By Dr Elle Boag, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology at Birmingham City University

From the “thigh gap” to the “belly button” – new challenges to test whether we are as thin as we should be (according to some arbitrary rules created by an unknown source) are continuously being created and shared across social media.

Images depicting these “challenges” are uploaded and made available to the world in order to show how “thin” we are and to provide a guide for less confident women (and in some cases men) to gauge how well they are meeting the social ideal of thinness.

So far we have had the “thigh gap” challenge, which basically encouraged people to lose enough weight to be able to drive a bus between your thighs when your knees are together… we have had the  “bikini bridge” which encouraged people to be thin enough so that bikini bottoms suspended from protruding hipbones don’t touch skin when lying down, as clearly somewhere to keep your sandwiches is a necessity in a bikini…we have had the “belly button” challenge which encouraged people to almost dislocate their shoulders so that they could reach around their back to touch their navel for which no utility can be observed… and now we have the “collarbone” challenge whereby there is an intrinsic need to know how many coins you can balance on your clavicle – clearly useful if you forget your purse!

In theory, this is simply another way that social media is used as a means of entertaining the masses; yet for many people there is real potential to cause psychological harm.

For those people who already have low body or self-esteem, being able to “fit in” or “belong” is an important quality and something desirable…something to aspire to.

Indeed, people often gain and bolster positive self-constructs from a sense of inclusion as it indicates that we have qualities that people like. So, having challenges that test this inclusion via physical challenges that for the average (hence “normal”) population are ludicrous and inane and, sadly increase opportunities for those who don’t successfully achieve such stupid measures, to try to modify their bodies by starvation and/or over exercising…both in themselves physically damaging.

So why are we so obsessed with such stupid challenges?

For many it is a way of validating negative self-esteem or negative body-esteem. For others it is a way to gauge how “well” or “badly” we are doing in achieving a set goal of thinness. For the majority, however, it is pure entertainment.

We, as a species, enjoy the fundamental stupidity of others. Such tasks on social media are simply a static image reflecting the extreme levels people will go to in order to be noticed, to shock, or to entertain us “viewers”… and every time we like or share these images we are actually reinforcing their stupidity. Stupidity because it may lead to a young person to stop eating, or to purge, or to over exercise, or a combination of any or all of these… even if it is just one person who is negatively influenced by these silly challenges, it is one too many.

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