This paper talks about, the factors influencing the enforcement of new body ideals for young males and females in society, on social media platforms such as YouTube, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram by Influencers. By exploring articles, researches made on the subject, and books, to understand the behaviours and causes for this new cultural behaviour. This paper discusses that social media influencers are enforcing new body ideals for young males and females in society. Starting with westernised beauty ideals, by the objectification and sexualisation of the body. Secondly, by using a business focussed approach over product placements, promotion of their brand and services and our last point is body image views
A social network is a platform of communication which functions in two-way communication type. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest, are few examples of social media platforms used by youngsters in our day-to-day life, to mingle, socialise and to keep in touch with family and friends. Jones and Fox (2009), states that the Internet is progressively becoming the direct media source used by emerging adults. Nowadays, with the evolution of the Internet, from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, it is easier to consume products online or to communicate with people. “Globally, 94% of internet users have at least one social media account and spend approximatively 1.97h per day on these sites, with young adults spending most time on social networking sites.” (Global Web Index, 2016, as cited in Feltman and Szymanski, 2018) Long ago, it functioned in one-way communication thus, making it impossible to interact with people. Social media platforms, in our daily life, are the accurate representation of how interaction happens between individuals through the sharing of posts. With the advancement of the Web, social networks have evolved in something different compared to its original creation. On social networks now, many influencers make use of these before-mentioned platforms as their workplace for the promotion of products, ideas and services. This paper argues that social media influencers are enforcing new body ideals for young males and females in society. Starting with westernised beauty ideals, by the objectification and sexualisation of the body. Secondly, by using a business focussed approach over product placements, promotion of their brand and services and our last point is body image views.
Westernised beauty ideals
In our modern world, beauty is defined by physical features linked to Western culture. Western beauty standards consist of being fair coloured skin, tall, thin, having long legs, big breasts and full lips, these standards are promoted by various mediums such as television, magazines, internet and social media platforms, to name a few.
Platforms such as Instagram may contribute indirectly to the internalisation of cultural beauty standards, with the option of posting photos, which are linked to the acceptance of cultural standards of beauty such as physical charisma, appearances and sizes. (Heinberg et al. 1995, as cited in Feltman and Szymanski, 2018).
Haferkamp and Kramer (2011), claims that experimental evidence, supporting this notion, shows that after viewing aesthetically pleasing profiles on any type of social media platform, men and women from a college-aged group had a decrease in their satisfaction towards their physical appearance.
“Female bodies are surveyed and criticised, which the Kardashians respond to by restraining their bodies and encouraging their viewers to do the same” (Lupton, 2013, as cited in Kinney 2017, p.54 ), this statement was made regarding, Khloe Kardashian, who used a popular accessorise used to slim down the waist by wearing a ‘waist trainer’ under her gym clothes. The waist trainer will also help in the development of an hourglass figure or in becoming thinner. While using such accessorises, the objectification of the human body is highlighted as the body can be manipulated and transformed in whatever way the person wants it to be. It once again reflects the westernised beauty standard of being thin. During 2015, it was reported that an approximative number of over one million cosmetic surgeries operations were executed on males in the United States of America. This number is equivalent to the double amount of surgeries which happened during the past ten years in this country for male figures, which is quite an alarming figure. Even though cosmetic surgeries were linked to the feminine gender, it was reported that more and more males are now considering this option to attain their physical attribution goals. Abbas and Karadavut (2017), claims that a large group of men consider that the ideal body type portrayed on social media is an unattainable ideal, which impacts negatively their physiological well-being. This is one of the main reasons why a group of men are directing themselves to plastic surgery as it is an easier mean of achieving this ideal body type.
Business focussed approach
Marketing made upon the name of social influencers is a well-known strategy used by businesses and companies for the promotion of their brands, products and services while partnering with famous social media users or bloggers. Social media influencers have a big audience, from every age group which can be beneficial for many companies to improve their sales number positively. “Influencer marketing the practice of taking advantage of key influencers (e.g., social media influencers[SMIs]) to promote or endorse brands’ products and services, is attracting increasing attraction in both academia and business.” (Adweek, 2015; Audrezet, De Kervilier, & Moulard, 2018, as cited in, Chung-Wha and Youn-Kyang, 2019, p905). Well-known influencers on social media promoting their brands are; Jeffrey Star (beauty influencer), Kayla Itsines (fitness influencer) and Kylie Jenner (celebrity and beauty influencer). Khloe Kardashian uses her Instagram page to promote the use of modifying tools, such as ‘waist-trainers’, available on the website amazon. More and more brands are moving towards the idea of collaborating with social media influencers, for several strategic reasons. In comparison to the association of a brand to a celebrity, people (consumers) tend to prefer the approach of social media influencers a lot more as the message conveyed is more natural, believable and trustable. Social media influencers have the capacity of touching large audiences of targetted customers. (Audrez et al., 2018; Glucksman, 2017; Willemsen, Neijes, Bronner, & De Ridder., 2011, as cited in, Chung-Wha and Youn-Kyong, 2019, p.905) A recent study conducted by ‘Mavrck’s’ indicated that social media influencers generated content is almost seven times more efficient than the content made in a studio. The Influencer Marketing Hub (2019) revealed that on each dollar spent on an influencer, a business or company receives around five dollars and twenty cents, numbers like 92% of marketers believes that influencers marketing is effective. 63% of marketers have the intention of increasing their budgets for influencer marketing during the same year. As mentioned earlier, influencers such as Jeffrey Star makes use of his platform on YouTube and Instagram, for the promotion of his brand which helps in the amelioration of the physical appearance thus helping to fit in. Kayla Itsines is an Australian fitness influencer with an approximate number of 10.5million followers, who posts regular tips about workouts and dietary to her followers, she also makes use of her page to promote her application as she is a personal trainer. Kylie Jenner is a celebrity from the famous Kardashians and Jenner family, she has her cosmetic and skincare line, which she promotes via social media.
Body image views
Body image is related to the perception that an individual has of his or her self physically, along with thoughts and feelings resulting from that perception. Mass media in correlation to body image tend to have a negative impact regarding the pressure which is made there, towards an own critique of image and consequences related to behaviours directly linked to poor body image, these are the predictions made from the Cafri et al. model (Cafri, Thompson, McCabe, Smolak and Yesalis, 2005). This model, suggests that mass media leads males to compare their bodies through a “social comparison process”, to body types which are more likely to be very muscular and fit, which are highly presented in the media. An outcome linked to these types of comparison is body dissatisfaction which may lead to consequences on behaviour such as being encouraged to use steroids or by doing strict diets to achieve a specific goal. Tiggermann and Slater (2014), revealed that the time spent on social media platforms is undoubtedly linked to thin-ideal internalisation, body supervision, dieting, and to a decrease in the body esteem regarding women. Experimental research conducted by Homan et al. (2012), suggests that regular exposure to images portraying people who are in good physical shape and look fit is highly associated to body negativity when paired with thinness. This was the result shown in a study, where several groups of young women were shown thin and athletic models, normal athletic models and a control condition consisting of neutral objects; the result was that body dissatisfaction was only constated in the group of women which were shown thin and athletic models. The ideal body type for men is presented as the mesomorphic body type, which is considered as being the perfect balanced body type, as it is perfectly balanced in between not being obese or too thin. Mesomorphic body type is solid and strong. Barlett, Saucier and Vowels (2008), have consequent results from meta-analyses made on male figures to see the impacts that these types of mediums have upon them. It was mainly males from the college-aged group who had the most impactful results, concerning the pressure that mass media has on negative self-images. This meta-analysis correlated to the tripartite influence model, by Smolak et al. (2005, as cited in Barlett, Saucier and Vowels, 2008), suggests that sociocultural factors namely from mass media are linked to subconscious factors such as negative self-image issues. Coe, Jonsson, Wiklund and Wiklund (2019), article’s made on a research-based upon teenagers in Sweden portrays, “Skinny is the new strong”. This research was made upon a group of ten youngsters aged between sixteen to eighteen years old, namely, five boys and five girls coming from different backgrounds and schools. The study was based on how this generation perceived diets, exercises and body standards as being part of their social world, they had to do so by filling up a questionnaire. Some of these youngsters revealed within the research that the unrealistic fitness standards they want to achieve and what is seen as being normal in their life is directly linked to the use of social media platforms.
The creation of new beauty standards on social media platforms can lead to the creation of serious issues towards youngsters or emerging adults. Nowadays, on these platforms, anyone gets the chance of becoming popular and to have a big audience following them, the influencers should be aware of the message they are portraying to their audience. For instance, as mentioned earlier, Khloe Kardashian makes the use of waist trainers to slim down her waist, thus she does not refer to the side effects that such an instrument can have on people. Waist trainers can lead to health complications, notable; adicity reflux, bruising and preventing the body from receiving its normal oxygen dose. It might also cause the movement of one’s internal organs. The portrayal of a specific beauty standard does not only impact females but also impacts males negatively, as both genders become more self-conscious towards their bodies, they might develop unhealthy habits such as strict dieting, eating disorder habits such as food restrictions and vomiting. It can lead to the usage of steroids, low self-esteem, self-objectification, body surveillance and depression. Some celebrities or influencers help in the creation of new beauty standards, by sharing the same sociocultural behaviours established by the various types of media sources, such as television and magazines, where thinness is portrayed as being the new beautiful. Influencers also, makes use of their social platform to share about their personal experiences regarding a specific product or for their brand, to encourage their audience in becoming consumers of these products or services, thus not every product or service provided by an influencer is guaranteed to be something of good quality or which will have positive comebacks for any individual. Beauty standards like this one, are more harmful to people, as it persuades them that they have to fit in a specific category to be able to merge in the beauty or normalised aspects of society.