I’ve just carried out a social media cull. I read an article discussing the correlation between following accounts that leave us feeling bad about ourselves and the rise in negative self-image, and I felt ruthlessly inspired to relegate some of my ‘contacts’ to the bin.
In our increasingly techy world, we’re subjected to an onslaught of harmful images and messages – both on and offline – that we don’t (consciously) pay much heed as they’ve become so ingrained in our everyday lives. There’s an argument that social media is predominantly responsible for this, but this phenomenon has been slowly gathering momentum since the birth of advertising (we’ve all seen Mad Men). The purpose of such ads has always been to encourage feelings of lack, and trick us into believing we need what they’re selling. Social media just facilitates greater exposure. Essentially it’s the same shit but a much bigger, global bucket.
Bizarrely – and you may disagree owing to the vast number of keyboard warriors out there – the internet can make us passive. From heavily airbrushed snaps of celebrities to bile-spouting trolls, not to mention the rise in online sexual harassment and deluge of ads for surgical enhancement or weight loss, our news feeds and inboxes are swamped. But there’s a ripple in the internet. Pebbles are being skimmed across its shiny surface like tiny truth bombs. People, mostly women, are raising their voices and calling time on a multi-million-pound industry based on nothing but absolute bollocks.
One of these areas, which has long needed a shake-up, is our dangerous attitude towards diet culture. I’ve just checked my phone and have a notification that someone who has written a book about dieting and ‘the best way to lose weight’ is following me on Twitter. I don’t mean to be rude but no thanks, hun. Go peddle your bad advice and fat-shaming elsewhere.
But it’s not all doom and gloom – things are beginning to shift.
Jameela Jamil, the British actress in NBC’s The Good Place, writer and all-round good egg, has been making headlines recently with her (wonderfully vocal) social media posts calling bullshit on the whole thing. She took on Kim Kardashian after the latter posted an Instagram advertisement for appetite suppressant lollipops. In response, Jamil started her own Instagram account (which is soon to be a foundation of the same name) called iWeigh which encourages women – and men – to send photos of themselves with captions of what they weigh in accomplishments and character rather than what is dictated by a set of scales. She also went after a New York billboard depicting more weight loss lollipops (how is this a thing?) and tore a US magazine a new one when they published an ‘article’ ridiculing female celebs for their figures or looks.
Closer to home, there was an article in The Pool about the popular ITV television series Love Island and the impact its perma-beautiful people being on the telly box every evening had on the public. Sure, we can take this show with a pinch of salt, and I suppose we should (a previous contestant spilled the villa’s secrets to the press and admitted that they were always supposed to look primped and preened), but it’s clearly influencing viewers.
The article went on to cite the results of a new poll, conducted by YouGov and commissioned by feminist community Level Up, which suggested that “40 per cent of 18 to 34-year-old female Love Island viewers feel more self-conscious about their bodies after watching”. The research also found that 30 per cent of women have considered going on a diet as a direct result of watching the show, and one in 10 have thought about getting lip fillers. The Pool alleged that there have also been “multiple complaints about cosmetic surgery brands like MYA and weight-loss aid Skinny Sprinkles being shown to viewers watching Love Island on ITV’s catch-up service, ITV Hub”.
Like Jamil, there are people attempting to dispel dieting myths and reclaim social media as a positive space. Bestselling Hay House author (and ex-Hollyoaks actress) Mel Wells has just published her second book, Hungry for More, which seeks to help people leave the world of eating disorders and yo-yo dieting behind and figure out the underlying causes for such dissatisfaction. Having overcome her own eating disorder, the actress-turned-author has been sharing her wisdom online for some time.
So, if we’re recognising these problems, isn’t it time we stand up and dispel negative body image as utter nonsense? Well, that’s easier said than done. I’ve been a follower of Wells and other body/life positivity accounts for a couple of years but I still find myself slipping back into old habits and thought patterns. It’s time for advertisers to become more responsible. But I’m not an idiot. Advertising is all about money and, if there’s a demand, they’re going to keep selling these products.
So, what can be done? For a start, celebrities can become more accountable. I mean, Kim Kardashian really doesn’t need the money from her appetite suppressant lollipops, does she? Maybe she could put her 114 million followers to better use and, like Jamil and Wells, advertise body-positivity, mental health advocacy and just generally having a nice life? There’s no denying Kim K is a beauty – and she shouldn’t feel ashamed to show off her body, not at all. I’m pro flashing the flesh – but maybe, just maybe, she could flaunt her curves and promote a strong, healthy body rather than the need to punish it?
I’m not shaming women – or men – who have cosmetic surgery. Each to their own. I firmly believe in body autonomy, there’s nowt wrong with a pamper and I’m disgusted by the cruel comments aimed at people like Love Island‘s Megan Barton-Smith who admit they’ve had a bit of work done. But I’m afraid for that part of me who occasionally catches a glimpse in the mirror and thinks ‘I could be thinner’ or ‘I could be prettier’ because if I, at 32, recognise this as bullshit and still occasionally feel this way, what about those who don’t see it as nonsense? What about the generation coming up behind us? Don’t we owe it to those men and women to object to unrealistic beauty standards? Don’t we owe it to them to promote individuality and imperfection over manufactured attractiveness?
As Voltaire, and erm, Uncle Ben in Spiderman, said: “With great power comes great responsibility.” It’s time people started putting their power – and privilege – to better use.
Main image by Chris Payne