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It's time that influencers took responsibility for false beauty standards

Kirsten Murray discusses the Digitally Altered Body Images Bill, and why celebrities need to take responsibility for their social media content

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Image Credit: Josh Park

Ever scrolled through social media, seen an advert, or flicked through a magazine and thought: “I wished I looked like that?” Who hasn’t had these thoughts? After two contrasting photos of Kylie Jenner’s Halloween look emerged recently it became more apparent than ever that “the girl in the photo doesn’t look like the girl in the photo.” These are the words of body confidence and anti-diet campaigner, Alex Light. Taking to Instagram she expressed how whilst Kylie is within her right to cultivate her image exactly how she wants, she has a huge following who need to be aware that what she posts isn’t always real. Light is in full support of the new proposed Digitally Altered Body Images Bill as she believes it will “create perspective among so many vulnerable individuals who use pictures [like Kylie’s] as a benchmark for beauty.”

The Digitally Altered Body Images Bill requires that advertisers, broadcasters and publishers display a logo in cases where an image of a human body or body part has been digitally altered in its proportions. Earlier in September of this year, Conservative MP Dr Luke Evans addressed parliament in a Ten Minute Rule Bill to make its case. He stated that “we are creating a digitally warped reality, striving for bodies that can never be achieved.”

Previously a GP, Dr Evans recalls how he saw lots of patients suffering with low self-esteem, body image issues, people searching for diet solutions and sadly many suffering from anxiety, depression, anorexia, bulimia, and steroid abuse. Evans has seen firsthand how the media industry’s presentation of unattainable images can lead to serious problems. The Body Image Report from the England and Wales Mental Health Foundation has shown that in 2019, one in four young people aged 18-24 said they felt so stressed about their body image and appearance that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. Furthermore, one in eight had edited pictures of themselves to change their face or body shape.

Shocking as these figures are, as a young woman who falls within this age bracket, I don’t find them hard to believe. I would say that no matter how comfortable you think you are with your own body or appearance, the comparative nature of social media means it is almost impossible not to compare yourself with the millions of images on Instagram. This bill, which is endorsed by Dr Antonis Kousoulis, Director for England and Wales at the Mental Health Foundation, would not stop the ability for advertisers to edit their images, but they would not be able to hide it; it would be like having to declare copyright on an image. Similar to how cigarette brands must warn the public of the health problems that tobacco causes, this logo would inform the public of altered, inauthentic body proportions, in a hope that people would increasingly stop feeling the need to change their image.

But where do social media influencers sit in this? Evans admits that it is a grey area when it comes to definitions. Obviously, someone with one million Instagram followers has a lot more influence than someone with 500 followers, but where do we mark the cut off? Let’s go back to our original example of Kylie Jenner, on writing this article she has 200 million Instagram followers, the majority of whom are probably aged between 18-24 and constantly compare themselves to her perfect images. The reality is that hours of make-up, editing, and takes go into each of her posts, but the viewer doesn’t see that. We see only the finished post and hence this becomes a false idealised standard of beauty.

Anastasia Kingsnorth is a 20-year-old British YouTuber and social media influencer. She currently has 988,000 followers but has spoken openly about the trolling she receives for her appearance. Kingsnorth denies ever having edited the proportions of her body, yet continuous comments about her nose led to her getting nose filler earlier this year. When she was younger, and before she received these comments, Kingsnorth recalls never feeling insecure, and yet during lockdown, she reached a point where she couldn’t look in the mirror without hating her appearance. The media has created standards of beauty which mean that if your nose doesn’t meet the ‘perfect’ proportions, you will be trolled. I believe it is time that the media companies and social media influencers took some responsibility for the altered images they are publishing and declared when they are not fully authentic.

However, there is a vein of social media influencers who are tackling this issue head-on. Writer and social media influencer Emily Clarkson uses her account to raise awareness of these false standardisations of beauty, providing a real depiction of what bodies look like. Her posts are empowering and show how easy it is to edit out the rolls or hip dips on a bikini photo. In an article for the MailOnline, she reacted to the fact she has been called brave for posting these images. “Brave! For a size 10 woman to be putting pictures of herself online. That shows how warped things are. The message we are sending to young girls is that to look like me is not OK.” She says her greatest worry is that “a generation of girls will grow up without having a single picture of themselves looking as they actually do.”

Admittedly it probably is too late for this bill to change the mindset of individuals of the current generation; however, hopefully as the bill is rolled out, media companies and social media influencers will begin to refrain from altering their images. The ripple effect of this will filter into the public domain, reducing the current statistics which state that 87% of women and 65% of men compare themselves to images online. Clarkson also reminds us to take responsibility for ourselves online, not compare ourselves too harshly and to consume the content that makes us feel good.

Dr Evans MP concludes his proposal by stating, “If this bill is a small step to mean my daughter is less likely to worry about her diet, or my son is less concerned about building muscle to an aspiration that simply cannot be possible, then I will rest a little bit easier.” It is time we addressed the fact we live in a society where unrealistic and unachievable body types are confronting us from every angle, and instead start depicting what is real both in the media and online. The bill is scheduled for a Second Reading on 5 February 2021 where it will be debated further.

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