Mental Health Sexual Health

Body Image & Social Media

Last month, I completed my Level 4 qualification in Relationships and Sex Education. This was delivered by acet UK, also known as Esteem. In all honesty, though self-esteem is clearly a major mental health problem, I hadn’t given much thought to how much of an impact it has on sexual wellbeing too. With social media becoming more and more overbearing every day, it is more vital than ever to tackle this issue. Young people (and older people) are mindlessly consuming streams of ideals and “goals” online and most people do not realise the deep-rooted toll this takes on their mental wellbeing until it’s too late to reverse the damage. As someone who has struggled with body image and eating disorders, I really want to talk about this now that I feel I have the knowledge to do so (thanks, acet UK!).

Photoshop is everywhere. You may not always notice, but almost everything you see online has been edited. There is an invisible filter on everything. It’s only fair that people want to celebrate the best bits of their lives online, but we all fall into the trap of comparing those moments with our worst ones. As an example, celebrities like the Kardashians are some of the worst culprits; they reject claims that they have had plastic surgery (I mean, come on) and still photoshop each Instagram post within an inch of its life. If you want to see what I mean, check out Instagram accounts like beauty.false.

…but this is a double-edged sword. It’s so sad that anyone feels the pressure from society to look a certain way – even if they’re celebrities. They’re only human too, and showering them with hate is not the answer. But we do desperately need to denormalise this as it’s putting the message out there to very young, impressionable people that this is what bodies look like without a disclaimer that they have been edited.

It does sound like changes will be made to what is allowed in this realm of over-editing. With celebrities like Lauren Goodger heavily photoshopping a photo of her 5-year-old self at a wedding for the purpose of posting it on Instagram, it’s truly worrying that it seems it has almost become an addiction for some people – and no one is immune. A few days ago, it was announced that a bill has been drawn up that would require celebrities by law to disclose when a photo has been heavily edited. The reasoning for this is that edited photos on social media are “fuelling a mental health crisis” because it depicts a “warped view” of beauty. I really, really hope this bill is introduced.

It’s also encouraging that self-esteem and body image are focused on within Relationships and Sex Education government guidelines now, but education within a school environment can only go so far when young people are spending hours each day on social media, which is arguably even more influential.

The notion that we only see ‘highlight reels’ on social media has become louder and louder over the past couple of years. The number of accounts posting “real” photos: unedited people in unflattering positions with relatable captions are growing daily. But are people actually listening? I personally love these body positive accounts on Instagram and follow lots myself, but I think the problem goes much deeper. It doesn’t matter how many photos I see on my feed of women with belly rolls, I still find myself comparing the way I look with others and I allow that to attack my self-esteem from the inside. I freely admit this as I know how many others have the same problem. So how do we tackle the issue at its root? I’ll be talking more about boosting self-esteem in future blog posts, but I think I’ll leave it here for today. We are all subject to this self-doubt inflicted on us by society – it’s what allows big corporations to continue making money from us and we have to do all we can to break free from that cycle.

What aspects are you going to cut out of your life to free yourself from this self-comparison?

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