Social media and self-hatred: it’s complicated

3 minute read

Influencers don’t cause body dysmorphia disorder except in those with an unhealthy type of perfectionism.

Does social media cause body dysmorphia disorder and attendant eating disorders?  

The Back Page is old enough to use the phrase “is old enough to remember” and remembers when that same moral panic raged about models in teen magazines and TV commercials.  

No doubt silent film stars were seen in their day as portraying unattainable body ideals, and before them Roman frescos and sculptures from Egypt’s Middle Kingdom.  


Now researchers from Universitas Surabaya in Indonesia and the University of South Australia have set out to determine whether the endless scroll of physically perfect people is having a direct effect on young women’s self-esteem to the point of psychiatric disorder, or whether that requires something a bit extra.  

Perfectionism, the authors write, “is a personality construct related to the tendency of individuals to strive to achieve high personal standards, accompanied by feelings of concern about their ability to achieve or maintain these”.  

Perfectionism can be divided into three dimensions: high standard, order, and discrepancy. While all three are associated with body image issues, the first two can be adaptive, but discrepancy – being highly preoccupied with the difference between the ideal and your reality – is maladaptive.  

The team used social networks to recruit a sample of 385 young women (18-25) who completed three validated questionnaires: the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Screening Scale, Social Media Pressure Scale and the Almost Perfect Scale – Revised, to measure their levels of BDD, susceptibility to social media and perfectionism across those three dimensions.  

They sampled only women, but then it is an Indonesian study, and perhaps that culture has not quite kept pace with the West’s increasingly unhinged standards for men’s bodies.  

The team calculated the associations between social media and BDD mediated by the three components of perfectionism, and found the only significant pathway was the one via discrepancy, and that this pathway explained 27% of the variance in BDD tendency.  

They did not find a direct relationship between social media and BDD.  

In their words: “The model demonstrates that the role of social media pressure in increasing BDD tendency in emerging adult women was fully mediated by the discrepancy dimension of perfectionism.” 

People who are highly disturbed by minor flaws in their appearance “engage in various obsessive efforts to overcome their appearance anxiety, such as excessive grooming and body checking”. Such maladaptive perfectionism is associated with psychological problems like anxiety and depression, eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder.   

It can also lead to “extreme behaviours to change one’s body”, and we think this is worth mentioning in light of the recent changes to require a GP referral for cosmetic surgery – it could be a conversation that comes up a little more often.  

To attain physical perfection, send story tips to 

End of content

No more pages to load

Log In Register ×