Pop Culture and Instagram: The Deadly Duo?

By Akshara Karthik (’22)

In the past 20 years, the face of communication has changed drastically thanks to one thing: Social Media. 

Across the globe, there are over 3.80 billion social media users as of January 2020. With the touch of a button people are instantly given insight into the lives of other people all around the world. More than a deeper connection with our friends and family, social media also gives us the ability to interact with content creators. But have we ever thought how these seemingly simple platforms can have a dangerous impact on our lives? 

One of the most influential and popular social media platforms, Instagram, has become a breeding ground for new content creators and for celebrities to grow their fan following. While this can be good for celebrities, the effect of social media on ordinary people can be dire. On Instagram especially, the amount of misinformation and product endorsement spread is unparalleled. In fact, product endorsements have even led to the demise of creators. Let’s not forget how the endorsement of Instagram-famous Sugar Bear Hair gummies led to the drama between beauty Youtubers Tati Westbrook and James Charles. 

Furthermore, it is evident that product endorsements can heavily affect ordinary people and their perception of body image.  Jameela Jamil, an outspoken activist and actress most notably known for her role in NBC’s The Good Place, often speaks out about the harm celebrities do by endorsing products that do the opposite of what they vouch for. For example, in 2019 Jamil took to her Instagram Stories to express disappointment in celebrities, including the Kardashians, for, as The Washington Post aptly put it, “promoting questionable appetite suppressants, meal replacements and the like on social media” for more money.  Jamil explained in an episode of Ways to Change the World podcast, “You’re selling us self-consciousness. The same poison that made you clearly develop some sort of body dysmorphic or facial dysmorphic, you are now pouring back into the world.” Bluntly put, Jamil is right. Hundreds, if not thousands of people, have bought these celebrity endorsed products, without thinking twice about what may be in them.

Like two peas in a pod, however,  weight-loss product endorsements come with a whopping side of differing views on body image.  Nowadays, you can rarely find an Instagram post that has not been doctored to make someone’s face look smoother or body look slimmer.  On Instagram, especially, the use of Photoshop and other “enhancing” apps has become increasingly normalized, which has jeopardized the idea of body positivity and cultivated a toxic online community.  According to a poll done by IPSOS.com, 86% of women, age 18to34, and 58% of men under the age of 55, are dissatisfied with how their bodies look. And it is safe to say that much of this discontent can be owed to social media platforms. Everyday, millions of teenagers and young adults are exposed to edited photos that seemingly display perfect celebrity bodies. Continuous exposure to Instagram models and other celebrities’ edited photos have distorted society’s idea of the naturally attainable body.

 In fact, this idea of the “perfect” body has become so prevalent on Instagram that people openly comment on others’ bodies. This past year, revered Black Panther star, Chadwick Boseman, passed away after a private battle with stage four colon cancer, which he was diagnosed with back in 2016. Sadly, Boseman not only had to fight cancer, but also Instagram users who commented on his weight loss. Though he never publicly spoke out about it, Boseman dramatically lost weight during 2018 and 2019. Many fans and Instagram trolls alike commented under his photos, with nasty remarks regarding his weight loss. One picture in particular gave rise to over a million comments, and according to Insider, “some fans reacted with concern, wondering if he might be sick, [while] others mocked and shamed the actor, implying that he must be using drugs.” This toxic behavior led Boseman to delete multiple of his posts and reduce the amount of posts he made, in order to escape ignorant comments. Kelly Coffey, a personal trainer and health coach explained, “The fact that Boseman had been criticized for his weight loss speaks to how superficially most people view others when their sole basis for judgment is the images they see online..It’s up to us to remember that what we see doesn’t represent anything close to the whole story. It’s on us to practice being respectful of and compassionate toward all people and all bodies, always.” 

We all know that social media can be an  amazing tool for connecting with the rest of the world. However, social media should not be a source of negativity and misinformation, but a source of positivity and truth. Social media shouldn’t promote unhealthy dieting and faulty weight-loss products, but foster a healthy environment that encourages people to eat what they want and love their bodies.  

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