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How Young Women Suffer Chasing An Instagram Beauty Ideal

Young women are bombarded with Instagram images that can define beauty and how they see themselves. While empowering for some, it can cause many to suffer.

Constant exposure to curated, glamorous images on Instagram can damage a young woman's self-esteem and mental health.(Dipesh Gurav/Unsplash)

By Ritika Pahwa, Priyanka Tiwari and Anika Magan, Manav Rachna International Institute of Research and Studies

FARIDABAD, Oct 6 – Madhvi, 21, follows about 575 profiles on Instagram. She has a mental image of how she wants to look but lacks confidence about her appearance — she’s short, and has facial hair, and pimples — in public and on social media.

She follows more than 50 microcelebrities — what many people call influencers — for new beauty trends and compares herself to others on Instagram and Snapchat.

She often feels depressed when she sees fit, good-looking, and clear-skinned girls wearing fashionable outfits in their online posts.

Madhvi is not her real name, but for the Indian beauty industry, she is a typical consumer relying heavily on the advice of microcelebrities for product reviews and recommendations.

Instagram, an image first, text second platform with more than one billion monthly active users, has emerged as the space where such influencers have gained popularity.

Microcelebrity refers to the practice of self-presentation and self-branding in the virtual world, which involves being recognised as public personalities, creating relationships with followers, particularly young women, and influencing their decisions and attitudes.

They shape acceptable standards of beauty and affect buying decisions and even their followers’ self-perceptions and self-worth.

Studies have shown individuals tend to make social comparisons with others they see as having similar abilities.

According to Hootsuite, 70.1 per cent of Instagram users are under 35. Instagram’s younger audiences are heavily influenced by the flamboyant, fashion-forward lifestyles endorsed by microcelebrities.

Microcelebrities connect with their followers through content and life stories and provide recommendations about products, services and brands.

Those with mass followers are often approached by brands and paid to endorse them, capturing consumers from within their followers and influencing their perceptions.

It’s how they contribute to cultivating ideas, trends and stereotypes on appearance and fashion.

Followers, especially young women, often look up to such influencers as relatable celebrities they can imitate and use for advice.

Their ‘authenticity’ makes them an effective communication intermediary for organisations to sell their products and services.

Microcelebrities are often considered to be informed, connected, and experienced and have had a significant influence on norms of beauty, culture and individual self-worth.

Their most direct influence is the redefinition of beauty standards. They challenge conventional beauty norms by showcasing varied body types, skin complexions and aesthetics.

Some segments of the beauty industry have propagated rigid and narrow ideas of beauty but a smaller segment of microcelebrities pushes ideals that broaden the definition of beauty and promote inclusivity, encouraging people to embrace their unique features.

Another important area of influence is the increased use of filters and Photoshop culture. While some microcelebrities promote authenticity, others rely heavily on filters and photo editing tools to present an ‘ideal’ image.

Such heavy use of filters distorts perceptions of beauty, making it challenging for people to differentiate between reality and edited representations.

Microcelebrities’ brand collaborations can make their followers equate happiness and self-worth with material possessions. That potentially leads to feelings of inadequacy for those who cannot afford those products.

Constant exposure to curated, glamorous images on Instagram can damage an individual’s self-esteem and mental health. Constant comparisons with these microcelebrities can lead to feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.

However, some influencers can empower individuals to express themselves authentically. They often use their platforms to discuss body positivity, self-acceptance, and mental health issues.

Across many interviews similar to Madhvi’s, girls reported feelings of comparison and inadequacy when seeing content promoted by microcelebrities.

More recently, Madhvi has realised the effort that goes into making microcelebrities look so glamorous and that they don’t look so perfect in real life. She has also hinted that she needs to improve her own health.

Most women in the ongoing study have reported feeling more comfortable in their own skin as they get older. They also realise that a lot of social media content has been manipulated to look so picture-perfect.

However, the toll that such social influence takes on the mental health of young people is still high.

A constant sense of self-inadequacy and inferiority often engulfs some if they cannot represent themselves in ways admired and promoted on social media.

Despite a lot of users identifying the often-unreal portrayals seen on social media, there is still internal pressure to best represent themselves.

It means users need to be aware of what’s really being promoted when they browse Instagram. Any person given microcelebrity status should be verified by the app so followers are told exactly what is being promoted and why.

Making it ‘normal’ to seek help when it is needed is also important. Making mental health assistance accessible would help ensure that an individual’s self-worth is not undermined by exposure to social influence.

Ritika Pahwa is a PhD scholar in the Department of Applied Psychology at Manav Rachna International Institute of Research and Studies in Faridabad, India.

Priyanka Tiwari is a professor and Head of Applied Psychology at Manav Rachna International Institute of Research and Studies in Faridabad, India.

Anika Magan is an assistant professor in the Department of Applied Psychology at Manav Rachna International Institute of Research and Studies in Faridabad, India.

Article courtesy of 360info. 

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