Have social media influencers distorted our idea of what bodies should look like?

The world of social media influencing has boomed. A career that didn’t even exist a decade ago is now unavoidable on a daily basis, whether you’re scrolling through Instagram, reading the news or keeping up with the latest trends.

There is now an influencer for every aspect of your life, whether you might need inspiration or advice: lifestyle, fashion, gym. Their specialism is broad but one thing remains strikingly similar.

The Instagram influencer ‘look’: think big lips, small nose, slim frame, tiny waist, glossy hair, clear skin. This polished look dominates the platform.

So what’s wrong with this?

It is no secret that social media has its downfalls, especially when it comes to body image.

Social media seems to be correlated with body image issues, as a review of twenty papers found that photo-based activities online were a problem when it came to negative thoughts about your body.

woman taking a selfie whilst holding a laptop.
Influencers aren’t hard to miss on social media platforms. Credit: Mateus Campos Felipe/ Unsplash.

When we see these images of influencers on social media, we seem to take it at face value.

We somehow unanimously accept that these models are flawless and start questioning: “Why isn’t my skin this clear?” “Why isn’t my stomach this flat?” “Why aren’t my teeth this white?’

It’s easy to forget what goes on behind the scenes to get one perfect image to upload to a platform.

First, we need to consider poses, obviously choosing the most flattering ones that accentuate your waist.

How long did it take to find ideal lighting? How many pictures did they have to take to get the one? How many apps did they use to edit that picture?

It doesn’t stop there. To keep up with today’s beauty standard many influencers, 95% of the most-followed people on Instagram have had some kind of plastic surgery according to celebrity makeup artist Colby Smith.

girl getting injections in her lips.
Lip fillers are a popular cosmetic procedure. Credit: Sam Moqadam/Unsplash.

This has led to a wave of non-surgical procedures, such as lip injections, fillers and veneers, dominating platforms such as Instagram.

Some packages are even named after popular influencers or celebrities, to get the look that they show off on their pages.

We are comparing ourselves to an impossible, unattainable standard that doesn’t even exist.

The effect is detrimental, especially to impressionable teenagers. The Wall Street Journal recently found that Instagram made body image issues worse for 1 in 3 girls.

A new law came into force in Norway in 2021 meaning that social media influencers can’t post images without declaring edits made to them.

It’s too soon to tell if this measure has helped to heal the damage of social media distorting body image.

However social media influencers can also have a positive effect on body image. A study found that exposing women to body-positive content on Instagram boosted satisfaction with their own bodies.

There has been a rise in body-positive influencers, showing off their authentic, unedited, natural bodies in an attempt to combat the majority of heavily edited noise on Instagram.

We shouldn’t even need influencers to reinforce that features like body hair, rolls, acne and stretch marks are normal.

This just shows how far social media influencers have distorted the idea of what bodies should look like.

Whether they like it or not, influencers are role models and they do have a responsibility to disclose information about photo editing and plastic surgery.

Especially to young impressionable audiences, who may not have a complete understanding of what bodies should look like.

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She/Her
Third-year journalism student at Kingston University
I like to write about sustainability, social issues, feminism and pop culture.

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