Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2020-21/Truth in Body Image

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

In recent years, growing social media usage among adolescents has been linked to cognitive eating disorders[1] and negative body image, especially more image-based social media applications such as Instagram.

Tensions between the medical, psychological and media disciplines arise when discussing this topic due to contradictory views and evidence. The issue of “truth” within the subject of body image also creates tension between these disciplines by questioning the objectivity of truth in medicine in comparison to the varying forms of truth drawn on in psychology and the subjectivity of constructed truth within social media.

Body Image in Medical Science[edit | edit source]

Definitions of weight[2]
Category BMI
Underweight ≤18.5
Normal weight 18.5 to 25
Overweight 25 to 30
Obese ≥30

Body image in medicine revolves around the concept of health. A healthy body in medical science is based on the empirical truths surrounding the degree of health attributed to different body types. Medicine tells us that a body is unhealthy when either overweight or underweight. Underweight and obese people were “associated with higher all cause mortality” [3]. Being overweight was associated with greater risk of hospitalization, especially for circulatory and musculoskeletal diseases[4]. Normal weight proved to be the least associated with relative risks of cardiovascular and musculoskeletal diseases and all cause mortality.[5].

There are many health risks associated with eating disorders. For anorexia these include cardiovascular complications such as arrhythmia[6], complications in skeletal development in adolescents[7], delayed puberty and risk of miscarriage during pregnancy[8]. Eating disorders that involve purging also increase risks of dental enamel erosion and vocal cord pathology[9]. Binge-eating is associated with acute gastric rupture and esophageal rupture[10].

Body Image in Psychology[edit | edit source]

Psychology draws on different types of truth, varying from forms of empirical truth based on statistical research to conclusions reached by psychologists that are often based on a more subjective truth using causation and correlation. Psychologists use case studies to investigate the links between social media usage and indicators such as self-objectification and negative body image, which are common markers in teenagers with eating disorders, in order to discern the effects that social media can have on body image and disordered eating patterns.

Social media applications, in particular Instagram, have recently been associated with body image issues for young women which can often link and lead to disordered eating and increased self-objectification[11]. Women with greater disordered eating patterns spent longer on Facebook and were reported to engage in behaviours such as untagging themselves in photos and comparing themselves to their friends (Mabe, Forney, & Keel, 2014).[12] As well as anorexia nervosa, Instagram has been increasingly linked to orthorexia nervosa, which is defined as an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food, with symptoms of orthorexia as measured by the ORTO-15 test being shown to have a significant relationship with higher Instagram use (Turner & Lefevre, 2017)[13]. Despite orthorexia not being recognised as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association therefore not appearing on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there has been increasing peer-reviewed literature appearing on the subject.

Body Image in Social Media[edit | edit source]

Media's concepts are based on the views of society. Therefore, the foundation of what we know is a constructive truth: meaning that everyday knowledge is a socially constructed phenomenon. Body image has long been manipulated by the mass media. Magazines, movies and social media have promoted ideal body types and created the idea that being thin is being beautiful. [14] Young people have resorted to eating disorders in hopes to achieve this desirable body type. The number of eating disorders has been rapidly increasing in recent years due to the dominance of social media and the minimum age for girls with eating disorders is decreasing and is lower than 12 years old. [15] A study carried out by the Florida House Experience showed that a staggering 87% of women compare their bodies to what they see on social media. [16] Moreover, celebrities and influencers use their platforms to advertise "Weight Loss" products based on empty promises of losing weight effortlessly.[17] Their influence fuels young girls to use products that are not safe since they don't require FDA approval. [18] However, in recent years, a #BodyPositivity movement has surfaced that encourages the acception of bodies no matter their shape or form. This wave of different body types being shown on social media helps boost confidence in teenagers. [19] Yet, progress is not perfect. Only 43% of posts under the body positivity hashtag represents plus size women which isn't a representation of reality. Additionally, many posts still glorify being thin and degrade curvier bodies. [20]

Tensions Between the Disciplines[edit | edit source]

The empirical truth in medicine of the desirable body being healthy conflicts with the constructed truth in media of the desirable body being thin. The constructed truth in the media promotes underweight which is associated with increased health risks. However, as truth on social media is constructive it is subject to change of public opinion which has recently shown the emergence of a movement that appreciates all body types. Medical science also conflicts with this constructed truth that encourages people to embrace their potentially overweight bodies and hinders them from introducing healthier practices in their lifestyles. According to medicine, being overweight is also associated with increased health risks and therefore undesirable. Media finds the constructive truth of body image in beauty whereas medicine finds the empirical truth of body image in health.

The constructive truths that steer the body image narrative in the media can be criticised through a psychological lense. Psychology indicates the harm that the pressure regarding body image that dominates on social media causes on its consumers, especially among adolescents. Psychology concerns itself with understanding how and why body image dissatisfaction arises. Social media however, promotes a constructed truth that regenerates structures that further this dissatisfaction. The focus on mental health within psychology conflicts with the focus on physical health within medical science. Psychology uses both empirical and subjective truths to understand how negative body image is detrimental to mental health. Medical science focuses instead, solely on empirical truth, and the effects of a ‘bad’ body on physical health. Here, although there are differences in how the disciplines consider truth, the tension lies mainly in their focus of subject matter.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

After looking into the subject of body image, it's clear that taking an interdisciplinary approach is necessary. Each discipline’s truth contradicts the others which creates tensions previously explained. The constructive truth of body image in social media is sometimes forgotten. People tend to rely on current trends to assess their value. Consequently, young people, who are exposed daily to social media, suffer tremendously mentally. [21] This is why psychologists should be included in the building of social media platforms for example. This could help create safer apps for teenagers to stop the struggle in body image. Additionally, medicine and psychology have contradicting visions of a healthy human being. Therefore, working closely together they could find an approach to lower people’s BMI avoiding medical dangers while working on their mental health and stop degrading their body image. In summary, we’re still far from handling the struggles of body image that people face but taking an interdisciplinary approach could create progress.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Wayles, K. (2020). Instagram and eating disorders: An empirical study of the effects of instagram on disordered eating habits among young girls (Order No. 27960060). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (2407596359). Retrieved from
  2. Ringbäck Weitoft G, Eliasson M and Rosén M. Underweight, overweight and obesity as risk factors for mortality and hospitalization. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. 2008;36(2):169
  3. Ringbäck Weitoft G, Eliasson M and Rosén M. Underweight, overweight and obesity as risk factors for mortality and hospitalization. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. 2008;36(2):169
  4. Ringbäck Weitoft G, Eliasson M and Rosén M. Underweight, overweight and obesity as risk factors for mortality and hospitalization. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. 2008;36(2):173
  5. Ringbäck Weitoft G, Eliasson M and Rosén M. Underweight, overweight and obesity as risk factors for mortality and hospitalization. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. 2008;36(2):174
  6. Casiero D, Frishman W. Cardiovascular Complications of Eating Disorders. Cardiology in Review. 2006;14(5):227-231.
  7. Misra M. Long-Term Skeletal Effects of Eating Disorders with Onset in Adolescence. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2008;1135(1):212-218.
  8. Rome E, Ammerman S. Medical complications of eating disorders: an update. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2003;33(6):418-426.
  9. Rome E, Ammerman S. Medical complications of eating disorders: an update. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2003;33(6):421.
  10. Rome E, Ammerman S. Medical complications of eating disorders: an update. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2003;33(6):421.
  11. Fardouly J, Willburger BK, Vartanian LR. Instagram use and young women’s body image concerns and self-objectification: Testing mediational pathways. New Media & Society. 2018;20(4):1380-1395. doi:10.1177/1461444817694499
  12. Mabe, A.G., Forney, K.J. and Keel, P.K. (2014), Do you “like” my photo? Facebook use maintains eating disorder risk. Int. J. Eat. Disord., 47: 516-523.
  13. Turner PG, Lefevre CE. Instagram use is linked to increased symptoms of orthorexia nervosa. Eat Weight Disord. 2017;22(2):277-284. doi:10.1007/s40519-017-0364-2
  14. Derenne JL, Beresin EV. Body Image, Media, and Eating Disorders. Academic Psychiatry. 2006;30(3):257–61.
  15. Aparicio-Martinez, Perea-Moreno, Martinez-Jimenez, Redel-Macías, Pagliari, Vaquero-Abellan. Social Media, Thin-Ideal, Body Dissatisfaction and Disordered Eating Attitudes: An Exploratory Analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2019;16(21):4177.
  16. Link Between Social Media & Body Image [Internet]. King University Online. 2019 [cited 2020Nov29]. Available from:
  17. The Truth Behind Weight Loss Ads [Internet]. Consumer Information. 2019 [cited 2020Dec12]. Available from:
  18. Commissioner Oof the. Beware of Products Promising Miracle Weight Loss [Internet]. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA; 2015 [cited 2020Dec9]. Available from:
  19. Cohen R, Irwin L, Newton-John T, Slater A. #bodypositivity: A content analysis of body positive accounts on Instagram. Body Image. 2019Jun;29:47–57.
  20. Lazuka RF, Wick MR, Keel PK, Harriger JA. Are We There Yet? Progress in Depicting Diverse Images of Beauty in Instagram’s Body Positivity Movement. Body Image. 2020Sep;34:85–93.
  21. Cramer S, Inkster B. #StatusofMind [Internet]. RSPH. 2017 [cited 2020Dec12]. Available from: