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September 24, 2021
As adults, we are all worried about the impact of social media on adolescent’s body image- but have we ever stopped to think about the effects of social media on the way we think and feel about our own bodies??
We are a generation of women who grew up through the 80’s and 90’s. A time when big corporations decided what would be in our magazines, and the images that we would see. It was a time of supermodels, and a very very narrow concept of what was beautiful. A time of diets on the front page of magazines, and diets as crazy as the cabbage soup diet- also, people ate grapefruits with sugar on them for breakfast, and that’s just wrong!
We now have so much more control over what we are exposed to, and there is no where that we have more control, than on social media- where we can follow and unfollow with the click of a button. But so many women expose themselves still to these very narrow beauty ideals, and follow fitspiration, before and after photos, and accounts that show nothing but thin models all the time.
UK research has found that instagram is the social media platform with the most negative impact, and specifically decreases body image. It is damaging- but it’s also an awesome platform, so if you want to use insta, and not feel bad about yourself, read on…
The reason why we feel bad when we look at images of these models, celebrities, and even peers, is because our brain makes automatic comparisons with these people. We look at them, determine that we are not as thin/muscular/attractive/worthy as them, and it makes us feel bad. Decades of research has proven this. There is nothing about seeing these images that motivates us, inspires us, or helps us to change our behaviour.
This is particularly the case with #fitspiration- Recent research has also confirmed that viewing fitspiration leads to increases in body dissatisfaction, and is worse for body image than viewing idealised thin images. In some studies, participants reported that fitspiration inspired them to exercise, but this did not translate into increases in exercise behaviour. Fitspiration literally doesn’t even do what it sets out to do in encouraging you to engage in physical activity. #unfollow
In contrast, multiple studies have now shown that viewing images of average-sized models has been found to enhance body appreciation, or positive body image. To test this, researcher’s bring people into a lab, or send them images to look at. Some women are shown images of more diverse-sized women, and other women are shown more traditional advertising using thin women. Researchers have consistently found that in these studies, the women who see more diverse-sized women walk out of that room with a better body image and in a better mood than the women who have seen images of thin models. Evaluations of media campaigns that use real women of all sizes, such as This Girl Can, and #jointhemovementointhemovement found that these campaigns increased appearance satisfaction, and intentions to exercise.
So, if you really want to motivate yourself, and make yourself feel better? Follow some body positive accounts. Viewing, and engaging with body positive accounts, following brands that use diverse sized models, and unfollowing the ones that make you feel bad can have a huge impact on your insta experience, and your psychological health.
Here are some starting points:
Following clothing brands that cater to a large range of sizes, but also celebrate women in these sizes on their social media feeds is also really helpful for normalising the glorious, vast range of different shapes, sizes, colours, and flavours that our bodies come in. Try being really intentional about the images that you let yourself see, and reward the brands that do this well by engaging with them around their diverse content. The more we as consumers support these brands, the more they will feature this awesome diversity, and the more we and other women can benefit from it.
- Written by Dr Zali Yager
Dr Zali Yager is the CEO and co-founder of The Body Confident Collective [BCC], a not-for-profit organisation that aims to improve health and wellbeing by promoting evidence-based positive body image content and professional learning programs at the individual, organizational, and cultural level.
Zali has over 15 years’ experience in body image research, with specific expertise in development and evaluation of programs that improve the way that people feel about the way that they look in the school setting for children, and adolescents, and in the community setting, for mothers. In her own business for Mums, Zali is launching a membership that is all about engaging with self compassion, gratitude and other evidence-based practices to improve mental health.
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