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Instagram Reels Aren't Real

Uncover the real people behind the posts - they may not be what they appear to be

CW: This article contains detailed talk of Body Image, Body Dysmorphia, and Eating Disorders


a body hunched showing fat rolls and stretch marks
Anna Shvets | @pexels

Body image refers to the thoughts and feelings we associate with ourselves and our bodies. These can be both positive and negative. With the rise of social media and influencers these body image ideals are becoming less attainable. Photos from Instagram, magazines and fashion runways are becoming the lens through which we view the 'real world'. With production techniques like filters, body editing and well angled poses we are creating distorted expectations. You may have heard social media referred to as a documentation of the best parts of life rather than the everyday normalities, and this can lead to struggles with self-worth. Body image has become very fragile and easily twisted as it is all internalised and can therefore be severely impacted by outside influences, sometimes without you even realising it.


Body Image on Social Media

Comparison is natural human behaviour. Comparing the way we look to the people around us has been the norm since day one, and is responsible for trends in fashion, body shape and size, and makeup styles. What was considered aspirational 20 years ago is vastly different to what is idolised today. Not only does the standard for what is considered 'beautiful' change nearly every month, but there is now also a much greater number of people to compare yourself against. Influencers have seen a meteoric rise in popularity since the early 2010s, thanks in part to the idyllic lifestyles they portray. Going on holidays, working closely with major brands, and making money from the comfort of their own bedrooms leaves plenty of time for social media posting. The problem arises when these posts become an edited reality. Influencers will promote foundations they claim have an 'airbrush effect', all whilst airbrushing their skin in post-production.


They pose themselves in flattering lighting to hide the areas we're taught to feel ashamed of. Influencers have perfected these methods over the years, and with celebrities and other young people following suit it is easy to believe that everyone looks this perfectly polished way. Some people are able to recognise that this is not the case and simply disengage from social media if they can sense these posts are affecting their mental health and triggering negative thoughts. However, in other cases social media has been known to contribute to a condition known as body dysmorphia. Body dysmorphia (BDD) is a obsessive-compulsive condition that creates a negative thought cycle surrounding a persons' perception of their body. "Dr Georgina Krebs, a specialist in BDD, highlighted that BDD was previously thought to be rare, but recent studies have shown that about 2% of the general population experience BDD at any one point in time" which is around 1 in 50 young people. Social media has been known to trigger the thought processes of BDD. With 60% of worldwide Instagram users between the ages of 18 and 34, it is not difficult to see why these issues are becoming more widespread among younger people.


Severe Side Effects

BDD is the anchoring condition for many further mental illnesses. One of those is disordered eating. Conditions such as anorexia, bulimia, and orthorexia tend to be rooted in, and therefore triggered by negative body image and body dysmorphia. Whilst social media is not directly responsible for the development of these conditions, there are sites and creators online which promote this method of weight loss. A website named tumblr, mainly popular in the 2000s-2010s, supported an entire subculture surrounding 'pro-anorexia' content. Posts included body-checking: mirroring the obsessive behaviours of BDD by spending multiple hours picking at parts of their body. Other posts detailed methods of fasting and calorie restriction. These posts would glorify the idea of starvation and demonise normal eating habits. In recent years with the rise of TikTok, these tumblr ideations are being pushed again, to a new, impressionable, young audience. However, this time harmful content is being promoted under the guise of healthy living. With video trends such as 'what I eat in a day' and 'come to the gym with me', the long workouts and undereating on display normalise disordered eating habits and body expectations. These videos hold the same issues as the aforementioned influencer posts. Whilst this might be what they post on TikTok, it is unlikely that content depicts a realistic, everyday narrative. Unfortunately this is often unable to be proven, and a young audience can engage with this content believing it to be the unfiltered truth, likely contributing the number of young people developing body image issues.


What Can We Do About It?

On a personal level, it is important to remember that not everything you see online is true. By reminding yourself of this regularly you can begin to distance yourself from the unattainable aspirations of social media. On the other hand, some influencers are beginning to break the cycle by creating posts showing the reality behind the scenes. Entitled 'Instagram vs Reality', the posts aim to show the difference that lighting, posing, and editing can make to images. The trend is known as a body positivity hashtag that normalises diverse representation of bodies. "Body positivity has its roots in the fat acceptance movement of the late 1960s and focuses on changing society's ideals". By showing the true body behind the post, expectations of what bodies 'should' look like is beginning to change. Unfortunately, these posts are few and far between when scrolling through the average Instagram feed, and therefore are not able to have impact on the desired scale. Thinking further about this, we can start by helping ourselves. Unfollow any social media accounts that make you feel bad about yourself. Remember that everything you see on social media is the best elements of someone's life; not all of it. Take yourself outside and notice that social media does not represent the real world. Most importantly, refrain from editing your own photos. By doing this you will grow more comfortable in your own skin, and if you can reduce the number of edited images online just through your own documentation, you are helping to stop the distribution to other young people.


Why not post your own #instagramvsreality ?

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