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The Impact of Instagram Use in Young Women

This study explores the immediate impacts Instagram has on young women through body dysmorphia, bullying and low self-esteem. It has been proven through extensive research that Instagram has multiple effects on impressionable teenagers. The results showed that the application caused a lot of self-doubt, self-hate, body image issues and a place where people can openly bully others anonymously. It showed that mental health disorders were common among young teens experiencing similar feelings because of Instagram’s superficial standards. It then concludes that Instagram is a harmful application making it much harder for women to fight the patriarchy when unachievable standards of beauty are displayed everywhere and all the time.

Social communication and the perception of societal standards have changed since the introduction of Web 2.0 and associated social media platforms. Instead of letters, telephone calls or even verbal communication, we have the Internet. Social networking apps started the wave of communication through pictures, videos and statuses. Since the beginning of these apps, the Internet has been a place for people to share their thoughts, feelings and ideas without the need of physical presence (Boase, 2008) especially when it comes to beauty standards in today’s society. Instagram is a multi-media application, which allows users to reveal a sliver of what their life is like. With the increasing number of influencers amongst the Instagram community, beauty standards and expectations of young women have risen (Paul, 2018). These expectations are unrealistic and harmful when it comes to sense of identity and body image. While Instagram tries to promote positivity, unrealistic life standards portrayed on social media, create negative implications for developing women because it can cause body dysmorphia, bullying and low self esteem.

The standards of beauty imposed on women predate the Internet and Instagram.Women were being influenced in alternate ways (“Decoding the Instagram Beauty Standard,” n.d.). This is prevalent in the 1950’s whereby ‘stars’ began appearing on woman-targeted magazines. This resulted in celebrities in media gaining the power to dictate beauty standards (Decoding the Instagram Beauty Standard,” n.d.). Women were expected to never leave the house looking ‘sloppy’ (“Beauty Ideal Over The Decades…The 50’s,” 2014). To be desirable a woman had to be alluring, without showing too much skin, have the perfect complexion, makeup and hair done always (“Beauty Ideal Over The Decades…The 50’s,” 2014). This resulted in excessive hours living up to this unachievable beauty standard. These media outlets showed that men were the people to please. It was desirable to be a certain way for their husband or participate in these beauty standards, as this was the only way to please him (“Beauty Ideal Over The Decades…The 50’s,” 2014). These standards highly reflected on the fact that men influenced the expectation of a woman. Therefore showing how even now seventy years later, the patriarchy still controls how women should look. This in turn results how false beauty standards are being publicised by people who are meant to “influence” and “mentor”, via social media outlets.

Body dysmorphia is a mental health disorder whereby a person obsesses over their perceived flaws in their appearance. People hold themselves to unrealistic standards of beauty, which is a reflection of the content received on Instagram (Paul, 2018).  This has lead to an increase of plastic surgery on minor things and constant use of editing apps to maintain a desired look (Paul 2018). With this come other harmful traits, such as bullying. Bullying is common amongst teens with 59 percent reporting to have been bullied online (Lorenz, 2018). Fat shaming falls under this umbrella of bullying and is common even by influencers with a high platform (Harvey-Jenner, 2020). This creates a cycle, as this behaviour becomes acceptable to impressionable minds. Low self-esteem is another major factor as a result of using the media-sharing app. The picture perfect life is constantly presented, leaving the expectation that to be happy one must have a big house, a luxury car, attend big social events and be able to afford international holidays, all year round (Johnson, n.d.). It is these unrealistic expectations that can lead to major issues. Materialistic things do not determine happiness.

Instagram is a fast growing social network that is broadcasted across the entire world (Sheldon & Bryant, 2016). It allows users to share videos, and photos simply through the use of their mobile phone. Unlike many other social media-sharing apps it encourages consumers to use filters and hash tags. Hash tags are important in the social media world, as they draw other users into viewing a photo or video. It also joins like-minded people to enjoy relatable content (Sheldon & Bryant, 2016).  Filters are shown to be important when it comes to creating a picturesque lifestyle. Filters can hide the truth of an image. A filter can change how someone looks by “beautifying” an image as more appealing. Filters can change skin tone and even morph the body and face. Instagram is a place for people to seek instant gratification and flaunt that they are better than others because of the materialistic items they behold (Sheldon & Bryant, 2016).  They are able to do this by exhibiting their bodies and their lifestyle publicly.

Society’s high expectations create internalised beauty standards. The more time we spend on Instagram the easier it is to self objectify and compare with others (“Impact of Instagram use in Young Women,” n.d.). Women are expected to uphold these beauty standards, whilst people disregard the energy, effort and time it takes to maintain them. This in turn creates an unrealistic idea of what the perfect body is.  It can be easy to get lost in this thought process where a person believes that they are inadequate because they weigh more or don’t look like the girls on Instagram (Perloff, 2014). With this said, influencers have the ability to hide behind angles, filters and editing. People don’t usually include in their caption that they’ve edited a picture or that they used the right angle to get the best shot or even that they took 100s of photos but in the end only selected one. It is easy to be deceived on Instagram resulting in young women questioning themselves as to why they don’t have the same physical traits as most of the popular famous women do (Perloff, 2014). Surveys have shown that exposure to media predicts self hate, thin body ideals and results in eating disorders amongst young impressionable girls (Perloff, 2014). Why do girls choose to do this? Well it is because they are searching for the instant gratification that many get from posting to their Instagram, of a picture looking ideally thin. The positive feedback in the comment section supports the fact that society still holds an unrealistic standard of what the perfect body is meant to look like. Commenters do this by encouraging and praising young women who may look ill because of their eating disorder.Through looking into the effects of body dysmorphia it assists in supporting the idea that Instagram creates unrealistic standards on young women.

There are many reasons why Instagram has the most negative effect on young people (“Instagram Ranked Worst For Young People’s Mental Health,” 2017). Bullying can be irreversible, traumatic and mentally scarring, resulting in a number of mental health issues (“Instagram Ranked Worst For Young People’s Mental Health,” 2017). Internet bullies are called trolls (Irvin, 2017). They are people that comment controversial and inflammatory things in order to get an emotional response (Irvin, 2017). In an article about Instagram bullies, a parent comments saying, “bullies urged my daughter to kill herself,” (Thomson, 2020). This just shows how easy it is to be manipulated online by anonymous, non-physical people. With societal stereotypes, it is easy for people to bully others on their appearance, for example a woman with body hair is not accepted and deemed ‘ugly’ because it is not conventional (Lorenz, 2018). Instagram is powerful in the fact that it makes it easy for people to anonymously bully others by making fake accounts with the intention to troll (Lorenz 2018).  It creates a world of torment for young girls, even as young as thirteen. From evidence it shows that bullies post spiteful pictures and disclose personal secrets on anonymous accounts without being seen (Lorenz, 2018). They are anonymous because in today’s society it is “uncool” to be seen as mean and can result in dislike and loss of popularity. The intention to bully stems from the reoccurring idea that people become jealous of things they cannot attain. This is due to the comparison of others on Instagram, which was stated earlier on in this essay. It is easy for bullies to make someone else feel bad and put others down in order for them to feel better about themselves (Lorenz, 2018).  Despite all of this, those effected claim that they could “never delete” their account as it was, in reality the focus of their life (Lorenz, 2018). Regardless of this, this type of hateful media is impactful and can have harmful results. Instagram does not enact strong consequences for this negative behaviour. When viewing the effects of bullying caused by Instagram it restates the fact that Instagram can be impactful due to the imposition of unrealistic standards on young women.

Anxiety and depression mediate the role of low self-esteem. There are many causes of how low self-esteem can arise, Instagram and social media being a big contributor. The display of false self-presentation on Instagram creates self-criticism (Jackson & Luchner, 2018). Instagram models and influencers gain money from these experiences by editing their bodies to represent society’s standards of female beauty, which heightens their popularity on social media (Jackson & Luchner, 2018). Following on from my first supporting point, it is evident that to be Instagram you have to be society’s standard of “beautiful” and have the means to obtain expensive items and products. Luxury cars, designer brands and big fancy houses are not easy to come by. The everyday person works hard and saves their money and may still not get what they want. Instagram makes people believe that these commodities are easily attained (Jackson & Luchner, 2018). This can create fear of missing out and result in low self-esteem because not everyone is able to afford expensive material things.

Not only material things but also physical attributions come into play that can result in young women self-hating. This can be the result of trends. A common trend that is still circulating especially now is fitspiration or “fitspo” whereby beauty influencers flaunt their fitness goals and outcomes by posting images of their bodies (Raggatt, Wright, Carrotte, Jenkinson, Mulgrew, Prichard & Lim, 2018). As stated before, it is easy to compare with what others have, because photos of others are always constantly being uploaded online (Lorenz, 2018). These fitness influencers do not take into account, the fact that their content can have negative impacts, especially when it is unrealistic. For example, a girl could be doing the same workout and eating the right food but still not achieving the same goals as that of a beauty influencer. This is because of the deception on Instagram and how it is easy to hide behind angle and filters. But not only this, people are built different, with different body structures and different metabolisms. If an influencer edits their photos, viewers are unable to ever achieve the same goal; this can cause a sense of failure (Raggatt, Wright, Carrotte, Jenkinson, Mulgrew, Prichard & Lim, 2018). An article showed that low self-esteem could be a direct link to depression and anxiety (Aloi & Sergura-Garcia, 2019). Through looking into the cause of low self-esteem it assists in the argument that Instagram promotes unrealistic standards.

Social networking is defined as using social media applications to stay up to date and in contact with one and other. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are amongst some of the top media sharing applications currently. Within a social networking group, they collectively share certain standards of behaviour and rules. This type of foundation can be impactful and it can lead to not fitting in with the people that surround a certain individual. This is very prominent when it comes to feminine beauty standards. An extremely controversial topic is body hair and body shaming. This is impactful for young women as they grow into their bodies and body hair especially becomes more prominent (Force, 2016). The issue with this is anyone has the ability to openly share their opinions, most of the time this information is inaccurate. Which can result in bullying this is harmful for impressionable minds that are vulnerable to these unrealistic standards (Force, 2016).

Nevertheless, those who believe Instagram is a positive application, claim that the company kept the peace by removing the view of “likes” to users (Boulier, 2019). Users believe that it is a way to defeat unrealistic life standards, as removing this icon shows that a like does not define a person (Boulier, 2019). Instagram did this because it resulted in a minor loss in fame for some social influencers due to the fact that having a large number of likes divided them from a regular user (Boulier, 2019). Instagram’s final goal in hiding likes was to create “the safest place on the internet.” They claimed that by hiding likes they were creating a user-friendly platform for people not to endure bullying or harassment because when there were likes it possibly created more conflict and harm to users who based their comparisons on influencers who received the most likes. In other words, people who consider Instagram to be beneficial believe that it allows everyone to be equal.

It may be true that Instagram removed likes to lessen the impact of bullying and self-hate. The fact of the matter is that they are not the only one’s to take this step to diminish popularity through likes. Another example of this is Facebook. Facebook removed the view of the number likes as a way to better the quality of content users see and remove the aspect of popularity as it has shown to be linked with mental health consequences for teenagers (Leskin, 2019). In reality, these existing mental health issues still exist, despite the attempts taken by these applications, still they conflict the idea of positivity which Instagram seem to promote.

Arguably, the unpleasant truth is that the expectation of women on Instagram is not progressing in modern society. We still live by restrictive standards, which can be seen from body image issues, bullying and low-self esteem as a result of Instagram. We can argue that we’re changing by diminishing likes, but in reality, we’re developing new and different codes of empowering the patriarchy. With mean comments and editing at the touch of our hands it is easy to get lost in the world of Instagram. Especially with societal norms and the insufficient push to normalise “normal” lives and “normal” bodies. Instagram has negatives but despite this, it’ll always stay mainstream regardless of whatever impact it has on one’s life.

References

Aloi, M., & Segura-Garcia, C. (2019). Anxiety and depression mediate the role of low self-esteem and low self-directedness in the development of eating disorders. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health; Berlin, 31(3)

DOI: http://dx.doi.org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/10.1515/ijamh-2016-0084

Beauty Ideal Over The Decades part 8: The 50’s. (2014, March 30). Idealist Style. https://www.idealiststyle.com/blog/beauty-ideal-over-the-decades-part-8-the-50s

Boulier, A. (2019). The removal of likes on Instagram benefits users. BreezeJMU. https://www.breezejmu.org/opinion/opinion-the-removal-of-likes-on-instagram-benefits-users/article_1ef3f09a-0d91-11ea-9221-47b064e4ab04.html

Decoding the Instagram Beauty Standard. N.d. Blogilates. https://www.blogilates.com/decoding-the-instagram-beauty-standard/

Force, J. (2016, December 22) The Impact of Social Media Networks on Society. Sysomos Blog. https://sysomos.com/2016/12/22/impact-social-media-networks-society/

Harvey-Jenner, C. (2020, February 18). This Instagram influencer just got slammed by her followers for fat shaming.  Cosmopolitan. https://www.cosmopolitan.com/uk/body/a30976881/instagrammer-Fat-shaming/

Instagram Ranked Worst For Young People’s Mental Health, Report Finds: The Journal of The Health Visitors’ Association. (2017, July). Community Practitioner, 90(7), 1-6. https://search-proquest-com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/docview/1915540585?accountid=10382

Irvin, H. (2017, December 06). Answering a Social Troll – What You Need to Know. HUFFPOST. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/answering-a-social-troll_b_6625654

Jackson, C. A., & Luchner, A. F. (2018). Self-presentation mediates the relationship between Self-criticism and emotional response to Instagram feedback. Personality and Individual Differences, 133, 1-6. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2017.04.052

Jacobson, R. (n.d.). Social Media and Self Doubt: How parents can help kids resist the pressure created artfully curated social media feeds. Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/social-media-and-self-doubt/

Leskin, P. (2019, September 27). Following in the footsteps of Instagram, Facebook is testing hiding likes starting this week. Business InsiderAustralia. https://www.businessinsider.com.au/facebook-hiding-like-count-test-rollout-australia-this-week-instagram-2019-9?r=US&IR=T

Lorenz, T. (2018, October 10). Teens Are Being Bullied ‘Constantly’ on Instagram. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/10/teens-face-relentless-bullying-instagram/572164/

Macquarie University. (n.d.). Impact of Instagram use in Young Women.

Macquarie University. https://www.mq.edu.au/research/research-centres-groups-and-facilities/healthy-people/centres/centre-for-emotional-health-ceh/publications/impact-of-instagram-use-in-young-women

Paul, K. (2018, October 10). Do Instagram and Snapchat distort how teenagers see themselves? MarketWatch. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-unsettling-relationship between-selfie-filters-and-plastic-surgery-2018-08-02

Perloff, R. M. (2014). Social media effects on young women’s body image concerns: Theoretical perspectives and an agenda for research. Sex Roles, 71(11-12), 363-377.  DOI: http://dx.doi.org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/10.1007/s11199-014-03846

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

Sheldon, P., & Bryant, K. (2016). Instagram: Motives for its use and relationship to narcissism and contextual age. Computers in Human Behavior, 58, 89-97, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.12.059

Thomson, R. (2020, Mar 11). Instagram bullies urged my daughter to kill herself:

She’s scared to go to school, says mum. The Wishaw Press. https://searchproquestcom.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/docview/2375553899?accountid=10382

11 replies on “The Impact of Instagram Use in Young Women”

Hello Rosalie,

I have just finished reading your paper and I really enjoyed it. You have made good use of reference to show how Instagram has promoted wrong sense of metal development towards young women, which is convincing. I have noticed that your point of view towards Instagram is more focused on the negative side. Do you think it is impossible for online social networking platforms these days to positively influence people’s mental health?

My paper is actually about how social networking could empower women. It might be opposite to the point of view of your paper, but I think it might change your answer to my question. Below is the link to my conference paper if you would like to check out my perspectives on the power of social networking:
https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/10/timesup-movement-social-networks-influence-on-personal-identity-within-social-media/
Feel free to give me a comment as well!

Kind Regards,
Shong Wut Yi

Hi Shong Wut Yi,
Thanks for commenting, I haven’t really looked at the positive side of Instagram, personally I find it hard to see a positive side for someone young and impressionable. On the other hand I do believe that it can be very entertaining for many and the negatives are really subjective to how a person feels mentally. I’m interested to see what your point of view is and how it could possibly change my perspective.

Kind Regards,
Rosalie Heta

Hey Rosalie,
You are right, Instagram can be a tricky place for pre-mature girls since there are so many pictures that promote false beauty standards to general users nowadays. However, I do think that we should never neglect the power of online communities. I am not sure if you have read my paper yet, here is the link: https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/10/timesup-movement-social-networks-influence-on-personal-identity-within-social-media/
I do think that when women group together, even if they are only young teenage girls, their power could definitely overcome all the negative comments or sounds from anonymous online trollers. At least it is a way for them to boost their self-confidence and promote self-love.
I hope you agree with that as well.

Kind Regards,
Shong Wut Yi

Hi,
I left a comment on your post, I find your perspective very interesting and can see where you’re coming from. From seeing both sides I feel that social media can be positive or negative depending on how a person reacts to content and how a person chooses to use these platforms. Both are two very conflicting things but I think it is subjective to the person controlling it.

Thanks,

Rosalie 🙂

Hi Rosalie,

I enjoyed reading your paper. Instagram has become the second most frequently used social media platforms by teenagers, especially young women. I liked how you discussed the negative impact Instagram has on young women. I totally agree with you that Instagram has led young women to become increasingly insecure due to unrealistic beauty ideals. I also agree with you that physical attributes could result in young women self-hating, and will never be satisfied with how they look. This is because young women tend to compare themselves with others as they are being exposed to content that was posted by influencers. I would be interested to hear your perspective – As you mentioned, influencers can have a negative impact on young women, so do you think that social media influencers cause more harm than good to young women?
 
Your paper focused on the negative side of social media, Instagram in particular. My paper discussed a similar topic to yours, however, my paper focuses more on the positive side of Instagram have on adolescent girls – Here is a link to my paper if you’re interested: 
https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/10/the-ups-and-downs-of-instagram-on-adolescent-girls-social-and-emotional-development/

Hi, thanks for replying. I feel that social media influencers can cause more harm than good. In the sense that influencers already hold and have expectations by society to be positive, happy, and realistically appear attractive at all times online. This is hardly attainable and normal, influencers abide by these expectations and it creates the idea that the in order to be similar a person too must create this facade online in order to get more likes, followers and comments. I am interested to see your paper and how it compares.

Hi Rosalie!

I really enjoyed reading your paper! In the past, we were fed beauty standard mainly through magazines and ads but now it’s everywhere on our phone as soon as we log into any social media platform but specially on Instagram. It is interesting that you pointed out that even influencers edit their pictures because they feel the pressure to match the societal beauty standards but by doing so they keep promoting unrealistic standards. I agree fitness accounts and influencers on Instagram can be extremely hurtful specially the ‘before and after’ pictures that they post suggesting that in order to feel good about yourself you need to work towards a finer and more toned body. Lastly it is true that success on Instagram is determine having money, spending it and showcasing it online. I agree with you when you say that this affect young people negatively because they are constantly being fed unrealistic standards. Moreover, they are not always aware of it. It is not surprising that Instagram is one of the worst platform for young people’s mental health.

However, there is an increase in the popularity of Instagram accounts that promote self love and positive body image and minimalism. Do you think that those accounts can have a positive impact on young people and counter the negative side of Instagram?

Please check out my paper if you’re interested. It’s not really related to your topic but I would really appreciate having your insight. I talk about Feminism and Twitter : https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/11/can-teenage-feminism-on-twitter-change-the-world/

Hi Marie-Pauline,
From looking at other people’s papers I have come to see another perspective of how Instagram can leave a positive impact and help unite people. Although I feel as though these perspectives are subjective to each individual person. By reuniting with one another it does not solve the ongoing issue but yet lessens it. I feel as though this is a hard thing to dissolve and could take several decades or centuries for this issue self-doubt caused by unrealistic beauty standards. This is due to the fact that these types of behaviours are reinforced. So to answer I do think that Instagram accounts promoting self-love can lessen the situation but cannot solve the problem.
Thank you
Rosalie 🙂

Hi Rosalie,
very interesting choice of topic, as a young woman myself I relate to your perspective that Instagram does have many negative impacts. I personally have felt low self-esteem as a result of Instagram and I definitely agree that overuse of editing on photos by influencers creates unattainable beauty standards. I know a lot of influencers, such as James Charles and Nikita Dragun, who have owned up to using photo editing apps such as Facetune, and sort of normalise it. I was wondering your perspective on this: Do you think that it’s ultimately good that influencers own up to using these apps? Do you think that they should stop using them altogether? And furthermore do you think that normalising these apps is dangerous to young women?

Thanks,
Ash-le.

Hi Ash-Le,
Thanks for commenting and taking the time to read my paper. I also face these issues when going on Instagram and newly TikTok, that is why I feel so passionate about this topic. Personally I feel that Facetune should not be normalised, with these influencers owning up to using Facetune it just reinforces the idea that to gain followers you need to hide your imperfections and that imperfections aren’t normal when they are. These apps give people a reason to change, it is a continuous cycle of telling someone that these are unacceptable so here’s an app to make it better. Why is it that we feel as though we look better after adding a filter or editing? Is this society enforcing beauty ideals?

Thank you,
Rosalie 🙂

Hi Roaslie,
Wow that was a great read! My favourite line from your paper is “Materialistic things do not determine happiness”. I think it is extremely important to educate the younger generations on this. I have to agree with Shong Wut Yi though, and how your paper is focusing on the negatives only of Instagram. While I agree that there are a lot of negative impacts from social media platforms, and Instagram being one of the main ones, I do believe there is a positive side to these platforms. There is an ever-growing push on social channels now by some big influencers around body confidence and showcasing the real side of their lives.
My paper looks at the identity built online through social communities, and specifically at how Ambient Awareness plays a part in this. I think there is both positive and negative aspects, but further education and guidance in the social media world is absolutely necessary to ensure the younger generation don’t continue down the path of low self-esteem and body shame just because of these ideal influencers they follow. If you’d like to read my paper you can have a look here: https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/11/identity-built-unknowingly-online-ambient-awareness-building-a-users-identity-from-online-social-communities/.
There is another paper written by Sam Wolters (check it out here: https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/10/the-impact-of-social-media-and-social-media-influencers-on-the-construction-of-identity-and-self-esteem-for-adolescent-males/#comment-1363) which focuses on the impacts on male adolescents. It’s good to see the impacts for both female and male adolescents highlighted and to know that it’s not just females feeling these effects.
Thanks again for a good read.

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