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Digital Influencers and Body Image

Introduction

Social media platforms are becoming increasingly popular across the world. They allow individuals to communicate, share images, and interact with content posted by peers, family, and celebrities. These media platforms allow people to edit pictures, thus facilitating the presentation of idealized versions of themselves. The meteoric rise of influencers has encouraged the creation of unrealistic images meant to promote luxurious lifestyles. It is vital to note that repeated exposure to such content leads to appearance comparisons which predispose individuals to heightened levels of body dissatisfaction.

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The resultant perceptions of negative body image lead to a variety of mental health issues in susceptible individuals. The influencer culture perpetuates unattainable standards and a false sense of reality, which predisposes individuals to crippling mental issues resulting from feelings associated with a negative body image.

Social Media

Social media is an essential part of communication in today’s society. It is defined as a network of web-based services that allow people to create public profiles, which they use to interact with others within a bounded system (Campbell and Proshad 105). Since its inception, social media has grown significantly, with people gaining access to multiple platforms designed to allow the sharing of user-generated content and communication on a large scale.

This media subset has grown exponentially due to the increase in internet coverage across the globe. It has spawned online communities through which ideas are exchanged and criticized. These platforms offer unfettered access to images and content that shape people’s perception of the ideal body. Social media has become an elemental aspect of everyday life, and it can be accessed on a variety of devices at any time in any location.

Social media platforms are designed to support a sense of togetherness through participation. The cataclysmic shift in the media landscape has facilitated the development of a participatory culture through which knowledge is created and distributed. It allows individuals to express themselves through a variety of forms and activities. The platforms have low barriers of entry, with most requiring a simple email address to join. This allows individuals to experiment with their identities and express themselves artistically. Most of the users on these platforms believe that their contributions matter. They create content in an attempt to forge a social connection with a variety of audiences.

The business world has taken note of these initiatives and incentivizes individuals by offering them money for promoting specific products. The preoccupation with the financial gains associated with a massive social media following has led to the creation of the influencer phenomenon.

Digital Influencers

The popularity of social media has prompted the growth of a specific social class of micro-celebrities. These individuals accrue a large number of followers on various platforms and leverage the resultant social capital for financial gain (Cotter 3). Influencers have developed an acute understanding of the algorithms that govern visibility on various platforms to increase the number of followers that subscribe to their content. Their activities are informed by the fact that they can impact people’s practices and beliefs, provided they can captivate and maintain their attention. In essence, they are ordinary people with a distinct entrepreneurial drive.

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The prominence of brand cultures in contemporary society has led to the development of various tactics in an attempt to reach target audiences. For instance, influencers use “realness” as a pervasive force meant to promote an idea of authenticity, which is a tool to gain a strategic advantage (Cotter 4). They use “realness” to develop a sense of accessibility, intimacy, and reliability to attract and keep their followers interested. This air of apparent authenticity allows influencers to distinguish themselves from conventional celebrities who traditionally expose their fans to carefully crafted fantasies that contradict the lived experiences of ordinary people. In addition, while celebrities focus on building hierarchical relationships with audiences, influencers employ “realness” as a tactic aimed at promoting a sense of parity and proximity with their followers.

However, it is vital to note that influencers seldom present their true selves on social media platforms. Their followers are a market they intend to exploit for financial gain. Therefore, their bodies are an essential part of the idealized image that they present to audiences. The images they present often have to conform to heteronormative prescriptions of attractiveness in an attempt to gain attention (Drenten et al. 3). They achieve this through a variety of fashion and beauty practices, posturing, lighting, and the use of image-enhancing applications. The number of “likes” on a post serves as a quantification of the product’s success which in turn reflects its monetization potential (Drenten et al. 3). Influencers often tend to post highly sexualized images on social media as a result of cultural pressures that promote the apparent value of sexiness. The resultant unrealistic content leads to a variety of mental issues among individuals struggling to achieve an influencer’s image or physique.

Influencers have a significant impact on the expression of specific societal behaviors. The source credibility theory posits that a communicator’s positive attributes influence the audience’s susceptibility to persuasion and acceptance of the message (Seiler and Kucza 2). The individual in question must be attractive, demonstrate significant expertise and be trustworthy. In essence, perceptions of credibility are essential in the quest to obtain and retain an audience. Unlike celebrity endorsements, peer endorsements have a higher degree of credibility which means they are more likely to affect people’s attitudes. Influencers with a high number of followers often appear credible, meaning that individuals are likely to associate with their ideas of beauty, success, and body image.

Society’s Expectations

Social media platforms have evolved into an avenue where individuals display their glamorized lifestyles. Expectations are created as a result of ideas society internalizes as normal. People’s lifestyles and appearance have been at the center of social debate for centuries. A specific set of standards that define body shapes, hair, and the use of make-up has been integrated to define social classes. Influencers have created strong networks which entice people to admire their lifestyles and appearance.

They consistently post pictures depicting exotic destinations and designer luxury items in a bid to appeal to a wide audience. In essence, these platforms and the content they generate create the misconception that people should be unhappy with their lives if they do not resemble those they see on social media. The resultant comparative mindset is extremely damaging to an individual’s self-esteem.

In an attempt to conform to societal definitions of beauty, influencers are motivated to create manipulated versions of themselves. The online environment is becoming increasingly competitive as individuals strive to outdo each other. As a result, they exaggerate their personas and indulge in the reckless wastage of resources and the creation of the ideal body. Many have resorted to using large amounts of make-up to cover flaws or plastic surgery to augment their appearance. The resulting images pile pressure on susceptible individuals who must strive to achieve unrealistic standards.

Appearance Comparison

The social comparison theory provides a means through which the influence of idealized content on body image can be conceptualized. It posits that in situations where objective standards are lacking, people assess specific aspects of their lives by weighing themselves against others (Reategui and Palmer 368). Individuals make downward comparisons with people whom they perceive are worse off while they make upward comparisons with individuals they believe are superior. When a person compares their appearance to an attractive influencer’s image on a social media platform, they often develop negative thoughts regarding body image.

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Influencers frequently post images of a luxurious lifestyle which they often claim is achievable as they attempt to relate to audiences. Those who post pictures of their bodies strive to fit the thin ideal, which is not achievable for a majority of their followers.

It is vital to note that social media influencers have significant sway over their followers compared to magazine models. They appear relatable in view of the fact that they establish connections with audiences by exposing various aspects of their lives. Moreover, most influencers are ordinary campus students, which makes their activities relatable to a young audience. Therefore, people are more likely to compare themselves to influencers as opposed to conventional celebrities in magazines. This aligns with the social comparison theory’s assertion that individuals tend to compare themselves to people with whom they share specific characteristics.

Body image is how an individual views his or her physique. It is defined as a multidimensional idea that embodies cognitive-affective, perceptual, and behavioral domains (Campbell and Proshad 106). It is an integral part of their sense of self, and it impacts their physical and mental wellbeing. Body dissatisfaction arises when a person experiences negative thoughts concerning their physical appearance. This feeling is often experienced by people who are constantly exposed to idealized images of influencers’ bodies on social media. Body image impacts an individual’s self-esteem and may predispose them to depression and anxiety.

Society determines specific parameters within which beauty and the ideal image are defined. From a young age, individuals are conditioned to believe that self-worth lies in the ability to present an attractive image to the public. In addition, the desire to please others is inextricably linked to the presentation of an ideal body image. The resultant obsession with achieving the ideal body often leads to unhealthy practices. For instance, the increased prevalence of eating disorders is linked to social media trends that emphasize thinness (Campbell and Proshad 107). The lack of a distinction between what is real and what is not on social media often prompts people to strive towards achieving idealized lifestyles and body images.

Impact on Mental Health

Addressing the impact of influencers on the population is important because they have a significant impact on people’s mental health. It is essential to note that there is a relationship between social media use and depressive symptoms (Kelly et al. 66). This relationship can be explained by the prevalence of low self-esteem and negative body image among individuals who rely on social media as a source of information and entertainment. In addition, social media and digital influencers negatively affect people’s self-esteem. There is a link between the duration of time spent online and feelings of low self-esteem (Reategui and Palmer 367). Affected individuals often isolate themselves, which leads to the loss of the ability to socialize in the real world.

Young people are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects associated with the desire for an ideal body. The physical and psychological changes that characterize adolescence predispose them to constant pressure from social media influencers.

These individuals are often forming a self-image which is a dynamic process that can easily be altered by the destruction of any of its constituent elements. Individuals who completely reject their self-image are often victims of unrealistic expectations created by social media influencers. The discrepancy between an individual’s valuation of their body and the physical attractiveness they hope to achieve after being exposed to social media determines their degree of self-esteem and a negative self-image (Reategui and Palmer 368). In addition, individuals may experience somatic distortions as they strive to achieve a desirable body. The mental toll on affected individuals prompts the adoption of detrimental behavior, social isolation, and depression.

Photo-based platforms that promote appearance comparisons are a key contributor to the image concerns associated with social media usage. Sections of the population may be unable to identify the artificial and retouched nature of influencer images. Others may be incapable of appreciating the qualities exposed on social media without feeling jealous. In addition, the lack of self-confidence and the inability to value diversity may intensify depression. These detrimental effects pose a threat to the mental wellbeing of susceptible individuals.

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Finding a Solution

There are no simple fixes for the challenges associated with social media exposure to idealized body images. Perhaps helping susceptible individuals develop a sense of agency may protect them from the damaging effects of a negative body image (Burnette et al. 123). Mechanisms such as protective filtering have demonstrated a significant degree of success. It refers to an individual’s ability to internalize messages that facilitate the development of a positive body image while avoiding content that could jeopardize self-esteem (Burnette et al. 123). While the aforementioned proposals are noble, the sheer scale of social media influence makes implementing such measures nearly impossible. In addition, there are a variety of factors that contribute to social media influencers’ ability to impact people’s self-image. Individual characteristics and the multiplicity of contexts make the development of an effective solution extremely complex. It is essential to dedicate resources to further evaluate the impact of social media on people’s perception of reality and idealized physical attributes if a lasting solution is to be identified.

Conclusion

Social media is an elemental part of communication in today’s society. Digital influencers attract a large number of followers on various platforms and leverage the resultant social capital for monetary gains. Social media platforms have evolved into an avenue where people display their glamorized lifestyles and bodies. When individuals compare their appearances to attractive influencer images on social media platforms, they usually develop negative thoughts regarding body image. If left unaddressed, the resultant ripple effect diminishes self-esteem and causes serious health issues such as depression. It is essential to invest in research to find viable solutions to social media’s impact on body image to avoid detrimental mental health consequences.

Works Cited

Burnette, C. Blair, et al. “‘I Don’t Need People to Tell Me I’m Pretty on Social Media:’ A Qualitative Study of Social Media and Body Image in Early Adolescent Girls.” Body Image, vol. 23, no. 2017, Elsevier Ltd, 2017, pp. 114–25. Web.

Campbell, Phillips Sharon, and Halder Deb Proshad. “Social Media and Female Body Image: A Study on the Imposition of Body Characterization in Tobago.” Advances in Sciences and Humanities, vol. 5, no. 4, 2019, p. 105. Web.

Cotter, Kelley. “Playing the Visibility Game: How Digital Influencers and Algorithms Negotiate Influence on Instagram.” New Media and Society, vol. 21, no. 4, 2019, pp. 895–913. Web.

Drenten, Jenna, et al. “Sexualized Labour in Digital Culture: Instagram Influencers, Porn Chic and the Monetization of Attention.” Gender, Work and Organization, vol. 27, no. 1, 2020, pp. 41–66. Web.

Kelly, Yvonne, et al. “Social Media Use and Adolescent Mental Health: Findings From the UK Millennium Cohort Study.” EClinicalMedicine, vol. 6, Elsevier Ltd, 2018, pp. 59–68. Web.

Reategui, Andrea Stefania Levano, and Robert Palmer. “Unfiltered: The Effect of Media on Body Image Dissatisfaction.” International Journal of Social Science and Humanity, vol. 7, no. 6, 2017, p. 367. Web.

Seiler, Roger, and Gunther Kucza. “Source Credibility Model, Source Attractiveness Model And Match-Up-Hypothesis–An Integrated Model.Journal of International Scientific Publications, vol. 11, no. 1314–7242, 2017, pp. 1–15. Web.

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