Narrow waist, round bottom and thin legs: Many young people can hardly escape the beauty ideals on social networks such as Instagram and TikTok because of their constant presence. There are also particularly dangerous trends. The so-called “tigh gap,” for example, which young women presented online around ten years ago. This is a clearly visible gap between the thighs – supposedly achievable through ascetic diet and training.

The “tigh gap” is now often called “legging legs” because the gap is particularly visible in skin-tight leggings. The fact that the gap is neither achievable nor desirable for the vast majority of women with a healthy body weight has not yet become widely known. For example, on Google you can find suggested questions like “Is a tight gap healthy?” or “How do I get the gap between my legs?” In the “waist challenge” the waist must be so small that another person can put their arm around it and drink from a water bottle.

Sometimes the pressure is a little more subtle: “What I eat in a day” is also a long-lasting and popular trend that can be found on Instagram and TikTok. Young women meticulously film what they supposedly ate during the day. As a rule, you don’t see small sins, instead you see a long series of high-protein and sugar-free dishes. There is also the trend of “body positivity”, i.e. the positive acceptance of one’s own body, regardless of whether it is fat, thin or with a disability. But depending on your own search behavior, such content is not even displayed – because only what the user searches for and consumes is suggested by the algorithm as further content.

Some studies have already shown that this self-portrayal also affects self-esteem. A study by York University in Toronto, Canada, has now found out what effects social media abstinence has after a short period of time. Even a week’s social media break has boosted self-esteem and a positive attitude towards their own bodies in young women.

For the project, which was published in the specialist database ScienceDirect, 66 students were divided into two groups. One group consumed social media in the usual way, the other group had to abstain from all social media for a week. The participants were first asked how satisfied they were with their bodies and whether they would like to look like models. After the week, the participants were interviewed again. The body feeling of the women who had taken a break for a week had improved. The effect was particularly clear in women who had particularly internalized the ideal of thinness.

According to the authors of the study, the effects are so large that they are rarely observed in psychological tests. However, it is possible that not only the break led to better values, but also the changed leisure behavior. Instead of spending time on their cell phones, the participants might have spent more time in the fresh air, with friends or doing sports. All of these activities contribute to improving mental health.

Measures to combat this problem appear meager so far. Many young people may find it difficult to break away from social networks. The service life has been steadily increasing for years. The Meta company announced in January this year that it would hide inappropriate content on Facebook and Instagram from young people – as long as they provided the correct age.

Regulations often come to nothing. The EU’s Digital Services Act, for example, is intended to protect minors on the Internet from particularly problematic content such as the glorification of eating disorders. It requires network operators to delete or hide the relevant content. But a study by the civil society organization “” showed that a maximum of 30 percent of the relevant content was deleted. The video platform TikTok performed particularly poorly, deleting a significantly smaller proportion – despite corresponding reports. At least: The hashtag “legginglegs” has now been blocked.

Author: Stephanie Höppner

The original for this article “What a week of social media break can do” comes from Deutsche Welle.