Does Instagram Reshape Our Body Image?

by Brian James Rawson & Raven Ariana
December 16, 2021

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In this episode of Empathy, Marketing, and You, Raven and Brian continue their conversation about the Facebook Whistleblower news story.

In this episode, Raven and Brian talk about one of the biggest headlines from the story, “Instagram Harms Teenage Girl’s Body Image.” Raven and Brian talk about their different personal and professional experiences with Instagram. They also talk about their thoughts and feelings about the larger cultural context of this Instagram headline and about what this headline low key says about us and our priorities.

To be clear neither Brian or Raven are political scientists, computer engineers, or sociologists. But they are marketing professionals and social advocates. So, their point of view comes from their professional experience and personal lived experience. And this episode simply serves to start a conversation about the much larger moral and ethical aspects of how our social media impacts us and our personal relationships and, vice versa, how our actions and relationships shape our social media.

Raven is the founder of Nevermore Creative, an online magazine and community for creatives and professionals.

Watch the episode above. Read the transcript below.

Episode Transcript
Is It Instagram’s Fault For Making People Feel Self-Conscious?

Brian: The biggest headline that I've heard repeated over and over out of the Facebook whistleblower stuff is the covering up of the study about Instagram affecting teenage girls’ body image and mental health. And so (obviously I'm not a teenage girl - not even a girl) so I mean, I have a very limited knowledge about this, you know, since it’s not my personal lived experience, and I'm not I'm not assuming your teenage girl either.

Raven: Not any more.

Brian: It made me think like, if even you were feeling this pressure that something's in your face and you need to like it. Maybe, maybe that ties into this, this kind of bigger question I think now that's hanging over people's heads from this whistleblower stuff is like, is this, “Am I somehow being…my mind being invaded? And am I being depressed and put down from this kind of outside sources out of my control? Almost, like, violated in a way?” So I mean, do you feel that Instagram…is it Instagram’s fault for making people feel self-conscious and, and depressed? And, and I know it's a broad question. So it's, I know it's not very sensitive for this.

Raven: Yeah. I'm gonna say, “Yes.” I'm gonna say, “Yes.” Because…for me personally, I know that, you know, yeah, I'm a social media manager, right, like so I do this for work, so I have to actually care about the response that I get from social media, right, like, “Are people liking my stuff?” “Are people commenting on my stuff?” Like, I spend a lot of time putting out content, so to not get the reaction that I'm looking for does that mean that I'm the problem, right?

So I could see how teenage girls who can, they can feel like they're not enough, if they are putting out, “Hey, this is me!” and it's not getting the reaction that someone else may be getting on social media. So I could definitely see it invading your, your mind space.


Brian: Yeah.

Raven: I do think that that is a mental health problem. And not necessarily a Facebook problem, right?

Brian: Yeah.

Raven: I don't necessarily believe that it's the media period. I don't believe that it's their job to…I'm gonna say I don't think it's their responsibility. I don't think that our mental health is their responsibility.

The Macro Pressure Of Our Beauty Standards

Brian: Yeah, that's where I feel conflicted too because I agree with you. And I heard (it’s not my original thought. I heard it on a podcast talking about this whistleblower stuff) that they use an analogy that, of Instagram being like a refrigerator; and you can either, you can choose whatever food you want to put in the refrigerator. And so there's no one forcing you to eat healthy food or, or have a certain diet. You know, if you want to eat nothing but ice cream, you can do that. But it's on you to make those choices. And I don't think anyone would say, “Well, because someone can go out and eat nothing but ice cream and kill themselves, we should get rid of grocery stores; or every grocery store should outlaw ice cream.

Raven: Right.  

Brian: Now I know that’s a little bit…that’s not exactly a one to one to Instagram, but I think…but I do feel conflicted that there's a part of that where, “Come on, you gotta take some ownership for this.” And I'm not…it sounds pretty bad when the headline’s about teenage girls, so it sounds bad to tell this crowd of teenage girls to like toughen up.

Raven: Right

Brian: But what kind of bothers me about the headline is not…is that not just teenage girls. And where's, where's the studies of how this affects people who are non-white, how it affects people who are different socio-economic statuses. So this issue of not feeling good enough is on a lot more people than just teenage girls, and that’s an easy sob story to hear that…

Raven: Yeah

Brian:…and I don't know where that pressure…because I think Instagram it gets into like...we can talk about Instagram, but the bigger cultural beauty standards and success standards…

Raven: Exactly.

Brian:...I mean that's a pressure on all of us. I mean, it's a pressure on me too. And so I don't think you can, I don’t think anyone can escape it. So…kind of where does the rabbit hole end? Does it end at Instagram, or is this a macro culturel problem?

The Empowerment And Responsibility To Find Your Own Community, No Matter You Who Are

Raven: I believe that…(and I'm not an advocate for Facebook or Instagram either)... but I do believe that there is a community for every single person. So if you're feeling like you're not good enough, if you're feeling like you don't fit in, if you're feeling like there are people who don't look like you, I do believe that it is your, your duty to find your tribe on these platforms. So you don't feel like you're left out. Right? And so…and these are the people who are, who are gonna engage with you, these are the people who are going to like you because they like you!

Brian: Yeah.

Raven: So you're basically like shooting yourself in the foot for you know, liking these images of people and things that are not reflective of you.

Brian: Right.

Raven: Because that speaks to you not liking yourself. So if you actually go out there and start loving yourself, liking yourself and finding what makes you you and what makes you happy and what makes you unique, if you start liking those things on Instagram, they're gonna show up more, they're gonna pop up more on your feed, and now they're gonna, “Oh, Wow! I'm curating a community now of people who get me.” So…it's on you to do the soul searching and then actively seek out images of positivity or whatever is positive in your mind.

Brian: Yeah.

The Influence Of Instagram Vs. The Influence Of Parents And Leaders

Raven: So, in the case of teenage girls, I believe that their parents should parent them; and I'm not a parent (so I'm sorry parents!), but I do believe that the parents should be like, “What are you looking at? What are you doing? Butt injections and, and, and implants? What’ya doing?” You know? Like, “Come on! You know, Come on! You play football…Go look at football stuff!” You know? and so I think it's our job as parents, as leaders, as older people now to monitor what our kids are doing and say, “Wait, come on! You puttin’ dis garbage in ya head! And this is not even real life!”

Brian: Yeah, I had the same thought, so this I can speak about. I am a parent. My daughter, she's not a teenage girl yet, but I mean I've…that was one of my first thoughts hearing about that news story is, of course, feeling sympathy for the people they’re talking about but also this thought like, “Yo, Come on!” If you're going to inoculate your child and just protect them from every bump and bruise in the world you're being a bad parent. You gotta prepare your child and give them the tools to handle these bad things and like pressures that happen to them; and, I mean, I’ve already been playing the long game with my daughter. And she's got a lot to face and a lot on our shoulders in her life. And so, I mean, you gotta give them the tools to handle that kind of pressure and give them the solid emotional regulation and self-esteem and self-confidence before they even get to Instagram. And that's a deeper issue; and that's what makes me a little upset that I don't think (Now, Instagram is not a martyr by any means) but I think it's…we're putting our energy in the wrong direction if we're trying to get angry at Instagram for not parenting our children correctly.

Raven: Yes!

Turn Off The Notifications And Crank Up The Empathy

Raven: Okay, so before we go too far, I just want to like drive home the point (because we do have listeners!) that we are totally empathetic to our girls and our boys and our trans communities and everybody else who may be using this app and taking it so seriously that they're starting to question their worth and they're starting to, you know, create these realities in their head based off of the dopamine levels that are issued every time someone likes and comments on a post. So I do want to be mindful of that. I think the bigger question is, “How can we as a society, as a people, make sure that our young ones are taken care of and that their mental health comes first regardless of whether or not they're using an app, or they're watching something on TV, or they're seeing stuff in school?” So, I think that's the bigger conversation.

Brian: Yeah, I get…Well, I know like, especially on the empathy part and maybe with that question, I, I don't, I mean I also want to be careful I don't want to be, like, an armchair, like, “Well, this is how we solve the world's problems because we’re so smart.” You know? But, you know I think (...maybe this is gonna be a different direction but…) I think it's because, like, for me personally, it's actually the fact I have so much (but that sounds a little “pat on the back” but) my empathy is so strong that's maybe why it seems, for me personally, a little harsh, because I think maybe the solution is we need to crank the empathy up by 1000 gigawatts or whatever that is. As in, when you realize, I mean maybe it's kind of like, “You should be thankful for your food because there's kids starving in Africa” kind of speech, that Instagram doesn't start to affect you and be taken so seriously when you realize that, “Phew! I'm not homeless.”

Raven: Right.

Brian: “Phew! I'm not ripped away from my family because I'm the wrong color and I came in on the wrong side of the country.” “Oh, Phew! There’s other people that are going through that?” So I mean, I think in some ways it takes an immense amount of privilege for Instagram to be your problem.

Raven: Wow.

Brian: You know what I mean? That's like, that's, that's harsh, but for me it feels like, yeah, because the empathy I think it's so intense, that there's all kinds of issues in our society. There's all kinds of kids that are…you don't have to be in another country to starve to death. You know? And…I think as a teenager, as any age, I think when you realize like, “Whoa, there's…I'm not, it's not just me, there's other people that exist and other people's with…” I mean, you know what, even if you're going to be a little cynical and be like, “Phew! At least I’m not as bad as that guy!” You know? “Phew, someone else’s got it worse, Phew!.” You know? If that, like, kind of shakes you out of that, out of your head and, and cures you of some mental health, I mean, the ends maybe justify the means, but I think for me it's maybe that the empathy so like…so high that I think perspective taking is helpful.

You Are Bigger Than Any Platform

Raven: The world, well not even the world, you - as a person - are bigger than any platform. Your purpose is bigger than any form of media. And whether Facebook or Instagram stays or goes, we've lived through MySpace. We've lived through all these, AIM, we lived through “dial up.” We live through phone, and horse and buggy.

Connected to the people who matter. You find the people who speak to you, who care about you, and you operate in this world as a complete human being so that these things that come and go these fleeting things don't affect you to the point where you're just down in the dumps.

So I think, you know, yes, I credit this whistleblower for even starting this whole conversation about health and, you know, all of this stuff. At the same time, I think it is up to us to do some soul searching on our own parts to say, “Do we even stay on these platforms? Do we go back to using them as intended? Do we train ourselves to not care how many likes we get, and we just want to put out good stuff.” So…we need to go ahead and go home and do the homework and find out like, “Listen, how do I want to use these platforms? What do I want to use them for? And what type of person do I want to be?” And…I think that transcends technology.

---End of the Episode---

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