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Irish medical experts slam 'ribcage bragging' - the latest body 'trend' sweeping social media


Ribcage bragging has been dubbed the latest body 'trend' encouraged by celebrities. Image: Bella Hadid/Instagram

Ribcage bragging has been dubbed the latest body 'trend' encouraged by celebrities. Image: Bella Hadid/Instagram

Ribcage bragging has been dubbed the latest body 'trend' encouraged by celebrities. Image: Bella Hadid/Instagram

Ribcage bragging has been dubbed the latest body 'trend' on social media, but Irish medical experts say the idealisations can be especially damaging to young women and girls.

While trends in fashion have been around and religiously followed for centuries past, in recent years the idea of creating a trend out of a coveted body shape has become more popular.

First came the thigh gap, then the ab crack, and now ribcage bragging, whereby celebrities proudly display their protruding ribcages in perfectly posed photos on social media.

A quick scroll through supermodel Bella Hadid's Instagram feed and you can quickly see such photos, with swarms of other celebrities, including Kourtney Kardashian and Emily Ratajkowski, following suit as they share images in their bikinis and underwear.

While it's no secret that social media can negatively affect users' mental health, the pressure to follow body 'trends' in an effort to look like celebrities can be even more damaging.

Fiona Flynn, Youth Development Officer at Bodywhys, told Independent.ie that the 'trend' is "very worrying."

"The 'ribcage bragging' trend is very worrying as it promotes a very thin ideal which most people would not achieve at a healthy weight.

"Internalisation of the thin ideal can contribute to body image issues in girls which may encourage engagement in unhealthy weight loss behaviours to achieve a similar shape.  Unhealthy weight loss behaviours such as extreme dieting or use of diet pills combined with body dissatisfaction can put a young person at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder or related issue."

Ms Flynn highlighted that while consumers are aware of Photoshop and editing in magazines, it's not often that people recognise how highly altered photos on social media can be.

"Many young people are media literate about magazines and the images we see in advertising but less so about social media. The images we see on social media are often presented in a casual way, yet may be subject to similar styling and post production as the images we see in advertising.  Celebrities can attract lucrative advertising and product endorsement deals through a large following on social media."

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"There are many benefits to social media and young people have a wealth of easily accessible information at their fingertips, but the steady stream of images promoting a similar beauty ideal - thin for girls and muscular for men - can lead young people to a much greater focus on the physical body and encourage young people to compare themselves and feel inadequate."

Systemic Psychotherapist Anne McCormack, author of Keeping Your Child Safe on Social Media, says the idealisations can be especially damaging to young women and girls.  

"Social media is an especially toxic environment for young girls, teens and women in their twenties because it is so focused on appearance. It can have a huge impact if you're feeling vulnerable about yourself or your body image.

"This new trend puts more pressure to exercise more or watch your diet, while having a focus on showing your ribs is risky behaviour. Young people on social media are at a stage of development, and feedback from their peers online helps them work out what other people think of them. If they're following models, young people may think that they have to aspire to look like them to be of high worth. It's very risky."

Ms McCormack noted how young people and children are particularly vulnerable online, and it's important to remind them and ourselves that how we look isn't the most important thing in life.

"People who have a huge following have a responsibility to act responsibly online and watch the message they give. Even if the attention they're receiving is negative, the young person can be thinking, 'Well, they're still getting attention, even if it's negative.'"

"They're already under massive pressure, so social media and these 'trends' can be quite toxic. They're all to do with punishing yourself, which is such unhealthy behaviour. It can do major damage to their self esteem.

"It's important to remind ourselves and remind them that how we look isn't the most important thing about who we are, although social media can make it feel like it is. We can recognise these trends as unhealthy, but we can still fall in to the trap."

Unsurprisingly, exposure to these pressures can have long-term effects on the user's mental health.

"In the long term, these pressures can have a potential outcome on the person's mental health, with anxiety, self worth issues and eating disorders all potential problems," said Ms McCormack.

"If the belief is developed, it can become more important than other things, they can become self-absorbed and it takes energy away from other interests."

Keeping lines of communication open is the most important thing parents can do to help their children understand that what they see on social media isn't always attainable, says Ms Flynn.

"I think it can be helpful to discuss beauty ideals we see in the media  The images we see often promote ideals which are unrealistic and unattainable.  I think it can be helpful to talk to young people about how people can modify their appearance online, why celebrities post so often and what they stand to gain or earn.

"I think it can also be helpful to point out to young people the control they have over their social media feed.  Encourage them to be aware how different types of social media or different items they follow can make them feel.  You could suggest that if they tend to feel guilty, want to change themselves or feel otherwise less happy about themselves after certain posts that they can choose to unfollow them - and instead to like or follow posts and people that inspire them."

Ms McCormack advises the same, adding that she feels it's likely "we'll wonder how we exposed young people to these things at such a young age while they're still figuring out who they are" in years to come.

"I'd advise to check who your children are following on social media and find out why. Keep enquiring and ask them why they like them. It's very important to be tuned in to and aware of who your children are following and to talk to them about it."

If you have been affected by this article, visit bodywhys.ie or call the Bodywhys helpline on1890 200 444.

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