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“Why am I not her?" – The Toxic Culture of Instagram

By: Khushi Karnawatt, Associate Editor

@khushikarnawatt


Illustration by Tsjisse Talsma


I am fourteen. I am making a choice between connecting to social media or staying connected to myself. Despite what comes ahead, I will learn to be kinder to myself and allow myself to make mistakes and heal from them.


I am sixteen. I am trying to find myself. But if I don’t exist online, do I exist at all?

Author Simon Sinek posits that “Engagement with social media releases a chemical called dopamine, that’s why when you get a text it feels good right…feeling a bit lonely and so you send out 10 texts…because it feels good when you get a response” (Sinek, 2016). It is important to note that Dopamine is the same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, drink or gamble. In other words, it’s highly addictive and distorting: Instagram presents a similar distorted version of an “ideally happy” life. This pressurises the mental capacity to adopt unrealistic standards and harms women’s mental health.


I am eighteen. I am learning to love myself. But as I scroll down my Instagram, I wonder “why don’t I look like her?”

Social media plays a crucial role in moulding the lives of young women as it continues to negatively affect their perceptions of “how they need to look.” It exposes women to specific beauty standards and propels them to follow fallacious ideologies of perfect womanism. A report by the Royal Society of Public health (Keracher, 2017) suggests that Instagram imposes a detrimental imperative mostly on its female users, who are more likely to compare themselves against unrealistic, mostly curated, filtered, and airbrushed versions of reality. This also contributes to “body dysmorphic disorders (BDD)” and eating disorders in females as they live in a society where their bodies define them, and they are too distressed about being labelled against their sizes and skin. Highlighted in another survey study of 303 adolescent girls in Singapore (Jiang & Ngien, 2020), objectifying standards of beauty may permeate our value systems through frequent comparisons on social media. Similar to the previous findings, this study also indicated that Instagram usage was directly associated with greater self-objectification, body image concerns, and appearance comparisons to women in fitspiration images. Young women are also exposed to more damaging comments on Instagram in comparison to men (Jiang & Ngien, 2020). The comments are often more threatening, sexual, and derogatory that widely affect women’s mental health.


My Daily Dilemma


I am twenty-one. I am striving to understand myself more and accept myself for who I am. This morning, I spent thirty minutes on Instagram. A fellow influencer featured high-end products that I had never heard about. Another woman was killing it on TikTok, making hilarious lip-sync videos. A meditation counsellor and a leading author were on their fourteenth day of Instagram lives. At the end of those thirty minutes, I did not feel inspired. I felt worse about myself and my standing in the world. My thoughts in three words: I AM NOTHING. Why did I feel that? Instagram might provide us with meaningful content and solace, but it is still fundamentally designed to hook and control us.



Given in the larger society and culture, it’s not surprising that many of the girls attach their self-worth to external markers of approval- grades, money, accolades- and then how well they perform in their careers, households, and social circles. Women are raised to compare and work harder to attain society’s idea of perfection. Similarly, on Instagram, the culture of hierarchy, achievement, and perfection continues to run wild through the number of likes, comments, and followers. It might also be responsible for the “Quarter-life crisis”- a period of anxiety, discontent, and uncertainty borne from the perception that your career, relationships and quality of life are not meaningful, generally experienced in the early twenties. According to a longitudinal study of 5208 subjects, frequent use of social media harmed individuals’ wellbeing (Shakya & Christakis, 2017). But why are young women’s rates of anxiety and depression rising at a higher rate than males? The Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey and Mission Australia Youth Survey suggest that women (aged 16-24) are two to three times as likely to suffer from psychological distress and disorders as men of the same age due to social media consumption (Hartas, 2019). This is a result of social media ‘influencers’ who may be perpetuating the stereotypical societal standards and pressures women face. Constant comparisons to other females who are considered more desirable and seem to “have it all” can lead to problems with self-esteem of young women (Doria, 2020).



So, do we have ourselves to blame for our lower self-esteem? Absolutely not! We might be susceptible to social media culture or even adding to it to some extent. But we are learning to take it one day at a time and not to regret but grow together. We are cheering for women around us and empowering one another.


Perhaps, that's what Women Unbounded is all about – to learn, accept, and empower.



References:


Doria, A., (2020). The Effects of Social Media on Body Image and Mental Health - Life Sciences Journal. Life Sciences Journal. Retrieved 11 September 2020, from http://lifesciencesjournal.org/2020/02/the-effects-of-social-media-on-body-image-and-mental-health/.


Fardouly, J., Willburger, B., & Vartanian, L. (2017). Instagram use and young women’s body image concerns and self-objectification: Testing mediational pathways. New Media & Society, 20(4), 1380-1395. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444817694499


Fardouly, J., Willburger, B., & Vartanian, L. (2017). Instagram use and young women’s body image concerns and self-objectification: Testing mediational pathways. New Media & Society, 20(4), 1380-1395. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444817694499


Hartas, D. (2019). The social context of adolescent mental health and wellbeing: parents, friends and social media. Research Papers In Education, (37), 1-19. https://doi.org/10.1080/02671522.2019.1697734


Jiang, S., & Ngien, A. (2020). The Effects of Instagram Use, Social Comparison, and Self-Esteem on Social Anxiety: A Survey Study in Singapore. Social Media + Society, 6(2), 205630512091248. https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305120912488


Keracher, M. (2017). #StatusofMind. Rsph.org.uk. Retrieved 11 September 2020, from https://www.rsph.org.uk/our-work/campaigns/status-of-mind.html.


M. Klein, K. (2013). Why Don't I Look Like Her? The Impact of Social Media on Female Body Image (Undergraduate). Claremont McKenna College.


Shakya, H., & Christakis, N. (2017). Association of Facebook Use With Compromised Well-Being: A Longitudinal Study. American Journal Of Epidemiology. https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kww189


Sinek, S. (2016). Simon Sinek on Millennials in the Workplace [Video]. Retrieved 11 September 2020, from https://youtu.be/hER0Qp6QJNU.


Tiggemann, M., & Slater, A. (2013). NetGirls: The Internet, Facebook, and body image concern in adolescent girls. International Journal Of Eating Disorders, 46(6), 630-633. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.22141




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Women Unbounded was founded in 2020 as a means for young Singaporean ladies to empower women in the country. WU is proudly feminist; our approach to feminist activism is grounded in our beliefs in fairness, respect, and empiricism, and our commitment to intersectional feminism.

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