Has Instagram changed our perception of health and beauty?

April 27, 2016

Gone are the days where social media was simply a way to catch up with friends or see what they were up to a Friday night. Numerous social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, have now transcended this simple connection to friends and family and become an entirely separate virtual reality – one that is becoming as important to many people as their actual “offline” lives. Social media has clearly had a major impact on our personal lives and relationships. But how has it changed our perception of our appearance and healthy living in general? I decided to explore this in further detail looking at Instagram.

Instagram has made an amazing journey from being just an iOS photo app to a rapidly expanding social network. In fact, one fifth of all Internet users now have an Instagram account (for more interesting Instagram stats click here). Instagram has evolved from a simple photo-sharing platform to powerful marketing tool used by countless businesses to promote the concept of ideal living. We are encouraged to show off our greatest assets: the perfect body, healthy, home-cooked meals, professional make-up skills, luxury holidays to exotic locations and so on. In the race for portraying our best selves from the most “likeable” angle, how has our perception of appearance changed? And is it for better or worse?

“Eat like me – look like me”

Back to the “pre-Instagram” era (roughly before 2010-11), a slim figure was the most desirable shape for most females. In the search for how to lose weight, the majority of women were directed to websites that advertised “new and exciting” (yo-yo) diets, boasting lofty results such as “lose your belly fat overnight.” That’s not to say that there are no such adverts nowadays, but, more and more, people are starting to catch on that continuously eating grapefruit or replacing meals with a lemon & maple syrup cocktail is not a successful weight-loss strategy.

Flash forward to the Instagram of today and we can see that our quest to become thinner and more beautiful involves free-flowing green juices, fancy water bottles filled with fruit, amazing-looking acai smoothie bowls, kale & avocado salads and chia seed puddings (of course, even better if packed into a mason jar). Certainly, it is a positive trend that healthy eating has become more fashionable in the mainstream. I won’t dispute that. In fact, thousands of Instagram accounts offer a wide variety of recipes to satisfy anyone’s taste and dietary preferences.

However, the negative side to following these social media channels is when we start to measure the quality of our lives against these images. It is all too easy to start obsessing over how clean our diets are. And this can become dangerous if we begin to cut out whole food groups or limit what we eat just because a popular Instagrammer has said that it’s “bad for you” or that “your body is not designed to digest it.” Unfortunately, much of this advice is not grounded in science. If you believe you may have intolerance or a food allergy, please see your GP for a proper diagnosis and dietary advice before changing your diet drastically. The doctor may not have flawless or glowing skin like that Instagram health guru that you’ve been following. However, they will give you advice based on solid scientific evidence rather than the most shareable nutrition myths.

“Strong is the new skinny” trend

Five or ten years ago, much of our exercise motivation was to stay or become thinner. More and more, we have started shifting focus to inner qualities such as strength, aerobic fitness and body confidence. This, surely, cannot be a bad thing. Although many popular Instagram accounts belong to fitness models, who on top of regularly working out at the gym, use beautifying apps to achieve their ideal curves, there are plenty of ordinary women, who don’t have thousands of likes, but have managed to change their lives for the better by becoming fitter, stronger and generally more satisfied with themselves.

However, the downside comes when we unrealistically compare our self-image and lifestyles to these gurus. For instance, you could start finding yourself becoming stressed out or feeling guilty because you couldn’t make it to the gym at 6am on a Monday morning. It’s important to remember that we are normal people with a variety of different priorities in our lives. These Instagram gurus earn their living showing off their bodies on social media. Not being able to hit the gym 5-6 times a week is not a sign of weakness. While these fitness gurus would certainly not advise having a drink after work with a friend in order to achieve toned-looking abs, a few hours of quality time with someone close may have a more positive effect on your happiness than the few likes you would get from that perfect gym selfie!

“Eyebrows on fleek “ trend

A few years ago, the majority of women had only a handful of products in their make-up bags. A bit of mascara and some lip-gloss was a perfectly normal make-up routine. Nowadays, many of us can’t imagine having a beauty regimen that doesn’t include contouring kits, highlighters, primers and brow products. Not to mention all the different brushes required to apply and blend it all. The beauty industry has experienced massive boom thanks to the onset of beauty bloggers.

On the upside, the art of make-up is no longer exclusively available to elite models and actresses. Women all over the world are now equipped with free resources and endless tutorials on how to enhance their natural features and hide their imperfections. This, of course, can help us to increase our confidence. However, seeing pictures of gorgeous women with flawless skin, sculpted cheekbones and plump lips gives often makes us scrutinise our own appearance even more. A pimple on a forehead or a nose that looks too big in photos can be enough to send us into a self-loathing spiral! A good filter or a spot of Photoshop can make anyone look divine. But in reality, no one is perfect – not even with a hoard of makeup at their fingertips.

Conclusion

When it comes to health and beauty, Instagram can be an amazing platform for inspiration and health tips. At the same time, having the perfect life – a trend that is marketed by much of the Instagram community – is unrealistic. We can’t always look well-groomed, live in a perfectly ordered house or constantly visit beautiful and exclusive places. And this can put us under unnecessary pressure or make us feel inferior when our lives do not fit the bill. At the end of the day, our offline lives are our only true reality. We have the option to decide whether to spend hours presenting lives from the best angle and gaining approval via social media or to resist the urge for that “perfect selfie” and spend more time living in the present.

 

More about Anna

Hi, I’m Anna. Originally from Ukraine, I moved to the UK in 2011 to start a degree in Nutrition and Psychology at St Mary’s University in Twickenham, South-West London. This relatively unusual course choice has been influenced by my past experiences of unsuccessful dieting. I was determined to answer the question: if we want to lose weight, why can’t we just eat less and exercise more? A few years on, I now have a BSc Nutrition with Psychological studies. I hope that my articles will bring clarity in the ever-changing and often confusing areas of diet and health.

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