There’s this little ritual I have before posting a photo to Instagram.
First, I look to make sure my stomach isn’t poking out. Then, I make sure my skin looks clear. And lastly, I make sure I’ve hit the right balance of being at the right angle while looking natural. Then, I adjust the brightness, contrast, saturation, and maybe slap a filter on.
If this seems excessive — it is. But, according to studies, I’m not alone. And it starts young.
More than 80 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat, and by middle school, 40 to 70 percent of girls are dissatisfied with two or more parts of their bodies, according to a study from the Park Nicollet Melrose Center.
By the time the average woman is in her 20s, she’s spent over a decade being unhappy with her body. When you add social media into the mix, it creates a nonstop comparison with celebrities and influencers who often post heavily edited photos to social media. In August, a member of Britain’s Parliament proposed a bill that would mandate social media users label images that have been digitally altered to change how they look.
He claimed that the use of edited photos on social media is “fueling a mental health crisis” and creating a “warped view” of beauty.
Emily Grossjung, a 25-year-old social media producer, said it’s caused her to stop posting much to her personal Instagram.
“I’m always so concerned with how I look in photos compared to others, or celebrities and influencers,” she said. “It’s hard to remember that those people have professional photographers, lighting and edited photos.”
Seeing a photo of a movie star in a magazine that’s clearly been altered is one thing, but seeing a casual selfie of Kylie Jenner can be more difficult to understand, especially for younger girls.
“When I read magazines and see those images, I don’t compare myself to those photos, because I know the images are edited. I just sit back and appreciate the artistic value,” said Jen Flanagan, a 26-year-old public relations and marketing specialist in Boston. “The same is not true for me with Instagram. … Looking at the image, your default thought sometimes might assume the image wasn’t edited. … So then you start feeling insecure about it.”
As far-fetched as the British bill might seem, it isn’t out of the question. A similar law already exists in France. Since 2017, commercial photos of models made to look different by digital editing must be labeled “photo retouched.”
“Exposing young people to normative and unrealistic images of bodies leads to a sense of self-depreciation and poor self-esteem that can impact health-related behavior,” France’s then-health minister, Marisol Touraine, told the BBC at the time.
Skeptics of the British proposal note how difficult it would it be to enforce and regulate. Does a filter count? What about lighting?
English actress and activist Jameela Jamil, however, says something has to done.
“I have been saying for years how vital I think this is,” she said. “[Young girls] are competing with standards that are computer-generated. ... No human can match a digitally perfected image.”
When I’m finally done with my Instagram ritual, I nervously wait for that first like. Then I keep an eye on my account as my followers confirm that I’m interesting, attractive, witty or whatever else I’m trying to project to the world. I might feel a rush of excitement when I see that I hit 100 likes. But that only lasts until I scroll through my feed and see a picture of one of my favorite celebrities looking toned, fit and perfect on the beach. The likes are over 1 million. “Will I ever look that good?” I wonder.
Forcing the hand of celebrities to label their edited photos won’t cure people’s low self-esteem or eliminate body dysmorphia.
It won’t solve society’s mental health crisis.
But maybe, if a woman sees that a perfect celebrity photo on her feed is marked as edited, she’ll just keep scrolling.