Social media fuels unhealthy beauty standards among Indonesian teens

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Bandung, Jun 10 (360info) Widespread use of social media among young people in Indonesia could be driving the country's rising prevalence of eating disorders too.

Indonesian celebrity Brigitta "Gigi" Cyntia, a member of the pop group Cherrybelle, recently revealed her struggle with an eating disorder, urging her fans to seek professional help if they face similar issues.

This candid confession underscores a growing concern in Indonesia: the rising prevalence of body image problems and eating disorders among young people.

Studies indicate that up to 10 per cent of Indonesian students are at risk of developing eating disorders, with 12 to 22 per cent of women aged 15 to 29 reporting difficulties in managing their food intake.

Recent data from a small Indonesian study showed that even among those without diagnosed eating disorders, 57.7 per cent of youth in Tangerang, Indonesia reported some dissatisfaction with their appearance.

This trend reflects a broader global increase in eating disorders, which have risen from 0.15 per cent of the world's population in 1990 to 0.17 per cent in 2019.

The implications of these disorders are profound, affecting physical health, mental wellbeing and overall life satisfaction.

The influence of body image on adolescents' health is significant. Those who maintain healthy eating habits and engage in appropriate physical activity tend to be happier and more satisfied with their lives. Conversely, those driven by a fear of gaining weight may resort to unhealthy diets and excessive exercise, jeopardising their wellbeing.

Body image perceptions are shaped by various factors, including peer influence, media exposure and cultural norms.

Social media, in particular, plays a crucial role by promoting standardised ideals of beauty.

Platforms like Instagram allow users to compare themselves with idealised images, often edited to perfection. This constant comparison can create immense pressure to conform to unrealistic standards.

In Indonesia, social media usage is widespread, with over 100 million active users.

Instagram is especially popular among the youth, offering easy-to-use filters and effects that enhance images, making them adhere to unrealistic beauty standards.

Positive feedback, in the form of likes and comments, reinforces societal beauty standards. To achieve similar validation, individuals often engage in various weight management strategies, from dieting to vigorous exercise routines.

The COVID-19 pandemic also exacerbated body image issues, with increased social media use leading to more frequent comparisons with idealised figures.

The constant exposure to seemingly perfect images can heighten dissatisfaction and negatively impact self esteem. This trend highlights the need for responsible social media use and realistic portrayals of beauty.

Many Indonesians, especially those outside urban areas, struggle to access healthy food and exercise facilities.

Traditional diets rich in high-calorie foods such as coconut milk and palm oil in Minangnese, Sundanese and Javanese food are popular and accessible within Indonesian society. Combined with the high cost of healthy alternatives and fitness services, achieving social media's beauty ideals is difficult for many.

Socioeconomic status also influences body image issues.

According to a longitudinal study using Indonesian Family Life Survey data, the socioeconomic status inequality in excessive body weight has decreased significantly in the last decades. The study showed that obesity is increasingly affecting poor segments of Indonesian society.

This phenomenon is closely related with the high price of healthy food, low price of processed food, sedentary living and high cost of good quality of sport facilities in Indonesia.

The consequences of body dissatisfaction are severe, leading to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. This problem affects both genders: while women often aspire to thinness, men face pressure to appear muscular and athletic.

Parental and peer support plays a crucial role in mitigating these pressures.

Positive reinforcement from family and friends can help improve physical self-worth and reduce body image discrepancies in some contexts. Encouraging a healthy and balanced perspective on body image is essential for fostering mental wellbeing.

Promoting a healthy body image involves recognising the diversity of body types and focusing on overall wellbeing rather than unrealistic standards. Initiatives like Health at Every Size advocate for accepting and appreciating all body types, emphasising health and happiness over appearance.

The surge in body image issues among Indonesian youth is a complex problem influenced by social media, cultural norms and socioeconomic factors. Addressing this issue requires a multifaceted approach, including supportive family environments, responsible media use and a shift towards valuing health over aesthetic perfection. ( GSP