The never-ending carousel of changing beauty standards is now more intimate and personal as we live our lives in highly curated digital environments. This can be best illustrated by an unrealistic self-presentation on Instagram: A glass ceiling of perfection that incubates women’s insecurities, fracturing mental and emotional stability. Given this, we need to address how body perception is negatively affected by body dissatisfaction due to neoliberal notions of transformation through Fitspiration posts, selfie-posting, and self-objectification on Instagram.
The neoliberal consumer schema of centering self-transformation as the only attainable means of happiness can be seen through fitspiration posts. These posts pressure women to strive for “clean living” and a strong but thin body. The “clean living/beauty” cater to an upper middle-class white audience that spurs a capitalist agenda without really understanding basic chemistry, focusing primarily on showing off luxury and aesthetics. A celebrity example of this can be seen in Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop , from the exorbitant prices to giving advice that is contrary to experts. Baker discusses that Goop promotes products on Instagram that are based on pseudoscience influencing young women’s perception of beauty, health, and mental wellness, resulting in decreased confidence and increased body dysmorphia.
Instagram’s algorithm is a powerful tool normalizing unrealistic body expectations as content is tailored to “likes and interests”. Camacho Minano delineates the pressuring of followers through a rhetoric of fitness as the pathway to change one’s appearance by investing in products, exercise, and diet regimes for outward validation and approval. Instagram fitness influencer, Jen Selter promotes fitness as the method to gain a tiny waist and a large butt to her large following. Often times such advice, however, that only considers exercise and nutrition, ultimately negates realities of difference like genetics, age and resources to invest in these fitness routines. This gendered use of technology instills early on the notion of “confidence culture” that if girls just looked their best then they would be popular and happy.
As Instagram content has become a site of information it’s logical for young women to seek validation in this digital landscape through selfie posting. Selfie posting, a visual and public act of self-documentation and is fraught with complexity as it’s both pleasurable and gratifying. Yet, Kim argues that “significant body dissatisfaction” after viewing was internalized when reviewed by the user and interacted with by followers who may have comments and negative trolling. This capitalist tactic uses body insecurity to pressure conformity through the guise of social capital which can be obtained by surgery, supplements, and diet programs. Young women are deeply invested in the comments on posts as a way to measure social value, Butkowski addresses that this drives them toward an ideal of “thinness…when accounting for the mediating role of body surveillance”. Consequently, selfie-posting relates to body image disturbance, leading to unhealthy behaviors (e.g. eating disorder) to achieve a flawed ideal of femininity.
The fitness and health industry must be held accountable for the destructive messages telling young women they are fundamentally flawed. In this way, Instagram influencers become complicit and complacent in the cycle of neoliberal capitalist structure as they are the messengers. Consideration by these industries might reveal that an environment that is body positive rather than body negative doesn’t actually undermine their capitalist agendas; instead this is a dirty band-aid that keeps health and beauty standards in the hands of corporations. Institutionally, teaching balanced information on body image and health practices throughout a child’s K-12 experience, as a foundation for positive body perception. Individually, we must remember to consume digital content critically and question if the content and ideas being presented serve your well-being or is just another plus on in your shopping cart.
Hannah Hanson, UC Berkeley Undergrad