Instagram's Effect on Body Image
Posted on February 19 2021
Social media, including Instagram has had an influential effect on users. It's a powerful e-commerce tool and a way for media personalities to engage with fans. With over one billion active users per month, 50 billion photos, and an ever-growing list of hashtags, the social media platform has its benefits ... but there is a dark side. Let’s look at the good, the bad, and the honest ways that Instagrammers are using the platform.
Instagram has become an important tool for body positivity, body neutrality, and body confidence. A significant number of Instagrammers are encouraging self-love and self-confidence by showing real women’s bodies with all their lumps and bumps. It’s been a powerful way to promote self-expression and provide a supportive community where people can be themselves.
The other way that Instagram has had a positive effect on body image has to do with the concept of “see it, be it.” Someone may not realize they have an option until they see someone else in a specific role. For example, a woman who is a size 20 may not think she can do yoga, but after seeing someone like yoga instructor Jessamyn Stanley’s feed, not only will she be willing to try it, she may be inspired to train as a yoga instructor.
The platform isn’t exclusive to younger users, with 47 percent of women ages 30-49 and 23% of women 50-64 actively using the platform according to a SproutSocial study of social media demographics in 2020. It has been leveraged successfully to fight ageism through the accounts of confident and intelligent women who share decades of knowledge with followers of all ages, proving that life does not end at 30. Women ages 53-72 were referred to as the “Elastic Generation” in a 2018 study by The Innovation Group, which helped clear up some misconceptions about this generation. Thanks to the followings of women like style expert Nikki Free and jewelry designer Sarah-Jane Adams, advertisers and marketers have taken notice of this large demographic, especially the fact that they have more disposable income. As a result, more campaigns on social media and digital outlets are building campaigns that target Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.
Despite the positive ways that Instagram is being used, the negative effects have been widely discussed. Much like airbrushing in fashion magazines that set impossible standards for decades, filters are used on Instagram to achieve similar results. Then there are the celebrities who have makeup artists, hairstylists, and professional photographers working behind the scenes. A 2017 study from the UK that looked at the effects of social media on young users found that Instagram negatively impacted body image, leading to greater feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
The largest group of Instagram users are young, impressionable women 34 years of age and younger. This is where another negative factor comes into play: how brands exploit insecurities to drive sales. This includes detox teas, weight loss products, and cosmetic surgery. These brands often take it one step further and enlist a celebrity partner to help sell their products. Influenceable users see these ads featuring people they aspire to be like and believe that if they use these products, they’ll achieve the same picture-perfect results. The standards being set are not only unattainable for most, but also unrealistic.
Instagram has also been used to destigmatize and promote conversation around subjects that were once seen as uncomfortable, like breastfeeding, childbirth, eating disorders, and even acne. From showing post-pregnancy bodies complete with stretch marks and c-section scars to beautiful photos of the ways people have tattooed their mastectomy scars, it normalizes issues and encourages people to share their stories instead of suffering in silence.
It’s important to recognize how Instagram can both exploit and empower its users, but ultimately, it's up to individual Instagrammers to curate what they share and the images they see. For ways that you can use Instagram more responsibly, this guide by Drip Digital breaks it down into five simple tips.
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