Body Image and the Definition of “Healthy “ in Mainstream Media

Through the accessibility of the world of social media, the internet has completely transformed the definition and how we talk about body image. In the past few years, studies have shown that more and more women are saying that they feel beautiful. Yet at the same time, the vast majority of women say they feel pressure to be beautiful. With camera lenses capturing our conversation of what is “healthy”, “thin” and “fat”, as we address our concerns of what is a beautiful body, mainstream media is slowly distorting the definition of a “healthy” body.

Psychologists have found robust cross-cultural evidence linking social media use to body image concerns, that there is a strong association between how social media is driving that rise of thinness and relabeling it as “healthy”. With more and more people scrolling endlessly through appearance-related content, from influencers, fitness and beauty instructors or models, it has an effect on how we see our bodies. Because social media is filled with people trying to present their best self, making it difficult to avoid images and messages that might make you feel negatively about yourself. 

Social media promotes 'warped' body image, says Hinds | Tes

Visual platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat provide tools that encourage teens to earn approval for their appearance and compare themselves to others. From giving likes to scrolling comments, this makes the ones who spend most of their time posting, commenting on and comparing themselves to photos the most vulnerable users, as exposure to images of “idealized” body types, causes one to compare themselves to them. One study found that female college students who spend more time on Facebook were more likely to link their self-worth to their looks. This is due to the unrealistic ideals that are normalized on social media, creating distress if people fail to meet those standards.

Now, with an array of free applications, people now have the power to alter their bodies in pictures, which contributes to negative body image. Yes, the Internet has greatly democratized the way people talk about their bodies. Yet, it has also exposed people to a distorted fantasy world, using Photoshop and filters to edit their photos to present themselves in their best light. 

The rise of the “wellness” industry has created a new wave of how influencers, fitness and beauty instructors and models embrace diet and exercise. The dive for “detoxing”, “healthy” and “clean” eating covers up the increasing concerns of disordered eating. This trend of “fitspiration” is signaling a pro-anorexia or “thinspiration” trend, with recent studies showing the strong language to induce guilt of body image, promoting disordered images of “healthy”.

Fitness and Social Media: A Match Made in Heaven or Hell? | HuffPost Life

Yet, this fear of fat is much rooted in our history, nowadays, there’s just a better label – “healthy” to disguise the unrealistic standard of being thin. Going back to the Renaissance Era, the contemporary ideal of slenderness has a racist origin. As Eurpeans began trading, they found numerous ways to distinguish themselves from enslaved Black people,  one was their idea of the “ideal” body type. Leading the wave of fat phobia, to sustain white superiority over Black women, by discriminatin Black bodies.

This raises questions on how we should be talking about body image, for the democratization of how we talk about it has already shifted from models and the entertainment industry to the hands of us the people. It’s no doubt that a healthy body is what we all strive to achieve, yet there is a need for clear data and better language as we deliver these conversations, for loving ourselves is not simply what is presented in mainstream media. Why strive for the impossible when we were never meant to be the same.


Feature Image: Pascale Malenfant

Joy Ng

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