Instagram and other social media sites are having a negative impact on women. How is our obsession with our virtual reality selves affecting our self-esteems? Effort Lez’s Natasha O’Ryan breaks it all down, calling us all out on our new insane social media addictions…
We live in an exciting time of female empowerment marked by tomboy culture, made possible by feminism. Media channels are chalked full of messages encouraging young women to “be themselves”, “rebel against patriarchal objectification” and just be outright “badass”. Fuck yeah! However this ‘be yourself tomboy culture’ is being hard challenged by apocalyptic level negative effects that social media is having on our body image.
We all know comparison is the root of all insecurity. Yet we scroll our way through lunch breaks comparing our lives, lunches and selves to the endless barrage of Kardashians on our senses. We toil endlessly, trying to curate our accounts perfectly to compete and quite literally “Keep up with the Kardashians”. How on point is that reality TV title, eh? Six days a week you may be eating pepperoni pizza yet only that one kale salad ever makes it to your Instagram account. Times that by ten – the total number of food porn pics on your page that are strictly organic vegan and everyone thinks you’re a Marvel superhero with super “willpowers” while they wonder why they’re so weak-willed and can’t even maintain your perfect, immaculate lifestyle habits. A reaction that eventually will wear their souls down and probably even yours when you get sick of the kale salad and decide a Big Mac’s more your thing.
And that’s the power of social media. It is very deceiving. Nothing is quite what it appears. It’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. Everyone wants to present their best selves publicly and be liked. Duh! But the way Instagram is set up makes it too easy to make your biography a work of fiction. With the help of apps, we distort images of ourselves to achieve some unattainable level of aesthetic perfection.
Have a blemish? That can be erased! An extra 5lbs? That can be stretched out! Want whiter teeth? Where have you been? Botswana? There’s loads of image editing apps for that guys! The end result? We end up looking more like avatars and less like actual people. Some even look like Pokemon GO characters. (Shiver me timbers!)
As young women, we are all on a journey to find and love ourselves. With 60 million new Instagram pictures posted everyday, we are also all trying to do so via the “version” of ourselves getting the most likes and there are two things that are super messed up about that.
1. We are measuring ourselves by extremely objectifying patriarchal standards of beauty and
2. We are holding ourselves up against a filtered standard of ourselves that isn’t even real.
Think about that tomboys! That’s some super messed up and unachievable shit. What does that say about what we think of ourselves and our goals in the first place? How can we achieve them when we don’t feel good enough to be ourselves, let alone to even want to be ourselves. We’d rather try striving to become a digitized FaceTime version ourselves which is basically like wanting to be Jessica Rabbit. (Which I have never aspired to be as a youngster, I swear!)
In fact, if you take a peek behind this social media curtain, you’ll find that it has created a rating system in which women are basing their entire self-worth on. The worst part of that is, according to a study made by the University of Buffalo, those with the lowest self-esteem tend to be most affected by the “like” economy. These individuals statistically post more selfies then their peers, all because they’re looking for validation – not for the unique individual personalities that they are inside but for what they look like on the outside. That’s some crazy shit right there.
Another thing that’s most creepy about this alternate reality, is how internalised this rating system has become – transforming us literally into our own worst critics. Ever wonder how you can pick out 10 things wrong with a photo of yourself your friends absolutely love? Well it’s not because they are trying to sabotage your image by convincing you to post a picture that has you looking like an absolute reptilian troll. (No offence reptiles and trolls, you’re great!) It’s because we tend to focus on what we perceive are our short comings and insecurities: Chubby cheeks, slanted shoulders (a hangup of a “friend” of mine), asymmetrical nostrils… the list goes on. Meanwhile our peers aren’t so laser focused on the teeny tiny details but tend to react to images that evoke an emotion like a smile or laughter instead.
It spirals even further when recent studies revealed that many women suffer acute post-selfie posting anxiety. Yes, my friends, it’s a real thing, and something that stands a fighting chance of making its way into the DSMV in the next decade. Young women everywhere are telling their therapists that they spend hours experiencing acute anxiety after posting a selfie, worrying about the number of likes they’ll receive and fearing negative comments on their pictures.
A study done by Anxiety UK found that over half of respondents who regularly use social networking sites saw their behaviour change negatively. Further investigation revealed factors such as negatively comparing themselves to others, spending too much time in front of a computer, having trouble being able to disconnect and relax, as well as becoming confrontational online, thus causing problems in their relationships or job.
Such psychological consequences never existed back in the day. Suddenly, the airbrushed fashion print-ad campaigns of the 90’s don’t seem so bad anymore, right? At least we knew back then, they were airbrushed and we didn’t have to be commented on. These days though, we’ve presented ourselves on a platter to public evaluation by simply being willing participants. Add to all that, these feeds are also packed full of daily exercise routines and ads selling creams and devices to trim and erase anything. It’s a wonder any of us have any self confidence at all.
The fact that many young women scrolling through Instagram today don’t know even know or care about what’s been altered with apps and what hasn’t is testament to that. They don’t question what they’re consuming on their accounts. They just assume the subject looks amazing all day, blessed to have so much beauty and that it’s all kosher. No lightening of the skin or trimming of extra meat here folks.
Even in my late 20’s, I’ve found my offline life affected by the expectations of virtual beauty culture. A few years ago, I suffered an illness and decided to observe a vegan diet for awhile to get my body back in tip top health. After about a year and a half of observing a vegan diet, I became severely B12 deficient and suddenly lost a stupid amount of weight.
You might be saying, ‘Aha! Weight-loss,cool right?!’ NOT! It was terrible!
I became so heat intolerant I couldn’t drink tea without feeling like I wanted to jet puke out of total heat stroke. I couldn’t keep anything inside me, and I was quite literally shitting my brains out. Between the heart palpitations and total weakness, I felt like I was dying. However my partner and friends couldn’t stop complimenting me on how great my body looked and how lucky I was.
Yeah, lucky to be peeing out my ass 24-7, more like it! When I discovered with my physician that my symptoms were related to B12 deficiency, I decided “Fuck this!” and started eating meat, which has a rich source of B12, instantly. Would you believe my partner and friends thought I was crazy?! It didn’t matter that I could barely stand up and function, because all that mattered in the end to them was that my body looked good. For me, I felt the opposite – there was nothing to be envious about because I was sick. I think most of us would agree a society that makes women feel that destroying their bodies is a reasonable price to pay for social acceptance has flipped itself on its head.
Negative body image isn’t just about not feeling pretty sometimes. There are real consequences for women’s mental and physical well-being too. Eating disorders result in malnourished bodies, reduced life expectancy, depression and even suicide just to name a few. Let not even mention the overall impact on self confidence and the effects it has on self-actualization. Women who don’t have confidence don’t put themselves out there. They don’t apply for jobs they are qualified for and they certainly don’t take chances on things they want to achieve in their lives. They literally become shadows of themselves.
The solution? Simple. Let’s just use the Rx-90’s therapist’s method of doling out advice to young women struggling with self concept and body image, which was to swear off the magazines. In a world where social media feeds are constantly flowing full of messages that are terrible for women, that’s the only answer. Get off those damn social media platforms ladies. Never mind the fact that your friends think you’re taking a time machine back into the stone age with the last working VHS player on the planet – at the end of the day, your well-being and health matters more than your sick need to compete with Kim Kardashian’s butt.
Social media has become such a dominant form of communication, it has become an acceptable daily intrusion of our lives. It doesn’t just allow you to take a peek into your favourite celebrities day (and butt surgeries), but it has become the only way to keep in touch with friends and family (whatever happened to letters?). To exacerbate the situation, social media is now something big organisations who want to ’embrace digital’ have jumped on, now using it as a way to intrude into their employee’s personal lives. With well-established platforms like LinkedIN moving into the social media neighbourhood as a career-building networking platform that promises you a brighter 9-5 future, I totally get it that cutting the cord on social media also does have an opportunity cost.
In an article by Time.com recently, it was found that employers are suspicious of applicants that don’t have Facebook pages. Like WTF?! Has social media become so powerful that we are all now subject (or forced) to reveal our personal selves, flaws and all, to the world? I mean, since when was that even considered normal unless you were Kim Kardashian’s derrière butt…er I mean, but you see where I’m going with this right?
We’ve consumed social media so much for our own pleasures and needs, it is now consuming us in return like some monstrous vagina parasite and while karma is a real bitch, it doesn’t need to be ladies. We’re not victims here and we don’t have to keep playing this social media game set in the fantastical world of cyber space. After all, we do make up more then half of all social media users, which means we actually have a voice that will travel the distance if we shout loud enough. While we may not have had much control over corporate marketing decisions in the past, today, with the internet and the power to self-publish, it just means YOU have the ability CHANGE negative body image culture on social media and beyond in all your amazingly flawed ways.
So let’s not sit around drowning in this distorted pool of someone else’s rules. Instead, let’s turn this bitch cart around. Here’s how:
#1: Don’t follow or like on accounts that promote ideas or messages that contribute to negative body image.
#2: Think critically about what you post. Does it relate to beauty and body image in a negative way? If so, swap it out for something empowering and body positive or maybe something totally unrelated. There are so many other things to talk about online besides how you look.
#3: Be constructive with your comments and likes. This is really important! Women are notorious for being hard on other women. Comments aren’t a judges panel. Don’t use this space for critiques. If someone posts a bikini selfie in Miami, instead of commenting on their physical appearance just say “Loving the Miami vibe!” or “Miss you.”
#4: Think critically about selfies and your use of filtering. Do you feel pressure to use them to alter something you feel conscious about or are you having fun adding hilarious SnapChat graphics?
#5: Be vocal about how you feel about campaigns like “thigh gap” and “thin-spiration”. You have the power, educated people! Never underestimate that.
#6: Take a stand when you see something you don’t like. You have influence so use it!
#7: Talk about filtering with your friends. Create awareness. Many people don’t realise how prevalent the use of touch ups are. Sharing how you feel with friends can also take the power out of social media pressure and provide support.
#8: Don’t put women down. Be an ally. Stand up for someone if you feel they are being cyber bullied or judged.
#9: Your social media is your canvass to create the change you wish to see in the world. Create the version of reality that you want to see. Be a real badass, be a rebel and support women.
#10: O, and if all else fails, go back to the beginning and remember to “like” yourself.