be healthy by restricting food, dieting, and over-exercising. Help us maintain recovery by reminding us that true health is accomplished only when we accept our bodies and don’t live in fear of food and fat.

Here are some key triggers for those of us who have/had eating disorders when we see headlines like this:

Headlines that suggest we should “eat less” or “exercise more.”

The assumption in these headlines is that we need to lose weight. Even if the headline doesn’t explicitly state weight loss as the goal, we all know that the reason why we want to “trick” ourselves into eating fewer calories or “motivate” ourselves to exercise more is to lose weight. This assumption is deeply triggering to someone who has an eating disorder.

In recovery, we work hard to realize that our bodies are fine just as they are and that we don’t need to control them, starve them, or purge them of food. Additionally, simply eating less and exercising more is not a recipe for losing weight long-term. Diets based on this recipe fail 95% of the time and actually result in weight gain. That’s a tremendous failure rate, and yet headlines continue to promote diets as if they are scientifically valid.

Headlines that suggest weight is linked to being “good” or “bad.”

Any suggestion that restricting food or exercising makes us ‘good’ can lead those of us who have eating disorders to feel intense shame and guilt. In our recovery, we need to learn inherent worthiness decouples from our weight, food intake or exercise patterns. Yet everywhere we go, we read about “cheat days,” and how to trick our bodies into either eating less or exercising more. These messages can upset our recovery chances and put us back on the road to our eating disorder.

Before and after images showing someone who has a larger belly and then a tighter belly.

This is the oldest diet marketing trick in the book. The image of someone’s belly looking distended and then tight, as magically influenced by a restriction-based diet and/or over-exercising induces a visceral response for most of us. Most of us feel disgusted by the ‘before’ and deeply desire the ‘after.’ Before and after images tell us that Fat is gross and controllable. This is deeply triggering for people who have eating disorders and have associated small body size with being worthy and “good.” These images are fatphobic and set unrealistic expectations for what a diet can accomplish.

Headlines that suggest a direct link between health and a specific food.

Nutrition science is limited to correlation. We simply cannot run human studies to determine whether there is causation between food, weight, and health. But media outlets love it when nutrition scientists find even a statistically insignificant correlative link between a particular food and a particular health outcome. Scientists frequently speak out against how their research has been presented in the media, but the media still persists in presenting statistically insignificant correlative data as fact.

Headlines that suggest there is a link between exercise and weight.

It has been proven that exercise, while it has many benefits, does not lead to weight loss. In fact, for many people, exercise increases appetite and therefore weight gain. But exercise-driven headlines are very popular. Over-exercising is a frequent precursor to eating disorders and often accompanies food-based restriction, binging and purging.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Talk to kids about the danger of advertising and how unrealistic images can impact self-esteem

Talk to kids about the danger of advertising and how unrealistic images can impact self-esteem

Advertising is a danger to kids’ self-esteem and body image. And since advertising is everywhere, this impact is deep-reaching and serious. When we were kids advertisements were on TV, billboards, magazines, and buses. But today we also get served advertisements on social media. And since teens spend an average of eight hours and 39 minutes per week, that’s serious.

Self-objectification and advertising

Self-objectification is the practice of comparing yourself to other people and, importantly, media and advertising images of people. Self-objectifying behavior looks like comparing your own body to those of your friends, strangers, family members, and, of course, models, actors, and social media influencers. It’s basing how you feel about yourself on whether someone else is better or worse than you due to their physical appearance.

Ralph lauren advertising-2
Our children (and we) are bombarded with unrealistic and dangerous advertisements everywhere we go.

We can’t protect our children from these images and messages. But we can speak up and let them know how dangerous these images and concepts are. Objectifying images are dangerous to everyone. Unrealistic advertising hurts our kids, and it hurts us. It is not benign.

Nobody admits they are impacted by advertising. But in fact, we are all susceptible to its subconscious power to influence what we think is “normal” and beautiful. This leads to unrealistic expectations for ourselves and our children.

This app is advertised on Instagram as a way to make this beautiful teen’s face unrecognizable.

Self-objectification and eating disorders

Almost all eating disorders are based on the desire to be thinner. Thus, most people who have eating disorders are engaging in self-objectification. Self-objectification is defined as looking at yourself as an object as if you are a third-party observer. When self-objectifying, most people are judging themselves as worthy or unworthy based on their physical appearance. This is particularly pervasive in girls and women due to the sexual objectification perpetuated in the media and advertising.

Fredrickson and Roberts identified self-objectification as “the first psychological consequence to emerge among girls and women as a result of living in a sexually objectifying cultural milieu.” Rather than valuing themselves based on how they feel or what they can do, someone who self-objectifies judges themselves based on how they appear to themselves as a third-party observer.

“An objectified body is a malleable, measureable, and controllable body. By viewing and treating themselves as sexual objects, it is argued that girls and women act as their own first surveyors in anticipation of being evaluated by others. Thus, the body becomes the site of reparative action and vigilant monitoring to manage the sexual objectification. When girls and women view themselves through this self-objectified lens, they take a peculiar stance on their own bodies that is fundamentally disruptive to the self–body relationship.”

Encyclopedia of Body Image and Human Appearance, Volume 2

Eating disorders are usually an attempt to control the body and make it appear more socially acceptable. When kids get stuck in eating disorder thoughts, we must consider how advertising has impacted them and whether self-objectification is a contributor to their eating disorder.

Talk about advertising

No matter how smart you are, and no matter how smart you think your children are, don’t be silent when it comes to advertising images and messages. Make sure you speak up every single time you see something that suggests impossible beauty standards or Photoshops away individual character.

Talk to your kids about how Photoshop has completely overtaken media, and that nobody can possibly look as good as the models do. Even “real people” on social media use apps to adjust themselves. They whiten their skin, remove “extra fat,” and slenderize themselves beyond recognition.

Our children deserve to feel good about themselves regardless of the size of their waist or color of their skin. They deserve to be more than a Photoshopped rendition of themselves.

Here’s a great TED Talk by Jean Kilbourne about the dangers of advertising and how it impacts us as a society.

How to respond to the danger of advertising on kids’ self-esteem

Parents must respond to the danger of advertising on kids’ self-esteem often. It’s not enough to have this conversation once or even twice. Given the huge quantity of media they are consuming on their phones, our kids need a lot of guidance on this topic. Here are seven things parents need to talk about to counteract the danger of advertising on kids’ self-esteem:

  1. Establish a firm household policy of body respect
  2. Don’t allow body bashing
  3. Don’t allow dieting or intentional weight-loss efforts
  4. Point out that most media images are “fake news.” Those people don’t really look like that – they are using filters, poses, lighting, makeup, and other techniques to look like that
  5. Talk about sexual objectification and how bodies are used to sell products and make money for corporations
  6. Discuss the extreme measures actors and models go to in order to look like that, including starving, steroids, and over-exercise
  7. Educate about the power of images and the impact of images on our brains. We must actively counteract the powerful media images in order to have a healthy body image

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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The perfect social media pose, and how to talk to your teenager about false perfection on social media – by @brittanybaxter_x

On social media our teens are able to compare themselves to so-called “real” people, but those people are still working hard to take perfect photos, and altering the photos to present perfection to their followers. This goes way beyond what they see in traditional media, because social media feels *REAL*. It feels as if real people really look awesome and are having awesome lives all the time. But it’s a lie.

We love this Instagram post from the amazing Brittany Baxter about what it took to achieve the “perfect” look on the left. Talk to your teens about the fact that it’s not just the traditional media that make people look perfect – false perfection is everywhere on social media.


From @brittanybaxter_x

Okay, first things first – posing is hard work. I took multiple photos of myself posing as I am in the photo on the left. I lost balance a hundred times, my legs were shaking, my stomach hurt from sucking it in and bending over. The muscles in my face also really hurt from fake smiling and laughing! All in all, posing like that isn’t comfortable and it’s not reality.

I see this pose on social media so often and I get it, I mean – I look taller, thinner, longer and leaner. The photo of me on the left is more acceptable, more ideal and more visually pleasing – however it’s not reality. Day to day, I don’t look like that and to be honest there is no way in hell I’d be walking around in “fake heels” and sucking my stomach in just to appear longer, thinner, leaner and more visually acceptable

The photo of me on the right is simply me – just chilling, comfortable and this is what I look like day to day, with the exception of a fluctuating stomach. I’m showing you these two photos because I don’t want you to look at women who pose like I have in the picture on the left and compare yourself. I don’t want you to think that you have to look like that, it’s not natural, it’s not reality

I’m also showing you these two photos to demonstrate that most of the things we see on social media and the media isn’t reality, it’s an uncomfortable staged snapshot – it’s a highlight reel

Your body is so beautiful when it’s just naturally doing its thing, so don’t be ashamed of it and don’t hide it


Don’t ever compare your behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.


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How to talk to your teenager about Photoshop, the media, and how it impacts body image

Many people who have eating disorders have a distorted view of themselves, along with a negative body image. There is a condition called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), which is common among those suffering from eating disorders. According to the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation, the most common age at which BDD begins is 13, and it occurs in both boys and girls.

BDD is not a simple response to the media, however, the media may be a good way to begin conversations with your teenagers about how they perceive their bodies and other people’s bodies. Talking about this is not a cure or a substitute for professional treatment, but it may help parents open some doors into their teenagers’ minds.

We created this video to share some ideas about how you might start this conversation.

Every day, our kids walk around seeing images of perfect people. Of course, those people aren’t really perfect – they have been digitally enhanced to appear like they are. But even though we know all about Photoshop, our brains still retain the perfect version. And so our teenagers walk around with Photoshopped images of perfection in their heads.

The weird thing, though, is that when they look at themselves in the mirror, they do the opposite of Photoshop to themselves. Suddenly girls look fatter and shorter, more pimply and too hairy. Their hair is too thick or too thin, too blonde or too brown. Nothing is right. Boys see themselves as too skinny, too short, not muscular enough, too pimply … and on and on.

When parents hear their kids say mean things about themselves, they want to make their child feel better, so they say things like “you’re beautiful!” and “you don’t know what you’re talking about.

The problem with these well-intentioned comments is that teenagers have a seriously strong bullshit-meter, and they think you are very, very stupid, for thinking they are beautiful when they can see very clearly that their image does not reflect what they believe is beautiful.

Before you can change their beliefs about themselves, you need to talk to your teenagers about the use of Photoshop everywhere. But … for goodness sake … Don’t lecture! The bullshit meter hates lectures! Like a wild animal, you need to be careful when entering the teenage habitat.

You can use media that she already knows and trust – like YouTube – to connect with her on this topic. You need to let your teen take the lead here – so if you say anything, say something positive. Let your child do the talking – let her say what she thinks about the manipulation of normal people into flawless perfection.

Encourage her to educate you. Let her inform you about how fake those perfect images are. When you let your child take control, and allow her to be the expert, she will begin to change her own mind. And that’s the key to teenagers … allow them to find their own way. Nobody wants to be manipulated, least of all, your teenager. Let her discover and get angry for herself, and she will learn much faster.

Escaping a negative or grossly inaccurate body image is a struggle for people of all ages today. But by helping your child develop her own opinions about what it means to be beautiful, and by exploring the world through her eyes, you can help her avoid the very worst of the problem.

And maybe, one day, your sweet baby will look in the mirror and see herself exactly as she is on the outside. And maybe, one day, she will even love what she sees.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.


The Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation is a charity is dedicated to the relief of suffering from BDD. It aims to advance education and understanding of BDD. It supports research into BDD and its treatments. Whilst we are based in the UK, our reach is international and we are proud to be the only charity for BDD in the world. Website

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What To Do Together: Watch this video about Photoshop and Beauty

If you have a daughter or a son with an eating disorder, they are likely struggling to understand the media presentation of the “ideal human” and match it up with their experience of themselves.

Next time you’re sitting around together on separate devices, take a moment to connect with her, and watch this video together. This is a great way to open the discussion about her perceived imperfections and talk about what it feels like to be a teenager living in today’s image-conscious world.

For Girls

BuzzFeed Video asked four women to participate in a Photoshop experiment. Their reactions to the results are a surprise to many. How does your daughter feel about this video? What do you agree about? What do you disagree about? Remember to honor her opinions as much as you honor your own. The idea here is to understand, not to convince.

For Boys

How does your son feel about this video? What do you agree about? What do you disagree about? Remember to honor his opinions as much as you honor your own. The idea here is to discuss, not to convince.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.