"Body image anxiety is something that has our nation in its iron clad grip"
A few days ago I posted a picture to instagram. It was a selfie, one in which I felt like the literal fire emoji. It was sulky and perfectly lit, pouty, I looked a bit tired but glowed. My finger was perfectly placed to cover the ghostly remains of a spot on my chin. It is safe to say I posted that photo because I knew I looked good. I was feeling it.
The caption however, did not match the photo. It was about how I had over eaten, was completely stuffed, bloated and unable to move. This was all true. But the photo did not match the truth behind it. It did not show my round, potted belly, the remaining evidence of an indulgent three course lunch and cheese. It did not show that I had been lying face down on the bed for two hours moaning and sipping water because of the pain of a pastry filled stomach.
I knew that what was being posted at best was a deception and that it probably sat closer to a lie. Deep in the instagram thought processes my brain knew that it did not want to post the real, full of food and much loved body. It posted the face. It knew people would go ‘MY GOD SHE LOOKS GOOD’ ‘SHE CAN’T BE ALL BLOATED SHE’S GLOWING’.
The reason I have been rambling about lunches, bellies and selfies is to show an example of how instagram, and more widely, social media may affect somebody’s mental health. I have seen posts the same as mine before and felt completely flattened, disheartened, uncomfortable in my own skin because the poster claimed to be feeling like me, but was looking a lot more like Rosie Huntingdon-Whitely.
Body image anxiety is something that has our nation in its iron clad grip. In fact 90% of teenagers are unhappy with their bodies. One in five primary school girls have been on a diet, girls aged 11 and under.
It’s not just the kids, studies show that a 45 year old woman is more likely to be unhappy with her body than a 19 year old. #thin currently has 2.8m posts on instagram. Although, where minimum credit is due, before you can look at the photos, a warning from instagram pops up offering a direct link to help, stating that the hashtag is dangerous and could lead to harm or death.
Social media can have a hugely detrimental effect on our mental health and body image. The average Brit checks their phone 28 times a day, that’s 28 opportunities for that person to feel negative about themselves.
It can be easy to look at the statistics and be alarmed, but to hear it first person is worse. So with permission, I share the recent life experiences of a friend. We shall call her Alice.
She has had anorexia for around 5 years now, but anorexia is not a beast that often travels alone. She is currently benefiting from positive mental health and is in recovery, but has also had numerous suicide attempts and depression.
Alice now knows the effect social media has had on her. Her developing teenage years were at the boom of Facebook and Instagram and she did not match the bodies she saw so positively praised online. She did not have the followers, the likes. She remembers spiralling out of control during recovery and desperately trying to force her body to look better through starvation after seeing some photoshopped photos.
Knowing they are photoshopped she says does not make a difference. If you would photo someone as beautiful as Jennifer Lawrence, then in her mind, she cannot possibly be enough.
She recently saw Megan Barton-Hanson of Love Island fame on TV talking about her plastic surgeries. Megan said her £25k’s worth of plastic surgery made her happy. Alice went on social media, she looked for other people raving about their plastic surgery. ‘I’m so happy with my new lips’ ‘New boobs, new me’.
Don’t get me wrong, if plastic surgery is right for you, then great. But touting it as the solution to all your mental health problems is dangerous, especially online.
Soon after, Alice was sat in a surgeons office being assessed, the surgeon did not deem her mentally strong enough for surgery. He thought she was using it as a short term solution. He was correct.
Alice is no longer on social media, she is a mental health unit after a relapse.
A long road is ahead, but she will get there.
Social media is amazing. It can be a phenomenal force for good. But we cannot ignore its dangers.
Most of all, we have to be aware of when it is ourselves that are putting others at risk. Next time I’m bloated, the picture you will see will be my belly. The pure honest, unfiltered truth.