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.
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.
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