By Britney Coulson
Body image. Two words that hold so much controversy.
Is the current body image revolution on social media actually helping women with body image, or is it masking the fact that we still don’t truly know how to love our bodies?
Dr Jake Linardon defines body image as a “multifaceted concept” which includes how we perceive our own bodies, our attitudes on how we evaluate our bodies, and how we act towards our bodies.
Social media has had an enormous impact on women’s body image, however up until recently studies have shown that it has been more detrimental than helpful. The current social media body image revolution features campaigns and a tsunami of self-love from women with various body shapes and sizes.
We are living in a time where loving our imperfect bodies is encouraged, but do we actually feel able to love ourselves? We have been given the green light, but do we just sit stationary behind the wheel?
The founder and director of The School of Body Confidence®, Dr Katherine Iscoe has experienced firsthand the struggles of body image. She holds a Doctorate in Exercise Physiology and Biotechnology, and a Post-graduate Certificate in Counselling which she completed here at our very own Murdoch University!
Her view on social media’s affect on body image for women is that issues arise through “idealisation and comparison”. She states that “idealisation is when a photograph presents an unrealistic idea of how one should look”, which can be achieved through a simple action such as “careful positioning of legs” or through “digital manipulation”.
As Theodore Roosevelt once proposed, “comparison is the thief of joy”. Dr Katherine Iscoe emphasises the effect of comparing ourselves to others on social media, in which we “magnify people’s good qualities and minimise our own”.
I asked several women that attend our university about how they feel in regards to the online presence of real, unedited bodies with imperfections. They responded enthusiastically, saying it sparks feelings of “empowerment” and that the choice to not edit any imperfections such as stretch marks, reveals “little stories on a person’s body”. Despite the commotion currently around celebrities rejecting the notion that they should have perfect images; it encourages women to think that imperfections just aren’t “that big of a deal”.
Could this body acceptance revolution have adverse repercussions on women when they see people loving their body and realising that they, in fact, do not?
Dr Katherine Iscoe describes the notion of body acceptance as a “dimmer light-switch”, in the sense that we do not go from hating ourselves to loving ourselves in an instant however some days are brighter, others dimmer. In her experience, confidence and happiness come down to a “choice” and YOU can choose how you feel rather than “complain and blame the things around you”.
Social media has become our pet, it barks for attention and we feed it with posts each day.
Could the culture of social media, in which things are posted to get reactions and validations on who we are, and how we appear, stunt the growth of positive body image?
The response of several students to a question I asked about how body image is currently represented on social media was largely positive, however pessimism still lurks in the shadows. One student said that the representation of body image is “slowly improving” by diversifying “women of different body types” however social media “still lacks variety”. Another student exclaimed that there is a “new wave of positive body image campaigns” however there is “still a long way to go”.
Dr Katherine Iscoe agrees that the culture of social media, where people seek reactions and validation, does stunt the growth of body positivity. Despite this, she doesn’t view social media culture as detrimental. She states that “denying that it feels good to be liked/ loved is taking away something that makes humans social beings”. She compares posting a picture on social media to an “opera singer” giving a performance, in which it is like people are “clapping” for us.
Like in all situations, there is a line. A point where something crosses from acceptable to problematic. This goes for social media. Dr Katherine Iscoe emphasises that it can become problematic “if we start depending on those likes” because “we essentially put all of our egotistical eggs in one basket” and if we are not satisfied with the amount of likes “our ego is deflated quicker than a balloon in a room of spikes”.
We live in a society that profits from self-hatred. Products for our bodily ‘imperfections’ are plastered on every advertisement. Positive body image is being infiltrated on social media however it is hard to expect people to love their bodies when, for so long, we have been told that the unique aspects we have need ‘fixing’. At the end of the day, we each have a choice. we can decide how we view our appearance when we look in the mirror. We can choose how we react to what others post online and if we let comparison steal our joy. The choice is ours.