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The curse of social media: what is the relationship between body image and social media?

For who knows how long, body image, self-esteem and body consciousness have been an issue for many human beings – especially females. Whether it’s the fear of looking fat, out of proportion or not looking how our friends and ‘superiors’ do, the obsessiveness seems to be continuously growing as time goes on. Throughout the 20th and 21st century, diets that are used to control our weight and the way we look have gotten more and more popular and even more absurd. The juice cleanse – where all you consume is juice? Come on! It’s not healthy. Since the beginning of mass media, it seems that the pressure to look a certain way is high, yet now, with the rapid increase of social media, could this previous pressure be a comparitive walk in the park?

Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook – just to name a few of the many social media sites and apps consuming our everyday lives. With over one billion people on Facebook, it’s not surprising that it is almost like our new virtual earth. Some older folk may remember having to catch a plane or write letters to speak to people more than a car journey away, or swapping polaroid pictures to share images. Now we can see it all with a touch of a few buttons, and while this is pretty fantastic, is it possibly damaging us at the same time?

On social media – Instagram especially – there is becoming a rise of ‘fitspo’ and ‘thinspo’ posts and accounts. Some people set up their accounts in order to post progress of their fitness goals, which in a sense is fine, but then we have the people who use their Instagram to post pictures of their toned stomachs in flashy gym wear, time and time again; seriously, another ab photo?. The ‘fit family’ is a growing mob on Instagram, and while it’s brilliant to see people being motivated to be healthy, it also seems increasingly to be effecting how we as a society define our bodies.

Like I have pointed out, social media is part of our everyday lives and we are therefore surrounded by these kinsd of photos, tweets, and status’. When constantly surrounded by photos of gym bunnies and health maniacs, we can’t help but compare these photos to ourselves, questioning: should I look like that? Why don’t I look like that? And so on. Before the domination of these groups on social media, we just had celebrities to compare to in the way we looked at our bodies, but now there’s so much more.

However, it’s not even just the fitness pages that are influencing the way we see our bodies. It is easy to find people to compare to on social media, especially Instagram – which I believe is the main social media site for influencing our body image, as it’s the most popular photo based website, with their ‘discover’ tabs and easy surveillance of who’s following who. The fact that it is easy to come across people on social media means it’s especially easy to come across the Instagram ‘famous’ types.  From what I have learnt over time, the majority of these men and women seem to have dreamy bodies, as well as fantastic houses and expensive clothes. Maybe that’s why they have so many Instagram followers, because they’re nice to look at? My point is that the glamour of these people and their tiny thighs or bulging biceps is enough to make your average not-so-popular-on-Instagram folk feel rather insignificant. It makes people strive for the bodies of the popular, pretty people on social media. We scroll through Instagram eating the cheese toastie we’ve just made, then we see a picture of someone with the flat stomach we’ve always wanted and suddenly, we’re not so hungry anymore. It can feel like everybody on social media is like that, because they’re the ones we come across most due to their high volume of followers, and in that way it makes us feel ashamed of ourselves for not looking that way.

We compare ourselves to all these people and they act as a model for how we think we should look. The majority of us forget that there are so many, for lack of a better word, average people on social media too, and that these not-so-average people go about themselves and their photos in an obsessive way; have they used the correct lighting? Are they posing in a way to make their arms look defined? You get where I am going with this; of course they’re going to look fantastic in every photo.

Another important component in how social media defines the way we see our bodies, is through the cult of celebrity.  There has been a lot of speak about your not-so-famous social media user, but we must not forget the spam of celebrities on social media. Many of these celebrities, too, are guilty of the crimes mentioned above – posting beautiful images of their unrealistic body goals everywhere and anywhere. The thing with celebrities is that they have more friends, followers – whatever word you want to use – on social media than any other type of person. Their influence on people is huge. Any photo, diet tips, exercise regimes and what-have-you that they post will be seen by thousands and even millions. There is no way of avoiding it even if we are not fans of celebrities, because no doubt someone you know will manage to flag up what they’ve posted so you see it somewhere too. When beautiful model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne comes up on Instagram with her perfect body (which by the way she is paid to obtain, it is her job) almost every day somewhere somehow, it is hard not to compare ourselves to her. These people are well known for being attractive and desired, so of course we want to look like them! However, it makes it harder for us to try and accept and embrace ourselves for who we are and how we look when social media practically tells us to do or think otherwise.

Maybe five years or so ago body image problems and how we define the way we should look weren’t great, but as social media has got more widespread and gained more users, sites and apps, we have been exposed to this damaging type of media even more so than we were. Those massive billboards with the flawless people and magazines giving us tips on how to get the ‘best body’ we can? Well don’t worry about them now because you can access it all on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram without leaving your bed, so you don’t even have to leave your house to get your self-esteem damaged! Social media has done good things for us in many ways that weren’t possible decades ago, but believe me when I say; you can have too much of a good thing.

 

Becky Waldron

Image: JISC

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