It used to be a once-a-year drill. Summer would edge closer and closer and glossy magazine pages and websites would suddenly be plastered with “quick fixes” promising a “beach body” in just five days. Now, thanks to the rise of Instagram, we’re being served up unrealistic body ideals 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
It’s easy to close a magazine or click out of a website, but a growing number of us are checking out of reality and checking into Instagram an alarming number of times each day. In 2018, anyone armed with a smartphone can be a photographer, a model or a fitness expert. “Whilst a strength of Instagram is that “anyone” can be either the photographer or the subject, this is also its weakness,” explains psychologist and director of BodyMatters Australasia, Sarah McMahon.
Instead of being mere consumers of the unrealistic beauty standards mass media has perpetuated over the years, social media has meant we’re now not only conforming to these standards, but we’re also creating and enforcing them ourselves. “Instagram is saturated with images created by laypeople that largely replicate the images we see in glossy magazines and advertising,” explains McMahon. “Rather than being passive voyeurs of the constructed reality of media and advertising, we are now actively replicating images of ourselves to conform to these ideals.” McMahon, who works with people experiencing eating, body image and exercise issues, says it’s a significant step backwards in terms of building positive body image and deconstructing the images we see.
As a result body image disorders, particularly body image dysmorphia, are on the rise, believes McMahon. Body image dysmorphia, she explains, is when people become fixated with one or more body part and feel convinced it is defective. And while McMahon says it’s a mental health issue which is becoming increasingly common, it’s not a new phenomenon. What is a new phenomenon however, is what McMahon says has unofficially been coined “Snapchat dysmorphia.” Not so many years ago we could filter and narrate the stories about ourselves by simply tagging flattering photos and untagging the unflattering ones explains McMahon. “Now it is very common for people to use filters to change their appearance entirely.” And while it might seem harmless, McMahon believes it’s perpetuating our tendency to be critical of our own bodies. “We’re modifying the version of ourselves we show others, with a particular preoccupation towards an awareness of the parts of ourselves we consider defective.”
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