If you type “#fitness” into the search bar on Instagram, over 350 million posts show up. It’s safe to say that the world of fitness instagram has grown considerably over the years, and that competition is high for the next hottest fitness ‘grammer. I have a LOT of issues with the culture of fitness instagram, however I think the one that is most important to talk about is the prevalent use of photoshop and photo-editing apps.
Picture this: you’re a teenage girl, scrolling through instagram looking for fitness people to follow for inspiration. You spend hours looking at various pictures of girls looking absolutely perfect – perfectly posed, perfectly thin, perfect curves, perfect ~sweaty glow~. They share their workouts and maybe some recipes, which you decide to try out. After a few months, you get discouraged because you don’t look like them.
Spoiler Alert: it’s because they don’t actually look like that!
There are many factors that go into that “perfect” photo:
-Posing and body placement
-Clothing choices (high-waist vs. low-waist leggings)
-Skin tone (more tan = looking more toned)
-Days of crash dieting for the photoshoot
There are tons of apps out there now that allow the average person with no photoshop expertise to edit their photo. Apps like Perfect365, Snapseed, Facetune, Slim n’ Skinny, and Spring – just to name a few – all do various versions of watered-down photoshop. But it’s definitely not as clean as a professional would do it, and there are often tell-tale signs that a picture has been photoshopped:
-Blindingly white teeth that seem to glow
-Skin so airbrushed that it looks cartoony and pores disappear
-Pointy chins = face has been slimmed down
-Warped backgrounds from pinching in the waist or other body parts
-Warped backgrounds from stretching the butt to make it look bigger
-Giant clown feet from pulling the legs to make them longer
-Impossible body proportions with seemingly no room for internal organs
-Vast differences between their feed photos vs. their tagged photos vs. their videos
Click these photos to seem them larger – examples of warped backgrounds (bendy garage door squares, bendy fence posts, wavy floors, and more bendy fence posts)
Unrealistic body proportions, especially on the right! Her neck is thicker than her waist?! Organs cannot fit in there.
On the left, an old photo that was reposted and photoshopped – see the differences? On the right, a before and after photo that has clearly been altered in BOTH – note the wonky bricks behind her!
I recently shared a video on my instagram story showing how to edit a photo. I made my legs longer with the Spring app, I made my waist smaller with the Slim n’ Skinny app, and I gave myself fake abs using the Snapseed app. It took me about 2 minutes to do all the edits. Can you see the differences in the two photos below?
This is a huge problem on fitness (and regular!) instagram. Not only are we sexualizing fitness, we’re promoting unrealistic body standards that young girls are looking up to. An article published in Business Insider in March 2018 includes this powerful quote from Dr. Rachel O’Neill, a licensed professional clinical counselor:
“Unreasonable or impossible standards of beauty created by photo retouching can result in individual feelings of being flawed, not measuring up, or not being good enough. Over time, it’s possible for an individual to internalize these feelings, which may result in low self-esteem, reduced self-confidence, and feelings of sadness and/or depression”
Anxiety disorders affect 18.1% of all Americans, while major depressive disorders affect about 6.7% of all Americans (as of 2018 data). Of that, about 1 in 50 people have Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or BDD. This is a type of anxiety disorder that is characterized by a persistent and intrusive preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in one’s appearance. Studies show that BDD usually starts to occur in adolescents, ages 12-13. This disorder often goes hand-in hand with eating disorders and body enhancement procedures, as the person tries everything they can to “fix” their perceived flaw.
With the rise of social media, these disorders are becoming more and more prevalent. Young girls are flooded with so-called “perfect” images of women that are not real. This causes them to feel like they are flawed, which leads to low self-esteem. From there, it’s a slippery slope to depression, BDD, and eating disorders. Girls are getting plastic surgery, Botox, and fillers at younger and younger ages in attempts to look “perfect”. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, there were 17.7 million surgical and minimally-invasive procedures done in 2018, which is more than a quarter million more than in 2017. Check out these numbers:
-Liposuction increased 5% from 2017
-Breast Augmentation increased 4% from 2017
-Botox procedures increased 3% from 2017
-Filler procedures increased 2% from 2017
All of these procedures focus on body re-shaping. I think it’s safe to say that the desire to look perfect goes hand in hand with the desire to surgically alter your body. This is a really interesting article about the relationship between social media and plastic surgery, and how we perceive ourselves vs. how others perceive us. It talks about how constantly looking at filtered images of ourselves and others leads to unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved through plastic surgery. In fact, if you Google “relationship between social media and plastic surgery”, TON of articles come up. Read through a few of them. Social media only shows the highlight reel – young girls scrolling through instagram might not realize that those looks were achieved through surgery.
***Side note/Disclaimer: I have absolutely no problems with plastic surgery or injections. I believe that people have the right to choose what they want to do with their bodies. However, what I DO have a problem with is people who get plastic surgery and claim that they don’t, or claim that the results from their plastic surgery (liposuction, for example) is from diet and exercise and not surgery (ahem ALL THE KARDASHIANS). All the power to you if you choose to go this route, but OWN UP TO IT!***
I don’t think there’s anything we can do to stop the crazy photo editing that happens on social media. But what we can do is talk about it and raise awareness to the fact that what you see is not necessarily the truth. Even though I know this, sometimes social media still affects my body image and my self-esteem. I’ve unfollowed so many accounts over the years who made me feel this way, and I highly recommend taking a deep dive into who you are following and do the same. If you can’t scroll through your newsfeed without saying stuff like “oh she’s so perfect….oh I was I was that skinny….oh I wish I looked like that….oh I wish my waist was that small….” then I think it’s time to start deleting. You should never follow people who make you feel inferior.
I do my best to talk about this as often as possible, and call people out when I see blatant photoshop or blatant lies. This is part of the reason why I felt the need to shed light on the crazy world of MLMs! It’s also been so helpful to follow accounts that point out celeb photoshop, like @celebface and @exposingcelebsurgery. I’d also recommend checking out Instagram vs. Reality on Reddit – warning, you can spend HOURS on here! It’s honestly my favorite way to kill time. But, it also opened my eyes to the ridiculousness happening daily on social media, and not just in the fitness world.
If you are feeling down, or depressed, or think you might have BDD or an eating disorder, please ask for help. You don’t have to live that way, and there are people out there who can help you figure it out. My DMs are always open if you need someone to talk to.
Let’s stop the crazy photo editing and bring back REAL bodies.
Resources Used and Further Reading:
**All images used in this post, except for the one of me, were taken from Reddit**