Social media, a 21st century phenomenon, is at everyone’s fingers, or should I say thumbs. Most of us have some form of social media account whether it be Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or all three, to keep up to date on the latest trends, politics, new ideas and celebrity gossip. Social media can be a brilliant source of information and be a powerful way to voice opinions and beliefs to make positive change. When social media is used in the wrong way it can become very destructive, portraying toxic messages and making people believe things that are unjust or untrue. In regards to this, I am talking about body image. There perceives to be one ideal body that the media portray as perfect, encouraging young girls to look a certain way that may lead to them getting involved in dangerous and expensive procedures and corrective surgery, not to mention the damages it could do to someone’s mental health. The questionable message that various posts display on social media scream “you aren’t good enough.” This is the exact message that my eating disorder screams for which I am receiving medical attention however, no one is seeing this common and socially acceptable mantra as an issue.
Before my eating disorder got the better of me, I was filling my social media feeds with images of skinny women, gym bodies, workout routines, fad diets and weight loss photos. It was the trendy thing to do, especially as a dance student, and all my peers were doing the same seemingly making it the norm. These photos made me comparatively analyse myself which only led me to believe I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t look like those pictures so wanted to do all that I could as they made me strongly believe I was fat or unattractive. These photos were my inspiration and motivation for spending more hours working out and eating a clean diet. The people I followed were popular and had a large audience of like-minded followers (including myself) who wanted what they had. The problem with my social media feed was the photos were pretty much the same. There was absolutely no diversity or variation and only revealed one body type – a body that was not representative of the population, not one to maintain and not a good example of an average woman. Little did I know, this ideology was not healthy as I was striving for ripped muscles, washboard abs and low body fat. My journey to strive for the ideal body was the same journey that led to suffering a life threatening illness.
I have no problem with who people choose to follow however, I advise that if you are vulnerable to body image issues, it is something to be aware of when choosing who you see on your feed. I have many traits that contribute towards being strongly influenced by social media posts including an addictive personality, perfectionism and the drive to over-achieve and this is what fuelled my obsession. The same character traits took this obsession to manifest as a fully fledged eating disorder. On the other hand, what you post on social media could enforce actions of bad habits as every ‘like’ reaffirms that what you are doing is the right thing (see Why Not to Tell a Girl They’ve Lost Weight).
The images you see might not be the real image itself. Photoshop and airbrushing are popular tools people use to accentuate, glamorise or redefine a look. Behind all the editing may lie a beautiful, normal man or woman with natural attributes such as cellulite, stretch marks or loose skin. The fact is that they want you to see a perfected image that will essentially improve advertising and gain more followers – you can’t doubt that it doesn’t work. This is one of the salient reasons for the diet industry being so successful. On a similar note, we can’t be certain that that model hasn’t undertaken any surgical procedures to change the way they look. Why are we idolising a body that is simply not physically real?
When we take a photo or selfie we often take multiple shots then choose the best one and add our favourite filter. It is the exact same with the gym photos or bikini models parading on social media. The model would’ve endured hours of photo shoots with professional lighting, makeup and a camera man that knows how to snap the perfect shot. Multiple photos would have been taken and only the best would make the cut to be posted online – after all the editing and airbrushing of course. This is another reason why we shouldn’t assume we should look a certain way because of a specific image.
Our bodies change all the time and can look very different from day to day for multiple reasons such as water retention, body temperature or hormones. We don’t know what a model has put their body through before a photo shoot. In gym photos, the model will most likely be very dehydrated so their muscles appear more prominent and they may have done a workout before so their muscles are pumped. After the shoot they will return to their normal lives and their bodies will return to its natural state. Of course, they will still be toned as I’m sure many hours of their lives are spent in the gym, and rightly so if being a gym model is your profession. Likewise, it is impossible to change parts of our bodies, for example, the length of our legs or width of our hips. There is no point in trying to achieve a thigh gap if anatomically your body is not capable. As beautiful as she is, I will never achieve the legs of Gwyneth Paltrow; it will never be possible.
Have a clear out
It’s time we revamp our social media feeds and follow/like a range of people that portray a good representation of the human race. This includes all body types, genders, ages, cultures and ethnicity so we appreciate how beautiful and different we all are. There is a lot of excitement in what makes us unique; it would be boring if everyone looked the same. Filling your feed with a diverse community of people might make you embrace your own body as well as gain an insight into societies different from your own. Idolising one body type will only make you conform to one body type which is frankly impossible to achieve. Begin by recognising each others’ different qualities and appreciate that you are who you are and beautiful in your own way. Be your own beauty standards!