Changing the social media beauty conversation

Body Image. The subjective concept of one's physical appearance based on self-observation and the reactions of others. (Photo: Charlotte Astrid)

Social media users report negative effects on self-esteem and body image – but what about the influencers and stars they follow? And who’s bucking the trend?

Beauty vlogger and entrepreneur Emily Ivanov started her YouTube channel as a hobby before using it to build her brand as a makeup artist. She also posts regularly on Instagram.

Over time, she says she felt increasingly under pressure to present a perfect image to the world.

“I went from posting anything to being extremely cautious,” she tells Hatch, adding that she worries about how many likes a post might get.

“Body image is a big part of it. Everyone’s getting into fitness and the most liked pictures are the ones showing off a body.”

“It does affect you emotionally because essentially you don’t want to post something people essentially won’t like.”

Ms Ivanov has also had some issues with criticism on social media, which she says have impacted on her own sense of body image and self-esteem although she’s learning to tough it out.

“Putting my life on social media I expected [the criticism],” she says. “Now, I just block, delete and forget about it.”

The Butterfly Foundation has reported that problems with body image have increased worldwide in the past 30 years in people of all ages, and lays a proportion of the blame directly on the media.

“People of all ages are bombarded with images through TV, magazines, internet and advertising. These images often promote unrealistic, unobtainable and highly stylised appearance ideals which have been fabricated by stylists, art teams and digital manipulation and cannot be achieved in real life,” the Foundation states in a fact sheet on body image.

“Those who feel they don’t measure up in comparison to these images, can experience intense body dissatisfaction which is damaging to their psychological and physical wellbeing.”

The Foundation warns that extreme body dissatisfaction can sometimes lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and dieting, resulting in an eating disorder.

Changing the conversation

Successful anti-diet coach Anne-Sophia Reinhardt suffered from anorexia for 14 years due to body image issues until she fought back against the eating disorder in 2010.

“Seven years ago, I was at my lowest and most fragile point in my life. One day I hardly made it home from the gym – I was so weak, so terribly thin, so exhausted and I just knew that I couldn’t continue like this,” she says.

Ms Reinhardt started her “journey back to life” through recovery and created a podcast aptly named ‘Fighting Anorexia.’

She says that starting the podcast gave her a purpose beyond counting calories and obsessing over her body.

“What really helped me though was to find a purpose other than being thin and exercising. I needed to be someone other than ‘the thin one’.”

She now coaches women how to cast away fad diets and live happily and healthily in their bodies. She advocates her ‘Health at Every Size Mantra’ geared towards including women of all shapes and sizes.

But Ms Reinhardt says that body positivity on social media is met with criticism and often tries to shame people into dieting and weight loss.

“What originally was intended to include bodies of all sizes, reduce shame and promote health is now being used for the opposite to create shame and to promote diets and weight loss ‘solutions’,” she says.

“The ‘thin is best’ ideal is a lethal idea that causes a lot of damage and real pain in people’s lives.”

Social media plays a crucial role in Ms Reinhardt’s online business, so she says it’s important that she posts both the good and bad times to create a more accurate portrayal of life.

“Most of us only share the best part of our lives on social media and so it creates the impression that our lives are perfect. That creates a lot of pressure and can cause others to feel bad about themselves, their struggles and their lives.”

“The truth is that life is messy – for all of us.”

Another social media expert looking to buck the trend is Jemimah Ashleigh, head of the social media company Epic Social, who aims to help people use social media in a way that is not only productive, but responsible and proactive.

Having suffered with anxiety herself during her previous job in law enforcement, Ms Ashleigh works hard to make sure she spreads awareness on social media, to inspire others to get help if they need it.

“I use social media to tell my story and to document specific things around mental health because I really want to break the stigma,” she says.

Speaking about her anxiety has not always been easy for the busy entrepreneur with close friends dismissing it as something that ‘just happens.’

“There’s a big stigma that these things don’t happen to people who have had success. [But] one in every four people will struggle with mental health in their life.”

To manage the negative effects of social media Ms Ashleigh makes sure to give herself regular breaks from it and to invest in self care.

“Managing a few businesses and working in social media, and having to constantly update those, can be exhausting and that’s why self-care is so important,” she says, adding that she occasionally has a no-phone day “where I actually won’t touch my phone at all for 24 hours”.

“If we’re always contactable, always on messenger, always on Facebook then we’re not giving our brain down time.

“Self care can look like a massage, it can look like having a dance by yourself in the living room, it can just look like turning your phone on silent and walking away.”  – Ashlyne McInnes (@ashlyne_mcinnes). Feature image by Charlotte Astrid (Flickr Creative Commons).