From magazines offering diet and exercise tips, to the movies main character being unnaturally thin. People are conditioned to believe their happiness is directly related to their physical appearance. Of course, they’re not wrong. Western society has internalized the thin ideal and encouraged the narrative that we should look a specific way.
The development of social media has only spread this message at an accelerated rate. Fitness, specifically weight-loss, has become a central topic on most media platforms. There’s no shortage of diet and exercise tips or images of the ideal body type.
With all this informal content readily available, there is concern about how this information is affecting people. The increased use of social media and the high engagement rates for fitness content further perpetuate unrealistic body standards. The constant comparison decreases body satisfaction and body appreciation.
Instagram is the most popular and infamous culprit for manipulating body perceptions. People typically spend 20–30 minutes a day browsing the app. By 2018, they acquired one billion users. The easy post-share photo app has a simple interface making it quick and efficient. It’s also efficient for making the perfect online persona. Users can pick and choose what they share. The final results are so effortless that you cant help but be a little envious.
This creates a toxic environment for the distributer and consumer. Manipulating a profile to only see the best parts of life disconnects both parties. The person sharing starts to inherit their observers opinion and objectifies themselves. Simultaneously, the observer compares themselves to the unrealistic online persona.
Issues quickly arise when a person adopts a negative perception of their body. Some include cyclical weight gain and loss, an obsession with exercise, and eating disorders.
So, how can we make social media interactions more pleasant? One solution is to change the narrative. We make the rules in our society so we can promote the right things like body positivity. Having compassion and accepting people as they are leads to less criticizing and judgement. We can also be more inclusive, diverse, and promote bodies that reflect the general public. If the media transitioned from ideal body expectations to realistic, we could significantly reduce anxiety and negative perceptions about our bodies.
Reflecting the general population instead of thin, white women has started to emerge across media platforms. PINK is one company I’ve noticed making a conscious effort to be inclusive and diverse by promoting realistic bodies constantly. Other places like Target have also made an effort but primarily showcase thin body types still. Corporations history of success with the latter has made it a difficult transition.
Instagram is also working towards a more honest platform by normalizing imperfections. The Instagram vs reality trend is changing the social media culture to be more raw and authentic. The community is slowly but surely realizing nobody is picture perfect.