The damage of influencer culture on body image
The first ever image shared on Instagram, way back in 2010, was a picture of a stray dog uploaded by the platforms CEO and founder, Kevin Systrom. A far cry from the bikini pics and make-up selfies we see today. The evolution of Instagram plays a crucial role in the way its users view certain personal expectations, such as how they are supposed to dress, look, and act. It seems to now be perceived by many as a shopfront, with false advertising.
The evolution of Instagram
Instagram was once a safe place to upload funny edits of you and your ‘bff’, or to share a blurry picture of the cake you just made. 100 followers was considered a lot, and ‘stories’ were only on snapchat. Fast forward 10 years, being a social media ‘influencer’ is number 3 on the list of most popular careers children aspire to have, behind doctors and nurses.
Although it may seem like instagram is relatively modern and new, it’s in truth not so different from traditional media, e.g. magazines, in the sense that every brand photoshoot, campaign, and image will have been edited, photoshopped and altered in some way. Although this is normally expected from professional brands and big companies - we all know when we order a McDonald’s burger the chances of it looking exactly like it does on the TV adverts are very, very low…and we accept it. So why do we believe the celebrities we admire and the influencers we follow look exactly like they do on the screen?
Influencers learn to build trust between them and their followers, through reviews, collaborations and simply being nice. Engaging with their followers makes the relationship between them feel more personal, and when influencers share everyday details about their personal life, these followers start to see the individual as their friend. This is where the line starts to blur between girls comparing themselves to models and celebrities, who are notably known to have been photoshopped, and to influencers who are just ‘ordinary people’ with a few more followers. It may be easy to notice when a filter has been used, but nowadays there are a few simple apps to seamlessly make waists thinner, hair fuller, skin smoother, all without a single detection in both photos and videos, and you don’t have to be a photoshop master or a tech-wiz to do it.
It’s from these photos that users start to normalise an unrealistic body ideal, which in consequence can be extremely problematic, as these influencers serve as role models for young impressionable women. Research has indicated that social media use, particularly Instagram, has been linked to young users developing mental health issues such as depression, appearance anxiety, low self-esteem and body dissatisfaction, as well as eating disorders and a desire to get cosmetic surgery procedures.
So, what is being done to combat this?
There are a handful of brands, celebrities and influencers working to change the portrayal of what are acceptable standards of the female body. Here are just a few examples.
The personal care brand, Dove, have been early activists for body positivity, where they pledge to always portray women how they appear in real life without any digital distortion, and they feature real women (not models) with a diverse mix of age, size, skin colour and ethnicity.
Fashion leader, ASOS, have been scrutinised in the past for photoshop fails and not using a diverse selection of models, however in recent years the brand have begun to use authentic, unedited images on their website, with models featuring stretch marks, spots, natural skin and body hair. It’s surely refreshing for ASOS’s audience to see ordinary relatable body types that clearly have not been edited, and encourages its competitors to follow in their footsteps.
Another positive change in the media amongst the body positivity movement is from photography and stock photo website Getty Images. In recent years, Getty announced that their photographers must not submit any content with models whose body shapes have been “retouched to make them look thinner or larger”. They require any altered images to be captioned “retouched photography”. With Getty being one of the most widely used stock photo agencies, there is no doubt this decision will have made a positive impact on audiences and provided confidence in young women who look up to celebrities.