Instagram: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (Part 2)

In part 1 of this blog, the bad and ugly side of the Instagram-body image debate was explored, and the main issue addressed was the recent trend of pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia support groups emerging among Instagram users. This is a problem because these users are reinforcing each other’s harmful behaviors through “likes” and comments on “thinspiration” pictures and in doing this they are normalizing disordered eating. Based on these kinds of trends it may seem that Instagram is doing more harm than good with respect to influencing people’s attitudes about body image, but this is not necessarily the case, especially when considering how Instagram is thought to be a way for people to reclaim photography and celebrate the natural diversity of body shapes and sizes, which can definitely be seen as a “good” thing.
The use of Instagram allows users to take a look into the real lives of people with bodies that come in a variety of shapes and sizes that for the most part do not have a marketed feel to them. This is very different from the images that are usually fed to us through popular media, most which have been touched up using the magic of Photoshop to make both women and men appear flawless. Many celebrities also have Instagram accounts, and these are people who typically are presented to us through pictures that have been touched-up. Instagram allows us to get a look into their lives in a less-altered state, and see their bodies in a way that reflects reality better than magazines and advertisements. The term less-altered is used because Instagram does provide the option to add filters to photos and videos, as well some people may be uploading pictures of themselves that have already been adjusted, so their pictures might not always be completely un-altered. Despite this fact it does feel like the lives and bodies we see through Instagram are less filtered than what is typically displayed in the media, and this helps to reinforce the fact that bodies come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. In addition to this, some people have even created accounts specific to posting images relating to health at every size, which celebrate the natural diversity of people’s bodies.
After taking a look at some of the good, the bad, and the ugly, can any real conclusion be drawn to say that Instagram is good or bad for attitudes about body image? The answer is no, and this is mainly because Instagram is different for every user. Every user chooses to upload certain pictures, follow certain people, and like certain photos, and all these choices are ultimately up to the user themselves. Users should be cautious about which accounts they follow, and pay attention to the pictures they like and comment on, making sure they are reinforcing the kinds of images and messages that promote a healthy lifestyle and respect the variety of body types that are seen on Instagram.

Julia Antonini is an undergraduate student in psychology and human biology at the University of Toronto. She has a deep interest in the subject of eating disorders and volunteers her time researching in the area of eating disorder prevention and treatment. She is also an Outreach and Education Volunteer here at NEDIC.