Instagram versus real life: who defines beauty standards?

By Rachel Gibson |

There is a phrase which goes, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’ A message like that can be quite alarming when it becomes the face of a generation.

One of the largest issues in the growing age of technology is the link between an unhealthy conception of body image to social media platforms. Those who actively use social media claim it can have both positive and negative effects individual users.

Sarah Deagle, assistant director of student success and advising at Flagler College, studies and teaches graphic design, and recently completed her doctoral dissertation analyzing the effects social media has on the world.

“You can’t get the full story from a single post,” Deagle said. “It is very possible that an image was taken 20 times to get that one perfect shot, but we can’t know that from just the post itself.”

Every post has a message to convey to an intended audience. The disconnect between the poster and the audience comes from a misunderstanding of how the particular post can be interpreted, as well as what was done to alter the post before release to the public.

“People should be able to post whatever they want, but there should be a level of understanding on the person on the receiving end,” she said. “It is, at least in part, up to the viewer to take what they see online with a grain of salt. Having a background in graphic design and knowing how to air brush or alter images to make them more appealing, I tend to be pretty cynical when it comes to anything posted online.”

With the post-production side of media, viewers seem to lose sight of what is real life — which can be easy to do when technology is growing rapidly at every moment.

“Real life posts such as makeup-free selfies or showing ‘behind the scenes’ type of things can help to remind people of all the work that goes into getting that seemingly perfect or flawless post,” she said. “There is no one-size-fits-all for social media. What is posted to Instagram probably won’t align with what the same person posts to Facebook. Each platform takes on its own persona and caters to different audiences.”

Flagler College’s Director of the First Year Experience Jill Dawson, actively participates in social media, but noted the platforms can be both beneficial and detrimental.

“It is very easy to compare yourself to others on social media and to beat yourself up when you feel like you don’t measure up, and I definitely do that to myself — getting trapped in a social media bubble with only people who reinforce your world view and negative self judgment,” Dawson said.

Social media is often said to be harmful to viewers because of certain postings that can cause viewers to feel the need to dress and act like those they see on social media.

“I don’t see many models or influencers on Instagram, I suspect I’m outside their target range, but I suspect these models are similar to those we might see on TV, or in print media, except now they are often portrayed as ‘regular’ people, which can make the danger of comparison perhaps more likely,” Dawson said.

Those who pose as Instagram models are often the ones who receive a negative reputation for perpetuating unrealistic body standards. However there are many different kinds of models who post on social media. Some of whom not only differ in style, but in size, race, ethnicity and gender.

Reese Myers, a Flagler College student, considers herself an optimist, who uses social media to follow more positive influences and to create and widely project uplifting and inclusive content.

“I mainly focus on encouraging freedom of expression,” Myers said. “There are many models that I follow who focus on self love and positivity … they are advocates for bossy diversity within the industry, which inspires me. I feel as though models who only use Instagram to just flex their ‘beauty’ and expensive clothes can set standards for students, but people have the choice to follow those who will give them either negative or positive content.”

Many, including Myers, believe there doesn’t have to be only one way to describe social media, just as there is not one way to describe an individual. She said social media platforms are whatever you make them out to be.

Frequent social media contributors learn to post what they want or what they think the people want to see. This creates a following which can be positive or negative — possibly even both.

“There’s the negative stigma that you have to wear a size double zero, full lips and caked with makeup to be ‘beautiful.’ However, for the positive progressive side of Instagram, you can be overweight, dark skinned, crooked teeth and still be able to model,” Myers said. “It’s all about showing the world what you have to offer through your personality. You could be the next face of American Eagle or Calvin, but you’ll never know if you don’t try.”

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