The damaging effect of Instagram’s golden girls

When I scroll through my Instagram feed, I am confronted by girls with the flexibility of a Russian gymnast, doing yoga poses on a beach somewhere as the sunset on the horizon falls just in line with their blonde messy topknot. I scroll past bowls of breakfast filled with kiwi, yoghurt and goji berries, plus ten other healthy ingredients that would cost my entire student loan (if I could ever find them in an Edinburgh Tesco). I see selfie after selfie of perfect white smiles and clear skin and I would have to have the self-confidence of Kanye to be unaffected. Why do I never go to the gym? Why don’t I have her cheekbones? Why do I think it’s okay to eat chocolate cake and leftover Chinese for breakfast? Luckily, like a lot of my friends, I’ve come to a point in my life where I feel happy enough to put down my phone, laugh about how those girls aren’t real anyway and help myself gleefully to another slice of cake. I just thank God that I didn’t grow up with Instagram as a young girl.

We all know the damaging effects that photos of airbrushed celebrities and Amazonian runway models can have on young girls. There have been endless campaigns against this false perfection and multiple celebrities have spoken out against it. However, as Instagram star and girl of the moment Essena O’Neill is pointing out, social media is now the biggest danger for young girls.

‘Social media… consumed me’, she confessed in her emotional fourteen-minute-long video. She accuses sites such as Instagram of breeding a culture of young girls that are striving to achieve an unattainable image of perfection. Essena has deleted thousands of her Instagram photos, labeling them ‘not real’ and has re-captioned all the photos with honest descriptions. In these captions she admits to spending hours trying to get the best picture and spending the whole day out trying to get a photo for Instagram instead of enjoying herself.  She even picks out photos that were taken solely to promote products. Essena outs fellow Instagram stars as depressed, unhappy and selling out to big companies that pay thousands for shameless product promotions.

For this reason, Instagram is not a safe place for young girls that are struggling with their body image. If every time a teenage girl scrolls through her Instagram feed and is confronted with images of beautiful, flawless girls leading ‘perfect’ lives, then it is no wonder that feelings of insecurity and self-hatred are fueled. If the girls that take hours to painstakingly brand themselves in order to capitalize on ‘likes’, social approval and superficial validation are today’s role models, then how are teenagers supposed to be confident in themselves and their successes?

Essena has had a lot of criticism from fellow social media stars calling her move a publicity stunt, and while it is true that she has seen a lot more popularity since condemning social media, her message rings true. For the sake of future generations we need to stop living our lives through a screen. We must stop living through carefully put together photos on our instagram or through the carefully selected photos that haven’t been untagged on our Facebook. Kate Winslet summed up social media perfectly talking to the Sunday Times, ‘It has a huge impact on young women’s self-esteem, because all they ever do is design themselves for people to like them. And what comes along with that? Eating disorders. And that makes my blood boil’.

We spend all our time online, carefully carving out our social media selves in order to create the version of us that receives the most positive feedback and yet we rarely give ourselves the positive feedback that we deserve. That being said, if tonight my dinner ends up looking like it’s straight out of Nigella’s cookbook, you can bet-your-bottom-dollar I’m going to find the best light for that beauty and make it pose.

Image: Flickr: <Patrik Nygren>

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