Instagram & Body Image: Why Social Media us Hurts More than Fashion Magazines

For the record, I am a huge fan of Instagram.  My mental health campaign on Instagram literally changed my life. Yet although there is a huge community of men and women using Instagram to proliferate uplifting messages, a lot more people are using it to sell a fairytale.  The same fairy tale that we’ve been sold for years by major fashion magazines.  The fairytale of perfection.  

The problem with Instagram is that it was designed to be a snapshot of real life–a window into the worlds of people across the planet.  Yet however it was intended to be used at it conception, it’s not that anymore. It’s a business tool, and a vehicle for people to show us their life’s highlight reel.  We are flooded with images of people’s most glamorous moments, their happiest memories, their bikini bodies at the most perfect angles, with the most perfect lighting.  With that advent of apps like FaceTune and YouCam Makeup (which now has over 100 MILLION downloads), they’re becoming just as photoshopped as a magazine.  

These images that are supposed to be real aren’t real anymore.  Because they’re coming from a reality-based platform, it’s hard not to compare those images to our own–very real–life.  After all, I don’t have a fashion magazine, but I do have an instagram account.  It’s so much more accessible, which makes it seem like it should be an accurate reflection of life.  It’s not.    

lexi-harveyAs models like Lexi Harvey showed us by owning up to taking photos of fake nights out, and staging photos on Instagram, many of the top Instagram accounts are riddled with falsehoods.  Skinny girls in tiny swimsuits pretend that a Teatox is responsible for their svelte figures.  Women with plastic surgery tabs the size of most people’s college education post “no makeup” photos #naturalbeauty.  They’re paid to represent companies that work to keep us insecure so we keep spending money.   What’s sad is that it works.  

I work with women in eating disorder recovery every day, and it breaks my heart how damaging this is for their body image.  Even when I point out that many of the images we see aren’t real, some women choose to stay in denial.  We want to believe the fantasy, because we want to believe that we too can reach that level of perfection.  And I get it, because when my eating disorder and body image issues were still ruling my life, I looked at more #thinspo (a hashtag that has thankfully been banned) and #fitspo images in a day than I could count.  I compared my life to these instamodels, and I never measured up.  It was like torture I was willingly putting myself through.  Women do this all the time.  Most of us think we’re motivating ourselves, but in my experience we’re really just using these images to trash talk ourselves.  I didn’t want a salad and a workout after looking at all those girls.  I wanted half a dozen cupcakes, because “f*ck it, I’ll never look like that anyway.”  It’s a trap, and it’s a challenging one to get out of.     

So if you’re still struggling with your body image, and can’t help comparing yourselves to strangers, what can you do about it?  Well, you can do what I did.  I got fed up.  I found a path to recovery, and self-love that included unfollowing all of those accounts that made me feel worse about my life.  Eventually I created a new instagram account and shared my story.  I deleted my old account that was more about looking good for other people than really being myself.  I share the happy moments, but also the moments that show real vulnerability.  That’s all we can do in the face of this giant media machine if we want to stay sane.  Share your REAL life, so that people can see the difference between fantasy and reality, and then maybe the little girls growing up now won’t suffer like we did.    

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