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The Problematic Body Image Ideals of Instagram

By Melissa Lipari

During quarantine, I have gained a few pounds. I usually weigh around 110 lbs, but since I’ve been staying home more frequently than usual, I have found myself snacking quite a bit and not exercising often enough. I’ve seen my weight fluctuate from my “normal” 110 lbs, to 5 pounds heavier, to 8 pounds heavier during my period, then back to 110 lbs, for the last four months. Truthfully, I’m okay with the little bit of weight gain. I’ve never felt insecure about my weight personally, but I know that this is a struggle that many women face daily. 

To me, 5 pounds doesn’t mean anything but to someone who suffers from an eating disorder of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), this could be a nightmare. I didn’t put much emphasis on body ideals until I started seeing Instagram models in bikinis as quarantine restrictions lifted and the weather got warmer. I saw a string of toned and taut tummies that looked as if these girls were hitting the gym 7 days a week. I then started to over-analyze my own body. Should I workout again? Should I start eating healthier? How can I fix my body?

I already do yoga weekly and try to go on walks or runs as frequently as possible. I eat pretty healthy and stay away from a lot of processed foods and avoid many dairy products (although I have a major weakness for ice cream). I don’t eat out often, I’m typically having a home-cooked meal 5 nights out of the week. By implementing all of this, I felt like I was already doing what I needed to do, in terms of keeping my health in check. Sure, there are plenty of things that I could improve on - we all could make some life changes to be a little healthier. But, Instagram made me feel like I was doing it all completely wrong. I then started to realize, it’s not about fixing my body, it’s about fixing my mind

From an article posted by MindThatEgo.com, “Beauty is subjective, yet rarely seen in the beholder’s reflection. Global research by Dove discovered just 4 percent of women find themselves beautiful, while simultaneously, 80 percent acknowledge all women have something beautiful about them. This negative self-perception begins at a young age, with girls as young as six-years-old having expressed body-related anxiety.” It is ironic that we can find something beautiful about the bodies of other women, but we are so quick to scrutinize our own bodies. Our body is our home, we can choose to change it or keep it the way that it is. Regardless, it is ours and nobody else's so we must treat it with care and respect. We were not all born to be a size 2 and that is something to never feel ashamed of. 

I recently tried on a pair of denim shorts that I wore in high school and was in disbelief when they didn’t fit. Then, I took a moment and realized that when I purchased these shorts, I was probably 16 years old. I am now a full-grown, 22 year old woman, and it is perfectly okay to not fit into those American Eagle, size 0, distressed shorts that I once lived in. I understood that my body is not the same that it once was. What’s so wrong about that? I’ve gained weight. This is something that I can shrug off, just like when someone says it’s going to rain today. It’s a fact of my life but it’s not a defining factor of my life.

The women that I saw on Instagram had these flawless bodies that looked like they haven’t gained a pound during lockdown. Maybe that’s true, because they probably have had access to personal trainers throughout quarantine. Many influencers rely on their body as a form of status, it’s what draws people to their account and acquires them brand partnerships and deals. I’m sure they’ve had cheat meals during quarantine and have taken a day off from perfecting their physique. According to BBC.com, “‘People are comparing their appearance to people in Instagram images, or whatever platform they're on, and they often judge themselves to be worse off,’ says Jasmine Fardouly, a postdoctoral researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.” It’s okay to feel bothered by perfection, it doesn’t make you a bad person. If this is a motivational factor to work on yourself, then that’s fantastic. But, don’t become over consumed with the thoughts that there are people out there that “look” better than you.

Another thing that I came to terms with, is that these photos are just snippets of a moment. Having the best lighting, angles, poses, are the keys to the perfect Instagram post, right? So, who’s to say that these Instagram posts aren’t just strategically curated posts that are meant to show the best assets of the person posting the image. Instagram has trained us to believe that what we see is reality, but it’s not. In fact, it’s not really reality at all. It’s all about branding and creating a personal image. Many people I know, don’t post their worst selfies on Instagram. I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen girls take photos in public, when suddenly one says, “EW! I look so bad, delete that.” - because I’ve been guilty of that myself. I’m sure those photos aren’t getting posted on their accounts, because it’s going against the image that they want to portray.

I’m not shaming the women on Instagram; I think that being able to make money from a social platform is great. I think that sharing your life is amazing. If you have a Victoria’s-Secret -approved bikini bod and want to show it off, go for it. What I am shaming, is the normalization of body ideals that are coming from an app created for fun. It’s quite problematic that women, like myself, get on an app to see what their friends are up to, and are almost instantly self-conscious by what other people are doing, looking like, etc. This type of insecurity comes from the ideals that are thrown upon us from living and growing during the digital age.

First it came from magazines in the 90s, now body ideals are being plastered all over social media, namely Instagram. It seems as if history keeps repeating itself when it comes to comparative culture. However, there is a way we can combat these types of problematic body ideals: we can uplift each other. The next time you think about discarding a photo of you in a bikini because you have a little bit of “fat” showing, post it. I think more people will be appreciative of seeing a woman in her natural state, than to see the same recycled perfection that we’re used to getting from stars like Kylie Jenner. If someone is vocal about having body insecurities, comment on their post and tell them how great they look. Even liking their photo might give them a form of validation that they need.

While our lives shouldn’t be based on likes, comments, and shares, it still holds a place in many of our minds. If we have the ability to make a platform, such as Instagram, a marketing powerhouse, then we have the resources to make it a more inclusive place. Not everyone will find Instagram or any social media site specifically a problematic place. Many still find social media to be a great place to connect with friends or meet new people. However, for those who are affected by what they see when they’re scrolling, take my advice and log off for a little while. When you come back, think about Instagram as a highlight reel: which is exactly what it is. Not everyone has a “model” body, but that’s the beauty of reality. We are all different and beautiful, no matter what our bodies look like. 


If you’re struggling with body images issues, please reach out to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. There are support groups that are willing to help. For more information on these support groups, contact John M. at 848-218-7398 or jmornings711@yahoo.com.


References

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190311-how-social-media-affects-body-image

https://www.mindthatego.com/instagram-influence-body-image-part-1/

https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/body-dysmorphic-disorder-bdd

https://www.igi-global.com/dictionary/resource-sharing/7562

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