Jessica Rainier-Pope - September 30 2020

Body Positivity is the Only Way Forward

Instagram – Combatting the Highlight Reel

For a long time, women have been told by society that they should look a certain way.

In the past, television and magazines have been the main source of perpetuating these beauty and body image ideals. However, for young women in the 21st century, social media apps such as Instagram have become the most prominent and detrimental at reflecting our culture’s unrealistic beauty ideals.

The nature of Instagram is a double-edged sword. It’s highly curatable, which means two things: For one, users can be highly selective with what they post – ensuring their feed is only ever displaying the best version of them self, whether that be their best selfie, or their best angle. However, the way in which we choose to consume this media is also curatable. We, as active participants, are in full control over what type of content our feed shows us.

In the past, studies have shown that the amount of time spent on appearance-focused social media can be detrimental to a user. However, more recent research indicates that the type of appearance-based content in one’s feed actually plays a more significant role in influencing a women’s body image and mood.   

In addition, following a larger number of strangers on Instagram has a more negative effect on wellbeing, whilst following fewer strangers is linked to more positive associations with well-being.

So… maybe it’s time to declutter your feed and unfollow a few of those celebrities with the perfect skin and the perfect life who always seem to take the perfect selfie?

In fact, customising your feed so that you have a more positive Instagram experience may just be the answer to improving your wellbeing. 

The #BoPo Movement 

In the 1960s, a feminist fat acceptance movement arose in response to anti-fat discourses in Canada and the United States.

The current body positive movement stems from those same ideals, with the same drive to reject the beauty and body image standards that have traditionally been sold to us. As a result, appreciation and representation of more diverse body types has grown, especially with the rise of social media. Currently, a search of the hashtag ‘bodypositive’ on Instagram yields 13.9 million results.

A content analysis of the body positive movement on Instagram found posts that depict a very diverse range of women and body sizes. Images were also found depicting cellulite, stretch marks, stomach rolls and skin blemishes.

Usually regarded by society as flaws, these attributes are instead being normalised and embraced by the body positive movement. This is certainly in contrast to the heavily photoshopped imagery we typically tend to see that attempts to ‘cover up’ such imperfections.    

ASOS is paving the way we consume their content by including all body types in their marketing. 

What might the effect of your current feed be?  

The body positive movement is in strong juxtaposition with the thinspiration and fitspiration content that is also prominent on Instagram.

As opposed to the #BoPo movement, these two trends represent a far more limited range of body types that conform to the more traditional and less realistic ideals of beauty. Such content subscribes to ultra-thin ideals, and often portrays women in ways that glorify these thin or toned ideals.

Some of these images also promote particular diets, food habits and exercise for the purpose of achieving a particular body image. Most often these recommendations aren’t even based on scientific evidence and will sometimes encourage followers to cut out particular food groups from their diets.

Similar to the content that glorifies thin ideals, the healthy eating movement is also appearance-driven, and promotes eating behaviours that can have detrimental effects. Some of the advice shared by such accounts is highly influential, and can encourage psychological problems concerning food, and can even induce eating disorders.

In fact, higher exposure to Instagram’s health-based content and ideals has been found to have a link with greater tendencies towards symptoms of orthorexia nervosa (ON) – a disorder that is characterised by an obsession with healthy eating.    

So… what would re-defining your Insta feed mean?  

Research has found that exposure to body positive content on Instagram has a positive effect on a women’s mood, body satisfaction, and body appreciation. The opposite was true for thin-ideal posts.

As Instagram is an image-based platform, captions play a far less significant role than the image itself on influencing body appreciation. However, women who are high on thin-ideal internalisation experience higher body appreciation for average images with body positive captions than thin images attached to body positive captions.

Body positive posts also tend to invoke more positive social comparisons – that is they inspire, rather than cause dissatisfaction. As a result, such posts are less likely to cause depressive symptoms than content which promotes more unrealistic appearance ideals.     

With the rise of the #BoPo movement, many accounts have also begun to express the ‘Instagram versus Reality’ aspect of their lives – illustrating that no-one’s life truly is picture perfect. These accounts are challenging what has been the norm for so long, by embracing the imperfect. Check out Celeste Barber, for example, who mocks the celebrity culture of perfectionism: Or Rianne Meijer, who is another influencer that provides a more realistic side to the typical ‘highlight reel’.

What should you do now?  

The first step to creating a more positive Instagram experience is to remove those accounts that constantly have you drawing comparisons and feeling inadequate about yourself.

Filling your account up with more body positive content will, as research has found, have a positive influence on your wellbeing. An Instagram search of #bodypositivity is a great place to start.

One of the main criticisms for the body positive movement is that it’s still very heavily appearance focused. So, filling your feed up with puppies is no crime either.

It’s important to remember that you are in complete control over what sort of accounts you follow, and that is a power that needs to be harnessed for good.