How Instagram Is Supporting People with Eating Disorders and Body Image Issues
Throughout National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (and beyond), your favorite IG creators will share engaging content and helpful resources for those struggling with disordered eating and body image issues.
Scrolling through Instagram is probably one of your favorite ways to kill time. But thanks to heavily edited IG photos and videos that often portray an unrealistic illusion of "perfection," the app can also be a minefield for those who struggle with disordered eating, body image, or other mental health issues. In an effort to help support people impacted by these struggles, Instagram is heading up a new initiative that reminds people that all bodies are welcome — and that all feelings are valid.
To usher in National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which runs from February 22 through February 28, Instagram is partnering with the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and some of IG's most popular creators on a series of Reels that will encourage folks to reconsider what body image means to different people, how to manage social comparison on social media, and how to find support and community.
As part of the initiative, Instagram is also launching new resources that will pop up when someone searches for content related to eating disorders. For example, if you search for a phrase such as "#EDRecovery", you'll automatically be brought to a resource page where you can choose to speak to a friend, talk with a NEDA helpline volunteer, or find other channels of support, all within the Instagram app. (Related: 10 Things This Woman Wishes She'd Known at the Height of Her Eating Disorder)
Throughout National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (and beyond), influencers such as model and activist Kendra Austin, actor and writer James Rose, and body-positive activist Mik Zazon will be using the hashtags #allbodieswelcome and #NEDAwareness to open up conversations about "perfection" and show that all stories, all bodies, and all experiences are meaningful.
It's an important and deeply personal initiative for all three creators. Zazon tells Shape that, as someone who's currently recovering from an eating disorder, she wants to help others navigate the difficult journey of recovery. "[I want to] help them understand they are not alone, to help them realize that asking for help is brave — not weak — and to help them understand that they are more than a body," shares Zazon. (ICYMI, Zazon recently founded the #NormalizeNormalBodies movement on Instagram.)
Rose (who uses they/them pronouns) echoes those sentiments, adding that they want to use their platform to call attention to the disproportionate risk and stigmas faced by LGBTQIA youths. "As someone who is queer both in their gender and sexuality, being included in NEDA Week is an opportunity to center marginalized voices, such as the LGBTQIA community, in conversations surrounding eating disorders," Rose tells Shape. "Trans and non-binary people (like me) are at an increased risk of developing an eating disorder compared to cisgender peers, and there is an alarming lack of education on and access to gender-affirming care. NEDA Week opens a call to action for providers, clinicians, treatment centers, and allies to educate themselves on LGBTQIA identities and how they uniquely intersect with eating disorders. Being involved in NEDA Week is an opportunity to relay the severity of this disorder and empower people to eradicate diet culture, combat fatphobia, and dismantle the oppressive systems that are harming all of us." (Related: Meet FOLX, the Telehealth Platform Made By Queer People for Queer People)
It's true that fatphobia harms all of us, but it doesn't harm everyone equally, as Austin points out. "Fatphobia, ableism, and colorism cause harm every single day," she tells Shape. "Doctors, friends, partners, and employers mistreat fat bodies, and we mistreat ourselves because no one tells us there's an alternative. Add darker skin tones and disabilities into the mix, and you have a perfect storm for shame. Absolutely nobody was born to live in shame. It means the world to me to think that someone, somewhere will see a person with a body like mine existing in joy and think that it is possible for them to do the same, in their own way, own size, own purpose." (Related: Racism Needs to Be Part of the Conversation About Dismantling Diet Culture)
Along with keeping an eye out for posts with the hashtag #allbodieswelcome, all three creators recommend taking a look at your "following" list and giving the boot or a mute to anyone who makes you feel that you aren't good enough or that you need to change. "You have permission to set those boundaries for yourself because your relationship with yourself is the most important relationship you have," says Zazon.
Diversifying your feed is another great way to train your eye to see beauty in all its forms, adds Rose. They suggest looking at the people you follow and asking yourself: "How many fat, plus-size, super-fat, and infini-fat people do you follow? How many BIPOC? How many disabled and neurodivergent people? How many LGBTQIA folks? How many people are you following for the journey of who they are versus the curated images?" Following people who make you feel good and affirm you in your own experiences will help filter out those who no longer serve you, says Rose. (Related: Black Nutritionists to Follow for Recipes, Healthy Eating Tips, and More)
"After a while, you will notice that unfollowing those people and following the right people will allow you to accept parts of yourself you never thought were possible," says Zazon.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Helpline toll-free at (800)-931-2237, chat with someone at myneda.org/helpline-chat, or text NEDA to 741-741 for 24/7 crisis support.