Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Instagram and Body Image

* Please note: This has previously been posted on my Tumblr blog Little Heathen Designs *

First things first, I love Instagram. I use it almost everyday and love its mix of the brilliant, the barmy and the bland happening every day all around the World. 
I am no photographer, and I use the app as little more than a visual Twitter. It has, however, proved invaluable in my battle against the bulge, getting me back on track when I’ve slacked off by reminding me not to throw all of that hard work away. I take photos of my tummy/shoulders/legs when I’ve worked hard and want to focus on what my goals are. When everything starts to feel a little wobbly again, one look at those photos reminds me how much I put into losing the weight and not to throw it away for a cake.
However, I’ve started to wonder if Instagram users aren’t taking this little function a touch too far. I follow a lot of ‘fitspiration’ profiles. They’re good for recipes, workout ideas and just for plain motivation. There’s nothing quite like looking at another woman’s rock hard six pack to make you want to do something about your own beer keg. 
These women are incredible, and so dedicated, but I’ve also begun to find the whole thing a little depressing. Their entire feed is made up of discipline and measurements and I wonder if their real lives revolve around their waist line as much as their online personae. For instance, one girl I followed put a post up telling of her planned Thanksgiving feast and how she intended to throw all of her eat-clean philosophies out of the window in order to enjoy munching to bursting point with her family. Fantastic, I thought, it’s nice to see that these women can still enjoy themselves when they really want to. After all, they work hard enough to be able to enjoy a blow out every now and again. That was until I saw the caption on the picture. It said “the meal isn’t over when I’m full. It’s over when I hate myself”. Well, there goes that positive message then.
That said, strict lifestyles aside, the fitness fanatics are still the healthy end of the scale. Their lifestyles may not be my cup of tea but it’s a lot less distressing than some of the other profiles I’ve stumbled across during my hashtag hopping.
One profile is dedicated entirely to healthy eating and nutrition. It’s fantastic for ideas when lettuce isn’t really appealing and the pictures certainly get the appetite up and running, but the pictures that the page’s admin is ‘liking’ also show up in my feed and there is nothing nutritionally sound about them. Pictures of emaciated young girls tagged #thinspiration #anorexic #dyingtobeskinny pop up with alarming regularity. Admittedly, they’re also tagged with words like #diet #progress etc and I expect the admin of the healthy living page isn’t really looking at what they’re clicking ‘like’ for. It’s a general rule of Instagram that the more images you ‘like’ the more followers you get in return. Their diet obsessed followers, however, certainly will be looking at these pictures.
Doing a little bit more page jumping, I found the profile of one girl/boy (anorexia had removed all traces of gender and I genuinely couldn’t work out which the person was) that was so painfully starved that, after two days of them not posting, their (some 2,000) followers assumed they had died. This was celebrated among the little community the profile had created with comments such as ‘you finally became thin enough to fly away’. The Instagrammer had not died and responded the following day that they had slept for 3 days due to exhaustion. They could not have been more than 4 stone and I would be surprised if they hadn’t since expired.
Pro-anorexia sites are consistently removed from the internet. Impressionable young girls (and sometimes women/men) need to be protected from triggering images. It’s the same as self-harm which, for the record, there is also an abundant supply of pictures of on Instagram, and I can’t help feeling that this social network needs to protect its users. There is a warning message that crops up when you click the more serious hashtags but what teen/adult, already suffering, is going to pay the blindest bit of attention to that?
Not just pictures of last night’s dinner and cats, Instagram could be having a truly damaging effect on vulnerable users. I think it could be time they had a serious look at their posting guidelines.

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