It’s hard to escape the world of social media and the impact it is having on body image standards. If we thought the pressure from the fashion or advertising industries was too much, it has only been amplified with the digital age. There is a whole generation of young men and women who have grown up under the influence of social and digital media, meaning that the evolution of body image standards seen on apps such as Instagram or Snapchat have always been “normal” to them.
With so many ongoing discussions around the use of photoshop by major brands in their advertising campaigns, it is important to focus on the way this has influenced every day social media usage trends. A couple of university students in the UK wanted to focus on this in a visual campaign they created called “Un-Edit”, which seems to be an unofficial commentary of sorts on some of the viral beauty trends we’ve seen including thigh gaps, the Kylie Jenner lip challenge, thinspiration, slut-shaming and waist trainers.
Jade Johnson and Laura Dawkes, both students at Birmingham City University, created the series of images published on Issuu.com. Along with the social media impact on young women, the duo include commentary about plastic surgery and dieting which have found a new breeding ground in the social media landscape.
The idea for the project came about when 22 year old Jade felt the pressure of social media just like most people her age.
“I built my personal profile around this, even though deep down it made me feel terrible as I was no longer being who I wanted to, but what social media wanted me to be,” Jade told Mashable in an interview about the Un-Edit campaign.
Reporter Rachel Thompson pointed out her interview with Jade current research showing how negative body image perception has increased with the presence of social media. One study showed that excessive use of Facebook causes women to dislike their bodies and can foster feelings of loneliness. And another British study showed how an uptick in plastic surgeries has been attributed to the constant presence of edited images on a number of platforms. With this wall of pressure seemingly getting bigger, Jade wanted to create something that broke through the noise and offered a voice of reason and hope to other young social media users like her and Laura.
“The campaign was built to show women we do not need to give into the pressures of social media and we should be proud of who we are rather than letting it bring us down. We wanted Un-Edit to build us back up and give women that confidence to believe they are beautiful,” she said.
In one of the images in the online zine, there is a message of encouragement to others who feel sucked into the social media vortex. It is a reminder that what we see in the virtual world does not necessarily reflect reality. Especially on platforms, like Instagram, which has become notorious for discriminating against certain body types, the clarity of knowing the amount of “likes” or “follows” does not determine a person’s worth cannot be stated enough.
“We stand together, bearing all. These might be our profiles, but they don’t make us WHO we are. We are women and we are strong, and we stand together against the pressure of ‘perfection’ demands,” it says.
We’ve seen a number of women speaking out against the way harmful body ideals are perpetuated on digital platforms, whether it be challenging beauty standards or breaking down the social media “fame” trends. And of course there are women who are using social media as a vehicle to promote healthy ideals and demolish stigma around body image and identity.
Closer to home here in the US, another university-driven project is challenging similar body image ideals to what Jade and Laura are pointing to in their Un-Edit campaign. Danielle de Bruin is a UCLA third-year sociology student who was part of a photography series titled “The Beauty in You” launched by the Body Image Task Force.
Daniella told The Daily Bruin that the series was a space for students to define beauty on their own terms and discuss some of the ramifications they have felt, especially living in a city like Los Angeles where there is amplified pressure on body image as it is the home of the Hollywood movie industry. And showing just how powerful social media is across the world, they also wanted to spark a conversation around the effect of these platforms.
“One of the reasons I think body image can be even a bigger issue on college campus is media. UCLA has inherently a competitive culture. We might think that academically because we are a top-tier university and people here are inherently super smart. But we compare ourselves to each other in all other ways, and a lot of it is by looks, levels of fitness, because we do live in LA, and there’s such a health-conscious culture in LA and on this campus,” Daniella said.
“I find myself comparing myself to other people on this campus. I think social media exacerbates that because the reason that social media exists is to share things about yourself … and it’s hard not to think about yourself in relationship to others,” she continued.
Social media in and of itself is not an evil thing, it’s only when it gets co-opted by harmful messages that have already existed for so long that it can become a breeding ground for negativity. There are parts of both the Un-Edit campaign as well as ‘The Beauty In You’ UCLA series we can all identify with. Our inherent worth and beauty does not come from the way we are portrayed on social media, nor does it come from the amount of likes or followers we can gain. It is tempting to feel a bit of FOMO when we compare ourselves to others, but thanks to powerful campaigns like these, we can be reminded of reality.
We don’t have to forego social media altogether, but we an actively choose to ignore the harmful trends and pressures that come at us every day.