Media’s impact on body image

This year during mental health awareness week the Mental Health Foundation launched the “Be Body Kind” campaign.  This focus on body image raised questions about the role of social media’s impact in this area as well as traditional media including television and print sources.  The recent series of Love Island has also raised concerns due to their portrayal of a narrow range of body types.

Negative feelings around body image and general low self-esteem is a common complaint of social media.  The rise of image sharing across Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat mean it is possible for us to see more images than ever before.  Combine this with algorithms designed to recommend accounts like those you already follow, and you find yourself in an echo chamber.

It is human nature to compare ourselves to others.  This is not always a bad thing as it can motivate and inspire us, however, for others comparison can be negative.  Many people feel they do not measure up to these idealised versions of beauty or what is attractive, and it can create low self-esteem if we feel we don’t look the same as those idols.  The prevalence of photo editing on social media further distances us from the promoted body type. 

This distance means that the comparisons are much harsher with wider gaps between the idea of self and the image of ‘perfect’ body types.  This comparison to unachievable body ideals is not new and in previous generations, Barbie dolls and edited magazine images have been blamed for similar self-esteem issues.  With people editing out their pores for perfect skin, nipping in their waist and enlarging their bust and bottoms it creates their ideal, not something real.  Furthermore, without admitting that the image is photoshopped it creates a belief amongst other users that this body isn’t just real, it’s attainable.

Photoshop is hugely prevalent in image-based media, however, it is rarely advertised how the images are retouched.  While the removal of a small blemish is seen by many as acceptable, it is the larger scale editing and altering of appearance that is unacceptable to many.  Actresses are starting to speak out about the editing of their photos in magazines and highlight this on, of all places, Instagram.  Zendaya, in 2015, posted a retouched photograph side by side with the original to highlight the edits and prove they were unnecessary.  Better yet, she’s not alone in her outrage.  More and more celebrities are calling for their photo’s to remain unedited or highlighting cases where it’s been done without their consent. 

There’s more good news that we’re heading in the right direction from brands.  Dove has previously run campaigns with real women and they were criticised for editing the images.  In response to this, their new campaign includes the “No Digital Distortion” mark.  This is to reflect their commitment to showing women as they are and to provide a guarantee to the viewer.  American shopping chain CVS also launched a photoshop free campaign.  That’s not to say these campaigns are free from makeup, lighting and other production techniques but these are effects we can all attempt at home.  After all, we all want to appear at our best in photographs.

Ultimately it is this desire to appear at our best that causes people to slim down their legs, maximise their curves and smooth out their insecurities.  As end-users we can try to recognise that photoshop exists and be more analytical of the images we see.  We can also be kinder, to others and to ourselves.  There is no one perfect view of beauty.  Remember to #bebodykind online.