Vitamin G: Breaking Down Body And Eating Disorders Within The Gen Z Community

GU chats with a medical professional about common misconceptions and how influencers should consider the health of their audience with the products they endorse.

Over the past few years, Gen Z’ers have encountered many new changes. From the shift in social cues in the 2020 pandemic to the rise in chronic online behavior, the digital climate impacts many issues in Zillennials today. As influencer culture rises, different niches have taken over the timeline. Beauty, lifestyle, and wellness have become the main characters for creators, but are we paying attention to the unspoken triggers that can occur within Gen Z Black girls? Recently, the topic surrounding eating and body disorders sparked conversation on the timeline. 

Of course, the issue is not new, but it is repackaged. The lines can quickly blur with several juice diets, detox teas, and other wellness tactics hitting social media. As we log on, the main buzzword many Zillennials are familiar with is aesthetics. With short-form content becoming the new trend, the main selling point for new audiences is the clean-cut aesthetic and lifestyle on the For You Page. 

For Autumn Hall, 24, her journey with eating and body disorders started as a child, having noticed the amplification social media adds to that experience for young girls across the platforms. “The fact that these products exist points to the existence of fatphobia,” Hall tells GU. “It’s harmful because it suggests that there is something that you should be doing or ingesting that will change how you look.” 

According to Harmony Healthcare, More than 1 in 4 (28 percent) women have dealt with disordered eating by doing things such as restricting their eating, eating compulsively, or eating irregularly. Gen Zers (41 percent) have struggled more with this than any other generation. Unfortunately, the early aughts, the era of Tumblr’s “thinspo” and Instagram’s filter period, contributed to how Gen Z’ers view their bodies. “I can’t lie and say that I don’t go back to old photos of me from my first year of college like, ‘Well damn, what happened between these three years? Like, how did I gain weight? How did my body change this much?’ says Rhyann Sampson, ESSENCE Associate social manager. 

The digital archives social media creates can inadvertently amplify specific triggers within the subconscious to question your body and not realize that Zillennials are simply growing and changing. “I’ve matured and gotten out of that toxic thinking cycle [and realized] my body isn’t supposed to look like how it looked four years ago or when I was in high school,” Sampson says. 

For Black girls in society, there are many expectations placed upon the transition from girlhood to womanhood. From the anticipation of watching what you eat and being hyperfeminine, there are already triggers that can cause self-depreciation. Although there’s access to tactics online, the issues stem from the lack of transparency. 

Diamonde Williamson, 34, who is almost six years into recovery from Bulimia, realized regarding social media, many of the tactics that can trigger eating disorders are associated with the lifestyle. Through her journey of being hospitalized twice, she realized the lack of access and knowledge of resources being discussed on social media. With the overflow of juicing, wellness drinks, and detox teas, the lines are blurred because purchasing the products can feel like buying new goodies instead of researching if they are helpful to the body. “It’s lack of education because it’s something I had to learn about myself because of my eating disorder,” Williamson says. 

According to the National Library of Medicine, Evidence from 50 studies in 17 countries indicates that social media usage leads to body image concerns, eating disorders/disordered eating, and poor mental health via the mediating pathways of social comparison, thin/fit ideal internalization, and self-objectification.

Dr. Bianca Busch, also known as The College Psychiatrist, finds that social media influencers should consult with more medical experts before endorsing specific products. Sources like the National Institute of Health provide tangible insight for Zillennials to see outside an influencer-endorsed item. Along with resources, the journey toward better transparency about eating and body disorders stems from self-observation. “Are you scrolling through what you’re seeing and then saying, tomorrow, you’re going to start this whole new diet?” Busch says. “[Gen Z’ers] should start paying attention to how you feel after you’ve consumed this content. Are you feeling happy? Are you feeling self-critical?”

With fast-paced storytelling taking over the algorithm, people can easily forget what actual bodies look like. Instead, Zillennials consume content from influencers who endorse various products without consulting medical experts. “Wellness resources, detox materials, and fitness influencers all work in the same lane in 2024: “Let’s change our body regardless of what it takes,” says Makailah Dowell, Patient Mentor at Equip Health. “There is no joyful movement, no relationship with food and exercise that is pleasant, and no space for those of us who do not fall in line with the ideal. This is where body dysmorphia disorder (BDD) increases in our Gen Zers.”

As social media continues to amplify various wellness practices, it’s important for young girls to use discernment and continue to foster communities to speak about the truth regarding eating and body disorders. “It’s a matter of what we consume and what’s out there,” Williamson tells GU. “Sometimes people don’t learn until they learn from somebody else’s story.”

About the Author: Kenyatta Victoria is the lead writer for Essence GU, working on all things pop culture, politics, entertainment and business. Throughout her time at GU, she’s garnered devoted readers and specializes in the Zillennial point of view.

View More