I remember being a sophomore in high school and my first post to Instagram a selfie wishing myself a happy 16th birthday. Not many people I knew had the app at that point, and my list of friends consisted of a small amount of people I actually knew personally.
Now, in 2017, Instagram has exploded with over 600 million users and over 500,000 advertisers that brought in an estimated $730 million in advertisements alone in 2015. Way more than just birthday selfies of teenagers, it’s become a way majority of smart phone users spend a portion of their days: elevator rides, lunch breaks, walking, any chunk of our day that we can occupy with mindless activity. So mindless we may or may not be cognizant of the impact the photo sharing app has had on our views of others and ourselves.
Instagram isn’t the only app that has carved a niche in our daily routines, SnapChat beat Facebook for the number one social media app in 2016. Instagram came in fourth place in downloads, but that by no means signifies a decline in business for the app or its far reaching effects on pop culture.
This past week, I found myself in my typical mindless scrolling when I was halted by a post made by an old middle school friend: her body dimensions had been completely altered, evident by a wall appearing more like a funhouse. Her waist had been cinched and hips dramatically expanded. The photo received over 200 likes and praise from followers on her beauty and frame. A photo from the same night without the body edits gained only half the likes of the edited image.
Whereas edited images of “perfect bodies” once were limited to magazine covers and photoshoots, these apps are now at our disposal. When searching through the Apple Store, typing in “body editor” yields apps that curvify, clarify, “thinify” and more. On an app such as Instagram that rakes in over 1.6 trillion likes per day amongst celebrities and everyday folks simultaneously, the lines between illusory and authentic blur more than ever. While initially a joke, Instagram modeling has transformed into a full-fledged stepping stone into the modeling/entertainment industry. The likes are up for grabs and may or may not lead to a big break, but don’t worry likes and followers can even be purchased through other apps.
As a result, our frequent engagement with Instagram influences our own ideas of body image more than we may realize, actualizing in the form of a body editing app or something as subtle as longing for a body other than your own.
Last year, TIME Magazine referred to social media as a “toxic mirror”, citing research that linked social media use to body image concerns, dieting, body surveillance and a drive for thinness. Initially harmless admiration such as “body goals” or “fitspiration” quickly become toxic comparison and invalidation. Careers, products and the aforementioned apps are built on the insecurities of women through the viral promotion of waist trainers and detox teas that promise hour glass physiques and flat tummies.
Today, women don’t even have to pick up a magazine to be told how our bodies should be. It’s perpetuated by both the elite and everyday users, in ads disguised as posts and even mimicked by people we know in hopes of achieving likeness to the beauty standard an app has established. Even in a space that gives access to autonomy of our own images and the images we choose to see (to a certain extent), we’re still vulnerable to the “toxic mirror” that magazines, commercials and other components of the entertainment industry once dominated.