In March 2019, the Mental Health Foundation together with YouGov asked 4,505 UK adults and 1,118 GB teenagers how they felt about their bodies and the impact that had on their mental health. It was discovered that 68% of the teenagers surveyed felt shame towards their bodies, and over a third of the adults had previously felt anxious or depressed because of their body perception.
The main contributor to these alarming statistics is modern-day media. The media platform consistently pushes the idea of a standardised perfect and desirable body and shuns or ridicules those who fail to meet this.
The skinny standard
While the stick-thin, Kate Moss models of the 1990s may be a thing of the past, fashion companies and their chosen representatives are still one of the main culprits in the pedaling of the ‘ideal body type’.
Historically, the modeling industry has sought to churn out identical copies of identically sized girls to walk celebrated events such as Paris Fashion Week, or the Victoria’s Secret Show. These models flaunt ‘perfect figures’ in order to show off the clothes, and their curves, in their best light. And although we have begun to take steps to diversify the modeling industry, the skinny-standard remains as the sought after model type.
Role model or supermodel?
The word ‘model’ as a figure in today’s society, is associative with the typical idea of a ‘role model’, an older sister or inspiring teacher we look up to and want to be like. The fashion world supermodel, however, is an almost entirely unachievable ideal, created in Photoshop. Yet we still aspire to be like them, perhaps even more so than we aspire to be like our actual role models.
Supermodels undoubtedly dominate our culture, and, having advertised everything from perfume to Pepsi, constantly loom over us from building-sized billboards all over the world. Being faced with these images every day, and everywhere, it is unsurprising that the bodies of our cultural role models are negatively affecting the body image of those who look up to them.
‘Plus-sized’ Or ‘normal-sized’?
In recent years, many companies have taken to incorporating a ‘plus-sized range’ into their fashion catalog, and although this appears to be an attempt at inclusivity, the ‘ideal body’ remains separated from the less so, curvier woman. And as larger clothes make up the plus-sized range, larger models are referred to as ‘plus-sized models’, and often exist only to fill a diversity quota in a brand’s marketing strategy.
This concept of plus-sized and regular-sized unfairly divides women by looks and encourages the separation of larger women from the standardised size 8 present in fashion advertisements and catwalk shows. The separation of women by body type physically demonstrates the marginalisation that larger girls and women experience in day to day life. It leads to the idea that to be different, or non-standard is to be wrong, and that a separate clothing line had to be created just for your body because it failed to fit the ‘normal’ size.
And yet these brands expect gratitude for the fact that they hired plus-sized, non-standard models. We are supposed to be grateful for the effort these companies put into accommodating other sizes. Even though for some reason they could not quite bring themselves to present larger women as acceptable, and deemed it necessary to enforce a separation between the two size ranges.
Picture perfect products
Recently, brands have gravitated towards Instagram as a platform through which to market their products. Modern celebrity brand endorsement now comes in the form of an Instagram post, by an influencer promoting a product they have likely never used, from a brand they have never heard of. For fashion companies, this is a cheap and easy way to advertise their merchandise to large audiences, and for the influencers, it is a quick and easy paycheck to put in the bank.
These companies have taken the move towards influencers in order to engage with potential clients on a more familial level. The DIY advertisements of Instagram, which show real people with real lives wearing the clothes and using the products, gives a personal touch, and in turn a potentially more appealing and achievable standard of ‘perfection’.
Instagram versus reality
While influencer endorsements appear to be advertisements by ‘real people’, the reality is very different. These women are chosen by brands for their seemingly perfect lifestyles, bodies, and faces, and under the guise of an Instagram-reality, they really do appear perfect. The Instagram-reality that seems so easy and achievable, being so monumentally different from the lives of their followers, makes us feel like failures for being nothing like that.
However, Instagram is often contrived of ‘best bits’, and these influencers will pick their most flattering, best-posed photo, to post the ‘candid shot’ of themselves in their new, *gifted* lingerie set. Before posting, these women will airbrush their skin, brighten their hair, and blur their cellulite, until they have encapsulated the ‘perfect woman’ ideal once more.
A popular misconception is that social media is the problem, but it is not. The problem is the lack of transparency present in the influencer industry and the way young girls compare their lives and their bodies with another almost unachievable standard. However the danger is that this time, the perfect body has been marketed to be just like yours.
Stomach rolls and internet trolls
Instagram fitness model Anna Victoria is an archetypal ‘perfect’ influencer, yet she also uses her platform to show the behind the scenes, as well as the best bits. Victoria has been known to post photos of herself sitting down, stomach rolls on full display, with the caption “Not every angle is your best angle and that’s ok” as part of an Instagram versus reality segment.
Although posts like these aim to establish a community of women with similar, natural body types to lift each other up, there will undoubtedly always be ‘troll’ commenters. These ‘internet trolls’ are usually people who come online purely to hide behind a screen and pass judgement on women’s bodies for their own amusement.
While it is better to simply ignore the comments, that is far easier said than done. Negative comments will sit in the pit of your stomach and eat away at your self-esteem. They will bounce around your head and fill up every space until it is the only thing you can think about, and eventually, you may even begin to believe them.
Maintaining mental and physical health
Health is more than just physical fitness, and mental health is equally important in maintaining a positive sense of wellbeing. But as Instagram continues to promote these perfect standards, and people continue to view them as attainable, mental health becomes increasingly harder to keep in good health. Hurtful ‘troll’ comments, body transformation lies, and Photoshop deceit feed these body image issues, and bit by bit, they eat away at mental health and body confidence.
It is important for young women to maintain healthy habits, in diet, exercise, and most importantly, mindfulness. But this is not a process that can be rushed, it must be taken one step at a time. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to our bodies, and the sooner we begin to accept that, the sooner our minds will thank us for it.