In 2015, we live in a culture that is ruled by social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… these websites reign supreme. It is estimated that 90% of young adults use some form of social media. Although social media can be a great way to keep in touch with others and share information, there are also negative outcomes. Within the last year, studies have been published that highlight an association between increased use of social media and negative mental health impacts, including depressive symptoms and decreased life satisfaction. This is because it is easy to compare yourself to the life that someone is posting on social media. The Instagram users with the most followers are Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez, Beyonce, and Ariana Grande. Millions of people follow these women, and therefore millions of people compare themselves to the posts these women make.
It is well established that unrealistic body expectations exist for people of all genders, and that celebrities often perpetuate these expectations. But there are also thousands of Instagram accounts run by people who do not fit in to our traditional definition of “celebrity”- they never starred in a movie or released a Billboard hit song. Rather, these people are famous because of what they post on social media. Since they aren’t what you normally expect from a celebrity, this may make them seem more relatable, even though they have hundreds of thousands of their own followers on social media. But what sort of impact does this proliferation of social media have on body image?
At the beginning of November, Essena O’Neill spoke out against social media. Just in case you aren’t familiar with her, Essena is one of those women who became famous because of what she posted to social media. For years, Essena posted pictures of her lean, toned body in form fitting clothing. She became known worldwide as a “fitspiration”, or fitness inspiration. However, at 18 years old with over 600,000 Instagram followers, she changed her approach. Posting a video describing the unrealistic nature of her pictures, Essena encouraged others to realize that so much of what we see online is “contrived perfection made to get attention”. Essena explained that while others felt she was “fitspiration”, she was eating unhealthily and mistreating her body to become a social media star. After posting the video, she also went through and edited the captions of many of her Instagram posts.
In choosing to be transparent about the unrealistic life she posted on Instagram, Essena was incredibly brave. Next time you see something posted on social media that makes you question yourself, take an extra second to consider if things are really as they seem. The next time you choose to post on social media, don’t succumb to the pressure to look a certain way. Remember that everyone’s body is beautiful! Confidently posting a picture of yourself may be just the inspiration that someone else needs to accept themselves!
By Julia Greenspan