EDIT: You can also listen to this blog as a podcast here.
Hands up if you’re glad you didn’t have access to social media growing up… I’m definitely one of those people. Born in 1992, the only real access I had to social media throughout school was Myspace. Back then the internet was only available on desktops, and I don’t know about you, but we only had 1 PC in the house and my dad worked on it 24/7. So I had a presence on social media but I didn’t use it much.
I think that being sheltered from the internet kept me being a child for much longer than what kids are today. I was not conscious – oblivious almost. Living in a bubble of my friends, family, school and hobbies. I was ignorant to the wider world and didn’t really consider it at all. But I was the happiest child you could imagine. I wonder how 12 year old me would have differed if she had access to social media as it exists today. Constantly surrounded by pictures of incredibly attractive people achieving perfection in every aspect of their lives. I feel as though this would have jolted me quite quickly from childhood into adulthood.
Every scroll through the explore page would have taught me a lesson. The main one being, your body has value, and the more that you / your body looks like ‘this’, the more valuable you will be. For a girl who had very little regard for how she looked, this would have been extremely stressful and given me a whole host of things to think about that I hadn’t considered before. Is my skin flawless? Is my hair silky and bouncy? Is my waist small enough? Am I desired? Am I considered successful? Seeing women gain validation and respect on such a scale would have mesmerised my sheltered child mind.
As Beauty Redefined has said; “a young girl’s access to Instagram is like a master class in objectification. Taught by influencers and peers with more power than any teacher or parent, she will learn at the speed of light that she is her body, and that her body is her ticket to happiness, fulfilment, power, and love. The art of Instagram is existing for others’ viewing pleasure. Your self-worth on the platform is directly connected to your ability to command likes, comments and follows. Your beauty is defined by specific ideals set constantly out of reach and ever changing. You joy will come from documenting perfectly posed, styled, and edited images of your experiences – not the experiences themselves. Your looks are your most valuable asset.”
I’m SO GLAD that I had an older, wiser head on my shoulders when I entered the world of social media, but even then, social media still effected me in my early twenties. I became dependant on Instagram for validation, posted some pictures that I wish didn’t exist on Google search anymore and I adopted disordered eating for a few years. But what about younger girls who are using this platform today… I’m talking school age. When you’re already full of hormones, emotions and trying to navigate through school, exams, friendships, discovering who you are… add a platform such as Instagram into the mix and you’re asking for trouble.
When girls hit puberty, they are twice as likely to experience depression as boys. Much of this is due to girls being taught that how well they conform to these unrealistic beauty standards determines their success and worth – so a lot of time and energy goes into evaluating and controlling their appearance. Excessive exercise, eating disorders, heavy makeup, botox (which is happening at an alarming rate amongst teenage girls)… all of the things that are rife on Instagram.
So how do we protect ourselves from this? The answer seems simple, right? Surely we just delete the Instagram app and be done with it. But it’s not that straight forward… Instagram has been designed to be addictive, it’s also a place where we connect with our friends, watch memes and can find support groups. So in a lot of cases Instagram can also be a place for positivity. In my personal experience, although Instagram was responsible for putting me in a bad place, changing the content that I engaged with also helped me find support and come out the other side of it.
A good place to start is to review the content you’re currently viewing on Instagram. Ask yourself the following questions;
If the answer is yes to any or all of the above, consider blocking, unfollowing or generally avoiding these accounts. If you have teenage children, this could be an exercise you could do together if they feel comfortable doing so with you. Or alternatively, you could encourage them to do this on their own / with friends.
As an influencer, I have consciously changed my content over the last 18 months. I no longer share images of my body contorted into unrealistic shapes, and the message of my page is no longer focussed on how my body looks at all. I have also stopped sharing what I eat as much. For influencers, this can be difficult – especially for those who make a living from the app. We all know that content which is more sexualised will get more views, and therefore more brands will want to work with us. Since changing my content my followers have decreased faster than they’ve increased meaning I have dropped from 94k to 81k in the last 18 months. This would normally be regarded as a failure and less brands might want to work with me, however, my followers are far more engaged, happier and are people who actually want to be here for me and my message, rather than just my body.
If you’re an influencer who wants to be more mindful about the content you’re putting out there, then here are my top tips for creating healthy content;
So if you’re a parent, influencer or instagram user, hopefully this blog has given you something to think about. If you’re interested in taking more action, why not consider the Body Image Resilience Program – an online course run by two PhD qualified sisters tackling these issues. This isn’t an ad… I just really rate these girls and their content even inspired me to write this blog.