Identity in Communities and Networks

The Unrealistic Expectations of Instagram


The purpose of this paper is to show how Instagram permits unrealistic expectations to younger females. The first part of this paper gives background information on Instagram and the popularity and influence it has upon the younger generation. The second part is how Instagram impacts younger girls and how it leads them to have possible body issues over the material posted on Instagram. The last part of this paper is about how Instagram gives young girls self- esteem issues which can eventually lead to bigger problems. Then it proceeds to the conclusion about how both can affect one’s mental health.

Keywords: Instagram, Fitspo, Body Images, Self- Esteem Issues, Identity


These days young adults can stay connected through various social media platforms. This can be beneficial, however, there are also many downsides to social media platforms. Social media has become an important part of most people’s lives especially within the younger generation (boyd, 2007). It has brought about expectations on how someone should be, and it has made girls think they need to be a certain way to fit in. One major social media platform that has become popular amongst young girls is Instagram (McGregor, Aaron & Li 2019). Instagram has become a go-to platform for many people as it is simple to use, giving users an easy system with no complications by just giving simple options of posting, seeing people’s photos, liking content and commenting on it. 

Instagram provides people with a platform to share photos with others which can allow people to express themselves. However, most of these photos are not what they seem as most have been edited and had a filter put on (William, 2017). In this paper, I will be writing about how Instagram gives young girls an unrealistic view on how they should be in accordance to the way they want the world to see them. 

Instagram provides tools such as sharing photos, editing, and filters (Jackson & Luchner, 2018). It is as if Instagram encourages its users to manipulate their pictures before posting, giving the followers an illusion that the picture taken is bigger and better despite not being 100 percent authentic. Even videos can be edited to look better and set a bar that others want to achieve in their own lives. This can have a negative impact, especially for teenagers who feel they must fit a certain standard, therefore wanting to copy what is being posted. This shows that Instagram is not all that it seems to be, and that there is a fake side to the social media platform. Platforms such as Instagram allow young females to express themselves, but this can have major side effects on their lives.

Background of Instagram

Instagram has gained popularity ever since it first started in 2010. Since then, it has continued to grow with over 500 million users (Jackson & Luchner, 2018). Instagram is an application that allows people to share their photos with the world, it is built on the idea that people put their best foot forward and only show their best photos of themselves. This could be both a positive and negative trait. Salisbury & Pooley (2017) state that “social network sites claim that they are platforms of authenticity” but this is not always the case, there can be negative side effects to social media platforms such as Instagram, where people can start to compare themselves to others.

Instagram is the “second most popular social media platform with 59% of online adults age 18-29 using it” (Jackson & Luchner, 2018). For Attention, people like to pretend that their lives are perfect and better than they really are. Living in the real world can be boring and to stand out, people present a perfect image of themselves and live within a fantasy. Instagram gives the opportunity to present their perfect selves and the life they really want to live in a stress-free way. That is why Instagram is so popular amongst the younger generation, for it is easy to navigate. For the younger generation social media has become a main feature in their life and it is how they connect with their own identities (Mascheroni, Vincent & Jiminez, 2015), these are the ages where most people are still figuring out who they are, and Instagram can give them negative thoughts on how they should be.

Jackson & Luchner (2018) mention that “social media use fulfills two broad needs: the need to belong and the need for self-presentation” therefore it is so popular amongst young girls as they feel like they need to fit in to be cool.

Selfies have become a major part of young people’s lives, with the introduction of the “front facing cameras this has allowed selfies to become a popular part of expressing ones live and identity” (Mascheroni et al. 2015). These days expressing one’s side is very common especially in the younger generation, they like to post everything about their individual lives online.

Body Images

Instagram has several popular trends people follow to be inspired, one trend that has become popular is health and fitness (Alberga & Von Ranson, 2018). One of the most common hashtags used to inspire people is Fitspiration or as it is widely known as – Fitspo for short. Fitspo is a popular trend on social media which involves health, fitness and nutritional advice promoted by popular fitness

Instagram users (Raggatt, Wright, Carrotte, Jenkinson, Mulgrew, Prichard & Lim, 2018), this can be a positive part of Instagram because it can help inspire people to get healthy however there is a lot of negative elements to this trend. According to Raggatt et al. (2018) “fitspo content contains objectifying images that depict an idealised thin- athletic female body type”. Girls that view these images may become obsessed to fit an unrealistic body standard and it may cause problems in the future. Such as body issues and health-related issues.

According to researchers though changing the focus of the ideal body type from thin to fit can seem like a positive thing, the “healthy look” (Raggatt et al. 2018) and young females are made to think and feel like this glorified version of healthy and fit this is what perfection is and that they should try to aspire to look like what is shown through images that for some, cannot be reached without negative side effects. Raggatt et al. (2018) mentions that to achieve an ideal body people may restrict their diet and overdo exercise which causes major health problems and mental health issues amongst young females. Just to show how popular the fitness trend on Instagram is #fitspo got over 48 million posts in 2017 (Raggatt et al. 2018). This shows how popular it is and how much it affects how females perceive themselves.

Most of these posts are of women who are thin and of a sexual nature (Alberga et al. 2018), Another concern is that 45% of these fitspo photos are changed to seem smaller than they are (Alberga et al. 2018) which gives an unrealistic expectation of how a body should look like to its viewers which can also cause self-esteem issues. Instagram wants its users to think that it is a platform of authenticity and ways to express your true self however when you look closer into this, you find out that this is not true at all and that it is all an act.

Instagram allows its users to have control over what they post for the public to view this is identified as impression management. This allows the person posting to control how people perceive them by acting a certain way that they know others will like instead of their true self giving them a different identity online (Ertürk, 2016).


Instagram is influencing how girls think about themselves and they tend to show what they think the ideal body type is and many younger girls look up to these pages. This can cause self-esteem issues which can affect the young girls, physically and mentally. This can have a negative impact on how girls view themselves and they can start to compare themselves to these fake images which can give them false expectations (Barry, Doucette, Loflin, Rivera- Hudson & Herrington, 2017).

According to Barry et al. (2017) “in modern western society, the ideal female body typically involves forms of thinness” which Instagram plays off and popularizes this body type to make younger girls think this is the normal body they should have, and they are different if they do not have the same type of body. In America, girls aged between 11-16 years old are not happy with their bodies (Barry et al. 2017), this is because of how society makes out that to be happy and popular you need to look and be a certain way to fit in with society’s norms.

On Instagram many popular pages try to promote clean eating which can seem like a good idea and be beneficial to helping others and inspiring others to do the same however this can make younger girls think that they should be eating a certain way which can lead to eating disorders (Raggatt et al. 2018), and in the end lower their self-esteem which could then lead to other issues such as mental health and physical problems.

As social media is available to view 24/7, this allows young girls to view images that they can constantly compare with themselves (Perloff, 2014) which can cause more problems than good as young girls can constantly compare themselves within their peer group and through popular Instagram girls.

Jackson & Luchner (2018) explain how “the formation of one’s identity is influenced by reactions and feedback by others”, Instagram is a platform where people like to be shown approval from their posts and like to see different reactions about what they have posted and what sort of praise they could receive but they forget about the other side of the praise which can bring unwanted attention to themselves. Another major problem that people feel that they need from their photos is multiple likes as they feel this brings them happiness and approval from the public, however this is not always a good thing for someone’s self-esteem when they base feeling good about themselves on how many likes they can get on their photos especially if they do not get as many likes as they wanted or end up getting negative comments, this can further cause problems with their self-esteem and give themselves a false sense of security.

Unlike with many other social media platforms that are based on connecting with your fellow friends and peers, research has found that Instagram users care more about putting up the perfect photo to promote their best self rather than making friends (Jackson & Luchner, 2018). This shows how shallow Instagram can be and how it makes the people who use the platform think they must act. This also shows how fake Instagram can be portrayed when the people using Instagram make sure to choose the best photo of themselves which can lead to an obsessive form of perfection.


In conclusion, social media platforms have become a major part of everyone’s lives and there is no denying that they do help us stay connected. However, there are many downsides to social media, especially when talking about the social media platform, Instagram. Instagram is now one of the major platforms that are used worldwide amongst young people, especially females. Although Instagram can be known to help express one’s self, it is also known to damage one’s impression of themselves by seeing how others look, which can lead them to compare themselves to those who are popular and trending on Instagram.

Young females strive to be like those who inspire them and wanting to fit in with the times and stay relevant in the eyes of others, they can begin to obsess with many popular trends on Instagram. Instagram makes it easier for fake images to make their way to popularity, such as the trend fitspo. Although this trend can be helpful and is there to aspire others, there are negative parts to it as well. Such as having younger females look up to these fitness pages and think this is how one should look, leading to body issues as well as eating disorders and can also cause self- esteem issues.

Instagram impacts self- esteem by feeding people false expectations and making them feel unworthy and insecure about their own body. Also, Instagram can impact people’s self-esteem when they upload their own photos for others to see, getting approval from others can give the person posting a sense of desire and approval however this may lead to bigger problems in the long run (Ertürk, 2016).

The young teen mind is not fully developed to comprehend what is right and wrong and is still processing and learning difficulties in life. In these stages, they feel the need to fit in and be like the rest. Instagram encourages many to fit a certain image and standard and this can lead to young adults to feel pressure to fit those standards. Social media platforms have both positive and negative effects; however, it remains popular despite whatever influence it has on one’s life.


Alberga, A., Withnell, S., & von Ranson, K. (2018). Fitspiration and thinspiration: a comparison across three social networking sites. Journal of Eating Disorders6(1). doi: 10.1186/s40337-018-0227-x

Barry, C., Doucette, H., Loflin, D., Rivera-Hudson, N., & Herrington, L. (2017). “Let me take a selfie”: Associations between self-photography, narcissism, and self-esteem. Psychology of Popular Media Culture6(1), 48-60. doi: 10.1037/ppm0000089

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Jackson, C., & Luchner, A. (2018). Self-presentation mediates the relationship between Self-criticism and emotional response to Instagram feedback. Personality and Individual Differences133, 1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2017.04.052

McGregor, K. A, & Li, A. (2019). Fake Instagrams For Real Conversation: A Thematic Analysis of The Hidden Social Media Life of Teenagers. Journal of Adolescent Health 64(2). 539-540.

Mascheroni, G. Vincent, J. and Jiminez, E. (2015). “Girls are addicted to likes so they post semi-nakend selfies”: Peer mediation, normativity and the construction of identity online. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 9(1), DOI: 10.5817/CP2015-1-5

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Raggatt, M., Wright, C., Carrotte, E., Jenkinson, R., Mulgrew, K., Prichard, I., & Lim, M. (2018). “I aspire to look and feel healthy like the posts convey”: engagement with fitness inspiration on social media and perceptions of its influence on health and wellbeing. BMC Public Health18(1). doi: 10.1186/s12889-018-5930-7

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10 thoughts on “The Unrealistic Expectations of Instagram

  1. This is a really good discussion about how influential social media is in our present age. The amount of people who are on Instagram and the fact that can be and is accessible 24 hours of every day in confronting, especially considering some of the adverse effects you’ve discussed.

    Do you think that there are any positive aspects to ‘Fitspo’ posts on Instagram? Also, there has been talk of Instagram removing the number of likes from photos. How do you think this will have an impact on the platform and users, if any?

    1. Hello,
      Thank you for your feedback on my paper!
      With your questions, I think that there can be positive aspects to ‘Fitspo’ posts on Instagram as they can provide inspiration for others to start a healthy lifestyle.
      With the talks of Instagram removing the number of likes from photos, I think this will impact Instagram hugely as I think it is a platform built around the number of likes you can get on a photo, so I think users will find it hard to cope not having the number of likes shown on their photos. Great questions!

      1. Thanks for the reply. Yes I agree – I think it will definitely pose a challenge to the users of Instagram not having the number of likes shown on their photos. However, I do hope it may start to change the culture of Instagram and perhaps even change the types of photos people post – instead of posting specific photos just to receive a large volume of likes. But I guess we will just have to wait and see!

        My paper covers similar issues. You can read it here:

        Thanks 🙂

  2. Hello,
    I really enjoyed reading you paper and thought you made some really good points! I have to agree that Instagram can promote unrealistic expectations as a lot of images posted are edited or photoshopped.
    Do you think that Instagram will ever change or it will always be a platform which will promote unrealistic expectations to younger girls?

    1. Hi,

      Thank you for the feedback, this is a great question, no I do not think Instagram will ever change as it is apart of everyone’s lives and editing is so common now. Despite all the problems Instagram causes, I think there would be an outrage if Instagram ever decided to change.

  3. Hey RPiahana

    This was a really interesting paper to read and its clear you definitely did a lot of research on the topic.

    The first thing I wanted to note was your introductory quote to your Background of Instagram paragraph, which was “Instagram has gained popularity ever since it first started in 2010. Since then, it has continued to grow with over 500 million users.” This quote along with a number of others provided by Jackson & Luchner were really effective due to their recency and relevance, so well done of finding such a good article there. Along with this, I also think the amount of evidence you provided for the negative effects Instagram can have on teenage girls was really good as well. The Fitspo trend, diet restrictions, ideal female body in western society and eating disorders you mentioned were all backed up with scholarly references which I think strengthened your argument substantially.

    Another point of interest I had was where you stated that ‘most these photos are not what they seem as most have been edited and had a filter put on’ (William, 2017). Although it aided the argument well, I wasn’t able to find the exact reference for this when looking at the article you used. I can see the relevance this statement has to the article, however using the word ‘most’ makes it seem like it was statistically backed up by the article that over 50% of Instagram photos have filters applied to them. I was wondering if you could send through the evidence for this or maybe it could have been worded a bit more accurately?

    The final thing I will leave you with is a quote I used within my paper which was ‘a survey comparing a multitude of social media networks ranked Instagram as having the worst impacts on its users anxiety levels, depression levels, loneliness, sleep patterns and fear of missing out’ (Blair, 2017). I think this would have fit perfectly in your final paragraph before your conclusion, as you bring up ‘other social media platforms’ and this would have been a really effective way to show that Instagram stands out amongst them as the worst. Let me know if you think something like that could have been beneficial to your overall argument.

    A link to the quote I used can be found below.

    Blair, O. (2017).

    My paper covers a variety of the same topics, so if you are interested, the link can be found below.

    1. Hello MSljivic,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my paper and give me some feedback.

      With the William reference, I paraphrased the quote “For example, people actively post images of themselves that have been completely photoshopped and edited, when in reality those people look nothing like their photos.” (William, 2017). Maybe you are right and I should have not used the word most, I will keep this in mind with future papers.

      The quote you used in your paper is really good and definitely would have helped aid my overall argument, good finding.

      Again thank you for the feedback.

  4. The point you made about young adults and their brains still being impressionable and not fully developed enough to comprehend what is right and wrong and therefore forcing them into the same mould as who they see online was super interesting!

  5. Hello RPiahana,

    Very thought-provoking paper! Social networks, especially Instagram, set up unrealistic expectations and/or standards these days. Users tend to abide by these ‘virtual standards’ in creating their online presence and this may reflect in their real-life self.

    A phenomenon which is more and more recurrent these days – some social networks’ users tend to associate themselves to their created identities online. What can be done to lessen the effects of this phenomenon in your opinion?


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