Loving your appearance can be hard. It often seems like everywhere we look, we’re being told we’re not good enough. Not thin enough, not pretty enough, not curvy enough. Niamh Talbot discusses how these tides are beginning to change, starting with social media.
Body image concerns are common among young women and can have serious negative consequences. Most young women use social media daily, and research suggests that viewing idealised appearance-focused content is associated with poorer body image. But perhaps social media isn’t all bad?
Looking back, social media hasn’t exactly been safe spaces for body positivity. However, a growing number of women online are pushing back against society’s ideals and the physical pressures engrained in so many of us.
A new “body positivity” or “BoPo” movement has emerged on social media in recent years. The movement aims to challenge narrow beauty ideals and encourage acceptance and appreciation of bodies of all shapes, sizes, and appearances.
Instagram is leading the way on social media with BoPo accounts such as @bodyposipanda gaining over 1 million followers. These accounts are sharing their stories with hashtags like #bodypositivity, #bopo, #bodyacceptance, and #effyourbeautystandards to promote the notion that all bodies are beautiful and worthy.
A search for the hashtag #bodypositive returns almost 9 million posts, and #effyourbeautystandards generates almost 4 million posts.
Research has shown that viewing body positive Instagram content may improve women’s body image, at least in the short term.
In a 2019 study, 195 young women viewed either body positive content, idealised content with thin women, or appearance-neutral content taken from Instagram.
Before and after viewing this content they were asked to rate their mood, body satisfaction, and the extent to which they focused on their appearance.
They found that brief exposure to body positive Instagram posts resulted in improved body image and mood in young women, compared to idealised and appearance-neutral posts.
These women felt more satisfied with their bodies and had a more positive mood. In contrast, those who viewed idealised Instagram posts had poorer body image and mood.
Popular Irish influencers have embraced this body positive movement, with the likes of Roz Purcell leading the way. Purcell has posted many ‘Instagram vs Reality’ shots to highlight that the version many people portray online is merely a polished persona. Speaking about her posts. She said, “In a world of beautiful strangers and comparison try remember what this place is, the highlight reel, that split second you see of someone’s day, that good angle or edited photo. That’s all it is – nothing more.”
Other Irish influencers are following suit, like makeup artist Aideen Murphy (@aideenkate).
Murphy hasn’t always had a good relationship with body image and explains it’s been a journey: “In the influencing world, you’re around a lot of women who have the ideal body type. It’s like people expect you to look exactly like them, and they expect you to want to look like them too. And I definitely did at one stage. I felt like skinny equaled successful.”
After nearly two years of a strict gym and diet routine, Murphy decided to finally give it a break. “I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted which was so frustrating, I still wasn’t as slim as my friends and it felt like my body just wasn’t built for it. Then I started to see a lot more women, who looked like me, posting content embracing their bodies and size. They could still post fashion and beauty content being so called “plus-size” and their followers loved it.”
“I just eventually decided, why am I being so hard on myself trying to be something I’m not. If these women could be confident in themselves and still be successful, why couldn’t I,” she said.
Murphy believes it’s imperative that influencers take responsibility when it comes to editing and posting photos, “It can be so dangerous for young girls to see perfect bodies and clear skin all over their feeds and think that people naturally look like that. I think seeing someone you admire post photos showing all their so-called “flaws” can hugely affect how you think about yourself, especially as a teenager.”
“Seeing other women in their bikinis and underwear with their rolls, cellulite, stretch marks, hyperpigmentation, and bellies on show normalised fat bodies for me and taught me not to feel ashamed in my own skin,” Murphy said.
“I saw these beautiful, gorgeous bodies and saw myself.”