Social media is messing with young women. I’m not saying that as a baby boomer who thinks technology is evil. I’m saying that as a young woman with an Instagram who is frightened by the things I see when I open the ‘Explore’ tab. Plastic surgery before and after ads. Weight loss ‘inspiration’. Women posing for post-workout photos wearing waist trainers.
It scares me. And it’s creating a problem. Social media gives power and influence to people who are not necessarily prepared to use it responsibly. High levels of social media use have already been linked with the onset of eating disorders in people aged 19-32. Studies are also starting to find that selfies and social media use are contributing to body dysmorphia disorder (BDD), in which patients become obsessed with flaws in their appearance.
Snapchat filters and selfies are both, anecdotally, being linked to a rise in the numbers of young women seeking plastic surgery. Instead of patients bringing in photos of celebrities with the nose they want, they’re showing the surgeons photos of themselves with a favourite Snapchat filter.
To be clear, I’m not against plastic surgery. I’m criticising a culture that is making it seem desirable and even necessary for young women to change their faces or their bodies. A rampant social media culture encourages women to hate our bodies and we need to address it.
Celebrities from Lilli Reinhart to Kim Kardashian West have spoken about their experiences with BDD. If these women – celebrities whose appearances are literally worth millions of dollars – are being affected by unrealistic images, what is happening to the rest of us?
Jameela Jamil (of The Good Place fame) is an outspoken advocate against the way social media is distorting our body image. She has called out various celebrities for their promotion of weight-loss products which are essentially laxatives. And she’s done so while supporting the body positivity movement.
I think that’s a good thing. With followings of millions of young women, celebrities should be more careful about what they post. Advertising harmful weight-loss products is not a responsible use of social media.
Some have argued that because Jamil criticises other women for their actions and their role in promoting, her message is anti-feminist. But is criticising a wealthy celebrity for advertising harmful weight-loss products wrong?
Those ads are damaging. Celebrities can post whatever photos they want on Instagram. They’re proud of their bodies and that’s great. We should all celebrate female bodies and female sexuality on social media. But if they follow up those photos with promotions for harmful, appearance-altering products, I think that’s going a step too far. In my opinion, those promotions deserve criticism.
Combined with bikini photoshoots on the beach or selfies after workouts, those products are sending a strong message. They’re telling their followers: your body is not enough. But maybe, if you had an appetite suppressant lollipop or a weight-loss tea or squashed your internal organs with a waist trainer, you’d be on your way to looking like this.
Instagram influencers and celebrities should take more responsibility than that. Sure, we’re all part of a warped system that reinforces unrealistic ideals for female bodies. But that doesn’t mean we can let it slide when celebrities promote harmful products for money. Capitalising on body dysmorphia is not okay.Support Villainesse