CW: This article discusses topics of mental illness and suicide which could be distressing to some readers.
The longstanding relationship between social media and body image has been heavily discussed. It is almost always concluded that social media does have a moderate impact on the individual's own mental health and body image after a prolonged time of viewing similar content. However, what about the positive effects that may be resulted in the person? Or the root cause of the development of this negative body image?
Social Media Culture
In terms of social media, Instagram, TikTok and Youtube are the most commonly used in today's society between the ages of 10 - 35. It has been found by several pieces of academic research that these ages, more specifically between the ages of 10 - 20, are more prone to develop an eating disorder after viewing certain content such as selfies, fitness models or on an even wider spectrum through "Clothing Hauls" and "What I Eat in a Day" videos.
With the constant usage of social media, especially within the Covid pandemic lockdowns, the daily usage of these sites skyrocketed. During this time, there was a trend to become fit or in other words "lose weight" so there was a lot of weight-centred content on body image and weight. It was even found that 51% of posts around this period of time were advocating for diet culture. Whilst another 27.5% were encouraging physical activity and from the overall sample, 46.9% had expressed their disdain towards higher-weighted bodies. Many of us had the belief that we had to change or develop into a different person post-lockdown. However, as you may have already guessed, it just led to a significant increase in mental illnesses related to the body - whether a certain type of eating disorder or body dysmorphia.
Men are also at risk of developing body image issues as a result of social media, and this fact is not talked about enough! Most people have this idea that body image issues are an issue that is more specific to females rather than males but that stereotype is entirely incorrect! In the UK alone, it is affecting millions of men, with even 1 in 20 causing deliberate harm to themselves because of these body issues. There also is an average of 3 in 10 adult men being diagnosed with anxiety because of body image issues.
"The consequences of body image issues can be serious ... It is important that we recognise the significant impact a media environment can have on mental health."
Before social media influencers, came traditional models and celebrities. However, the level of body comparison was arguably lower than in the current time. This may be because social media portrays these influencers as being similar to us. As friends, rather than someone that is more difficult to become. So the idea of the mass public reaching status is a lot easier to attain. Almost as if there is an easiness to obtaining the status of a micro-celebrity.
Influencing the Influencer
When we think about influencer culture, we usually discuss what it gives us, but in most cases, what is being discussed is negative. Influencers perpetuate a lifestyle which is often hard for the average person to have. Whether that be their lifestyle, what they own or even what they look like. Although all of these things are relative when combined together they can be a catalyst for a lot of emotions.
Influencer culture is usually discussed and referred to by the viewers of the content but have you ever considered how the influencers themselves may feel in a career entirely focused on themselves and with that comes constant attention towards their bodies? For example, when the influencer gains a mass amount of followers they feel constrained to post the same or similar content that they had been posting in order to maintain their social status. However, with this comes constant editing and photoshopping of their posts - especially photos or videos that are highly focused on the body. They may feel that they have to portray an image of themselves that is not true to who they are in real life.
Interestingly enough, a study found that 47% of Norweigan influencers had been negatively impacted by their job on their own mental health and that social media platforms have negatively affected 32% of these influencers' own body image. If you look at it from the creator's perspective, the effects on the creator are just as detrimental as the effects on the viewers.
While social media has certainly had negative impacts on body image, there have also been positives, which can't always be ignored. For example, the rise of body-positive advocates like Lizzo, Alex Light, Danae Mercer and Stephanie Yeboah - to name a few. The people I mentioned have all played a major role in promoting body positivity for all body types and shapes. By dispelling these common ideals, they help remind us that each of us is unique, and is not to be compared with one another. Teaching us that the bodies we see on social media aren't real.
They are posed.
They are edited.
They have the perfect lighting.
Keeping these simple things in mind can help people remember that influencers are just like us. They are just ordinary people!
"Nobody is going to stand up at your funeral and say, "Wow she had a small waist and a big thigh gap”! It helps remind me that we will never be remembered for how we looked; we will be remembered for how we were on the inside."
As Alex stated, our body image issues are relative. A lot of us can agree that we want to look a certain way in order to receive attention but in most cases when people are offline the appearance of our bodies is one of the least significant things of our character. Social media has opened our eyes to the acceptance of all kinds of people. It has helped us raise our own self-confidence and embrace all aspects of ourselves. All in all - promoting self-love!