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| by Menna Awad

Fustany Talks: The Spread of Social Media and the Worsening of Body Image

Once upon a time, I thought I looked normal. Then I went online and things changed.

I was an active kid. I enjoyed running around and wearing whatever I wanted no matter what anybody thought. I liked myself and saw no other way of being. What’s so wrong with being me?

“Everything,” said the internet.

The world wide web was once a way to connect people, share knowledge and have all the information you could possibly need at your fingertips. It was revolutionary and it changed the world forever. Then came Google, then Google Images, then Hi5 and Myspace, AOL and MSN, Hotmail and Yahoo, Facebook and Snapchat, and Instagram.

As a child, I would spend hours just cruising the internet, consuming anything I could find. Why wouldn’t I when suddenly I had access to everything that was, until then, so foreign to me? I read about animals, cultures, music, and everything else I could think of that teased my curiosity, even just a little.

Curiosity kills the cat in this story, because what I didn’t realize at the time was the sheer amount of subliminal messages I was unknowingly receiving from ads, images, and websites that were telling me, “Why look like you when you can look like her?” Her, of course, being a beautiful fair-skinned woman with the waist of a pin-up model and the breasts of a movie star. Once that seed of doubt was firmly planted in my mind, I changed.

It didn’t help at all that I looked nothing like those perfect women. I was chubby. My hair was always in a short ponytail. I was loud. I was a tomboy and I was a troublemaker. I didn’t have fair skin. I didn’t understand makeup. I thought thongs were torn apart underwear. I was just a kid! But I had become a self-loathing kid.

Fast forward a few years full of self-doubt, puberty, and bullying. My lack of self confidence was still very present, but just beneath the surface that people can’t really tell. Now, in comes a new internet, rebranded and with a new purpose, brandishing a dangerous weapon that’s called social media.

Social media was created because people wanted to be heard. We grew up hearing our parents telling us we’re special, then we got older and realized that we’re not really special at all. The world doesn’t care what you think, so why should anyone listen to you? Social media was the solution to that. But as all good things must come to an end, social media now is like the reminder that you don’t need. It doesn’t even matter what the reminder is, it just doesn’t go away. One particular platform, clingy as an insecure ex, plays the lead role in this drama movie I didn’t even buy a ticket to. Ever heard of Instagram?

Instagram is like the fickle friend that you love, but good god, you just can’t stand her either. She’s nice and supportive, but she’ll whisper nothingness into your ear at night until you believe every word. She’ll update you with news and exciting ideas, but she’ll quickly remind you that those exciting ideas aren’t yours. She’ll tell you you’re pretty, but you could always look that much prettier. 

Thankfully, I’ve grown into a woman who, despite her still-prevalent body image issues, can tell whether she’s being addressed genuinely or not. I know that different circumstances sometimes mean different lifestyles, and different lifestyles sometimes mean different privileges. These are just facts. But I’m only human after all, and being an ex-kid who grew up with Photoshop and airbrushing, knowing these facts helps me, sometimes, only a little. I still have thoughts like, “Why can’t I just look like her?” Or worse, “Maybe I’d be more loved if I look like her.” I know it’s not true. I know there’s nothing wrong with me. Still, why can’t I just look like her?

Again, I’m an adult. I’m aware and I know better. But what about people that don’t know better, especially kids? I’m grateful that social media wasn’t a thing in my world growing up. I can’t imagine all these “you’re not good enough, do better” messages being able to reach me at all times. I can’t imagine being an unsuspecting young teen following my favorite musician and idol on Instagram, only to find them telling me that maybe I should drink this tea that won’t make me eat as much.

There was always an argument that social media platforms, especially Instagram, can do better to protect their users, who are essentially giving them free content, from tireless messages of self-doubt and hatred. There had to be a way where everyone, especially the little ones, can enjoy their time on a photo sharing application without being told they’re not good enough.

Then there was a way...

You must have heard by now that Instagram is taking big steps in preventing weight loss products and cosmetic surgery from being promoted on its platform, specifically, towards those under the age of 18. The new policy also says that content that includes "miraculous" claims about certain diet or weight loss products, and is linked to offers like discount codes, will no longer be allowed on the platform.

This comes after actress and public figure Jameela Jamil, who is outspoken about body image and diet culture, publicly continued to speak up about unhealthy weight loss methods and the celebrities that promote them, including the Kardashians, Amber Rose, and even Cardi B.

"It sets the tone that this is not ok in our society. We have hyper-normalized flogging nonsense to young impressionable people. These people are selling hair growth gummies, but wearing extensions or photoshopping themselves to look slimmer and selling a weight loss shake. There are so many lies being told and we've accepted that as a cultural norm."

But it’s not the norm. It never was, and it never will be. Diet culture and the promotion of self-loathing is designed to empty your wallet, and it cannot be squashed unless we, the targets, stop feeding it.

"You have the power; we've become used to thinking we have to follow these people who lie to us, don't care about us or our physical or mental health, they just want our money,” Jameela said.

And she’s right...

We have the power because these platforms rely on its users to thrive and succeed in business. We have the power because we can control who we choose to follow and listen to. I’m not about to start paying attention to those who tell me I need to change or that I’m unworthy because I don’t measure up to their perceived beauty standards.

There’s nothing wrong with me.


Don't miss out on reading our last article from our #FustanyTalks series. Tomorrow we're talking about body shaming and the celebrity incident that inspired our editor to write this...


Main Image Credits: Instagram @dulgrsh

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Tags: Social media  Body image  Instagram  Fustany talks  Beauty  Health  Self-love  Women empowerment  Mental health