Province-wide campaign examines impact of social media on body image

Social media may bring you information, conversation, and infatuation, but does it bring you joy?

That’s partly what Jessie’s Legacy, a North Vancouver-based program that’s part of Family Services of the North Shore, has been exploring during the annual Provincial Eating Disorders Awareness Week campaign over the last week.

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“The amount of exposure that we’re having, and that youth are having at younger and younger ages now, is really kind of unprecedented,” said Joanna Zelichowska, manager at Jessie’s Legacy, a program which provides eating disorders prevention education, resources and support for B.C. youth, families, educators and professionals. “We think it’s really important to reach out to families and to young people and teach them how to be critical thinkers and critical consumers of the images that they’re seeing.”

As part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which concludes on Feb. 7, Family Services of the North Shore presented an event Tuesday evening on raising resilient teens in the digital age.

The free event, hosted at Centennial Theatre, featured a screening of The Illusionists, a documentary which explores the mega industries – advertising, celebrity culture, multimedia – that saturate our lives with a barrage of images of unattainable beauty, followed by a Q&A with the movie’s creator, Italian filmmaker Elena Rossini.

“The images that we see everywhere surrounding us, being billboards, magazines, or television, they seem to portray a very narrow beauty ideal and I feel that 99 per cent of the female population is not really represented,” Rossini told the North Shore News.

Featuring testimonials from sociologists, politicians, artists and activists, and spanning the entire globe, the audience during Tuesday’s screening got a direct look at how “insecurity sells,” as Rossini’s film juxtaposed images of everyday people against the constant bombardment of what companies say we should look like.

“We all have a beauty, we are all aging, and I feel that the commercial sector – be that fashion or pharmaceutical or cosmetic products – they’re all interested in keeping people in a state of anxiety and insecurity about the way that we look so that we will go out and buy products,” said Rossini.

Social media and technology also add to that sense of anxiety, Rossini noted, adding that she has a new film in the works, called The Realists, which explores the insecurities wrought – and which can ultimately lead to serious body image issues – by technology and social media.

“We’ve become a culture that’s very performative and very often people on social media they post things and become very anxious about the kind of feedback that they get,” said Rossini.  “I think it’s important that we start having a conversation about this.”

With regards to that important conversation, Zelichowska noted one of the best ways for youth to address this was by asking themselves how they felt after a social media session.

“How are you feeling after you’re scrolling on Instagram?” she said.

The solution, she offered, wasn’t about quitting social media altogether, but instead being conscious about what social media we’re taking in – this in turn can go a long way in combating disordered eating and issues with body image. “Are you following accounts that make you feel badly about yourself or are you following accounts that are inspiring?”

Visit jessieslegacy.com/pedaw to learn more about Provincial Eating Disorders Awareness Week and other Jessie’s Legacy events and resources.

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