Featured | August 15, 2017
It’s Time to Discuss Mental Health: Is Instagram Influencing Body Image?
I don’t know about you, but my first encounter with a selfie was back in the early noughties. Back then, big hair and heavy black eyeliner were perfectly framed by a flip phone held at a ridiculously high angle so you could get that ideal ‘emo’ MSN Chat profile pic.
Over the last decade or so, social media and its trends have come a long way (thankfully, so has my personal style), but has the proliferation of pocket-sized technology and its apps been a positive change?
Instagram revealed this week that its users under the age of 25 now spend an average of more than 32 minutes a day browsing its images and viewing stories. And the over 25s aren’t far behind in terms of usage.
We use Instagram for work purposes and self-promotion, but many of us have a love-hate relationship with the image app. That is the dichotomy that we face as a digital generation.
It has recently been reported that Instagram is the worst social app for young mental health, so I thought I’d get some ‘real’ thoughts and opinions from social influencers, mental health experts and the team here at Liberty. Here’s what they had to say about this tricky subject:
What Does the Report Say?
The study by The Royal Society for Public Health polled 1,479 people aged 14-24 on issues such as anxiety, depression, loneliness, bullying and body image.
The research found that Instagram has a positive effect on self-expression and self-identity, however it was revealed to be the worst social network for young people’s mental health.
Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the RSPH, said:
“It is interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and well-being – both platforms are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.”
What You Guys Are Saying…
So, that’s what the study says, but what are the people around us thinking?
Chloe Brotheridge, author of The Anxiety Solution and founder of calmer-you.com, said…
“Instagram can certainly be a trigger for people’s mental health issues. There is a strong temptation to post the picture-perfect images and carefully choose the best selfies to post – because these get the most likes.
As someone who works valium for mental health I need to be careful to balance this with ‘real talk’ about how life isn’t all rosy to ensure that I’m not perpetuating the same myths and perfection pressure I’m working to dispel.”
Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services at AXA PPP healthcare, said…
“Social media is a window where people choose what they want to present to the world – whether this real or altered – and in many ways, it can be a ‘false reality’.
It’s natural for an onlooker to make assumptions about others based on what they see online, but often those who are vulnerable cannot make this distinction, which can have a negative effect both on their mental health and their body image.
For some, being online is their main source of social interaction and, over time, this can turn out to be an isolating and lonely experience. And, whilst the ‘rewards’ of communicating online are instantaneous, this isn’t necessarily a good thing.”
Dr Winwood encourages users to take a social media holiday every now and again to seek help if you feel you’ve become ‘addicted’ to apps.
Sophie Milner, Fashion Blogger and Owner of FashionSlave.co.uk, said…
“Instagram – truthfully, it’s a little bit like cake. Or junk food. It’s fine – in moderation. Even great, sometimes. It can be enjoyable, interesting, inspiring and make you feel good. But go a little too far and you’ll find yourself spiralling into a “I’m failing miserably at life” hole.
It comes as zero surprise to me that it can have such a negative effect on people’s self-esteem. We all tend to follow people that inspire us and that we aspire to be more like – in terms of lifestyles and aesthetics – but it’s a double-edged sword, for a lot of time those that inspire us can also make us feel the worst way about ourselves, as their successes make our shortcomings and apparent failings all the more visible.
As a full-time blogger, I’m surrounded by women in the same industry, and I know the extent of editing that goes on behind the scenes. And I’m not just talking filters, I’ve known girls edit themselves using apps such as Facetune so that they appear several dress sizes slimmer than they do in real life. It’s totally damaging – to others, and to yourself, as it shows an image of bodily perfection that doesn’t exist.
Of course, it’s not just bloggers, but many other women that do this too, it’s just the bloggers tend to have the larger followings so it’s likely to have a more negative impact.
Everyone is always told that Instagram is simply an edited highlights reel of others’ lives – if we posted the bad, nobody would follow. But when it’s often the only thing you see of someone else’s life, it becomes very easy to forget this. Now, I limit the time I spend on it to when I am posting professionally, rather than looking at others too much on it as I know the negative impact it can have, and how bad it can make me feel.”
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What Our Team Think?
This blog has formed somewhat of a talking point in our office and I’d love to share some of the comments from our team.
Corey Francis, Technical SEO Specialist, said…
“Personally, I don’t really find the body-image aspect of Instagram that impactful. I think if I was more conscious of my weight and size then maybe, but as I don’t really get any comments about the way I look (apart from the occasional one from my fiancée), it doesn’t normally affect me so much.
But, I do however think (IMO) that Instagram has changed how I am as a person. My life sometimes becomes an Instagram dream, places I visit, pictures I take, the things I do etc. In many ways, it’s the ‘zero moment of truth’ thing that Google talk about.
I do focus on how much interaction posts get, how many people watch my stories and how much attention it all gets. It’s actually quite sad.
When you’re somewhere and the only thing you can think about is getting a decent picture to share to hundreds, or thousands of people, you don’t ‘care’ about, that is quite a sad state. But we do care, we care, because we want that gratification, that like, that comment, why else would we do it?
That got a bit serious… I’m now no longer going to use Insta. Only joking; I’ll probably use it later.”
Natasha Aghalar, Creative Content Executive, said…
“I think it’s easy for people to become obsessed with how others are living their lives, but it’s important to remember that people post what they want people to see. Instagram is basically like a trailer for our own films, showing only the best bits of our lives. I can definitely see how it can affect mental health.”
Rachel Bloom, Digital Retail Strategist, said…
“I recently did an Instagram cleanse and I’ve already noticed a dramatic improvement on my mental wellbeing.
I’m guilty of spending a lot of time mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, and I follow a lot of health and fitness bloggers. I can’t help but feel that the images they post are completely unrealistic for the average person.
Yeah, I could be in the gym every morning and drink green juice and make incredible superfood salads from scratch, but I have a full-time job and sometimes I just want to go home and lie on the sofa and eat carbs, and I shouldn’t feel guilty for that!
Comparing yourself to others is never a good idea and I was finding that I always had an underlying feeling of being a failure, and it was so unhealthy. So, I took matters into my own hands and culled anyone from my Instagram that didn’t make me feel positive, and I’ve really felt better for it!
Whilst I originally followed these people as a motivation tool, I feel much more content in setting my own goals and living my life according to my own priorities. Everyone has different lifestyles and I want to feel proud of myself for exercising twice a week, not guilty that I haven’t been for a 5am run every day or a 6am spin class, which is something that’s just never going to be achievable for me. And I’m fine with that!
I worry about the negative effects of these influencers on the younger generation and how it could impact their self-esteem. But I think it’s important to remember that being a blogger/influencer is not representative of real life – It’s their job to create beautiful content!”
Philip Woodward, Digital Content Manager, said:
“Social media does make me miserable sometimes. I’m quite a FOMO-ey person – there’s nothing worse than twiddling your thumbs at home while your pals are having fun somewhere, and I find Instagram can turn that FOMO up to 11.
I, and some of my erstwhile colleagues, did a Digital Detox a couple of years ago and I was struck by how easy it was to go without gazing into people’s charmingly reconstructed lives – and how enjoyable I found it.
It was a little eye-opener, and while I’ve got back on the social horse (and still hate it from time to time) I’d definitely recommend dropping out from time to time. I’ve learned to love (and post) the banal even more than I did before.”
Emily Webb, HR Manager, said…
“Only a couple of days ago, I was complaining to my husband that even though I only follow people on Instagram that are supposedly empowering of women and are focused on positive body image (or totally unrelated to image), that they still post filtered photos of themselves (often donned in their ‘I just threw this on look’ that probably actually took them a good hour and 15 plus snaps to get!), which seem to contradict what they claim to stand for.
When it comes to fitness bloggers etc. I feel that they can’t do right for doing wrong really. They try to promote positive body image and why shouldn’t they post pictures of themselves looking fabulous and celebrate their strength and athleticism?
The problem is with society and how it’s affected us all – we can’t look at an image without making a comparison to ourselves because everything has become so much about me me me! So, when we make these obligatory comparisons we do so without thinking. If we think about it rationally, and logically, said fitness bloggers such as Clean Eating Alice or Shona Vertue spend all of their time focused on working out etc. so naturally they will look different!
Like I say, we have to remind ourselves of what is real and what isn’t. I feel like we are all going to end up living in a virtual reality at this rate, constantly with our heads in our phones, never looking out to the wider world and that everything is about self, no wonder millennials are having self-esteem issues.”
Liberty on Instagram…
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Instagram is recognising more needs to be done to fight the poor body image and mental health stigma it has unintentionally attracted, and in May 2017 launched #HereForYou – a new mental health awareness campaign.
The month-long hashtag-led campaign shared stories of mental health advocates and a video featuring celebs such as Troian Bellisario to encourage open communication. The campaign pushed users towards a new website – Instagram Together – which was populated with resources and a help community.