Is the era of the retouched Insta-influencers over?

Fighting toxic beauty standards on social media
Is the era of the retouched Insta-influencers over?

In a bid to fight unrealistic beauty standards, Norway recently introduced new regulations that require influencers to declare retouched photos when they share them on social media. But how easy is it to address a phenomenon that goes beyond photoshopped celebrities to cause health, mental, and identity issues, especially to young women?

As we have transitioned from television and print media onto digital platforms, social media has become a part of our daily lives and has affected to a great degree our perspective on beauty. Popular social networks like Instagram and TikTok have provided a virtual place where everyone can promote their “perfect” self and influence others – many making money out of this.

Toxic beauty standards in social media

In Snow White, there was the magic mirror. Today, there’s social media. Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook or TikTok, we live our lives opposite a screen, often looking, judging and comparing ourselves to others. A generation of women and men have become obsessed with their looks and style, and it became a full-time “career” to portray this perfect, lavish lifestyle.

Tons of celebrities, influencers, models and brands use social media to “sell” themselves or their products by creating an image of perfection. It’s hard not to see a multitude of perfectly toned bodies, flat stomachs, plump lips and impossibly long legs as you scroll down on your Instagram feed. Many celebs and influencers even document their workout routines, eating habits, and other aspects of their lifestyle that contribute to the way they look. 

But there’s a problem with this industry; usually it’s all fake. And for many people – especially the younger – sometimes it is hard to distinguish reality from the fake.

In this virtually “perfect” world, social media has put a lot of pressure on people – mostly women – to look a certain way. The social networks greatly impact the perception of beauty standards, with newer unrealistic and toxic trends gaining popularity, often leading to health as well as self-esteem issues.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, a study of women aged 18-25 showed a correlation between Instagram and increased self-objectification and body image concerns, especially among those who frequently viewed fitspiration images. 

Another study of social media users showed that higher Instagram usage was associated with a greater prevalence of orthorexia nervosa symptoms, highlighting the influence social media has on psychological well-being.

Taking steps in the right direction. But is it enough?

In recent years, some steps have been taken aiming to address the issue of beauty standards promoted by social media and the advertising industry.

Most recently, Norway has passed a law that requires images in which the subject’s body size, shape, or skin have been altered, either before or after the photo is taken, to carry a standardised label.

It will now be illegal for influencers to share retouched photos of their body in promotional posts on social media, without acknowledging the image has been edited. These changes will not only cover images where lips, waistlines and muscles are exaggerated after the photo is taken, but also those created with a filter in place. 

The hope is the enforcement of a label will create more clarity about where a body image being presented is fake, bringing a sense of reality to the idea of unattainable bodies.

Back in 2017, France had also introduced legislation that requires fashion magazines to declare retouched images. However, there is still no legislation concerning social media.

Another recent decision, aiming to fight body shaming, came from Pinterest. Recognizing that eating disorders are harming many and that fat shaming is common on social media, the platform announced it is banning all advertising with weight loss language or imagery.

The long debate on the effect of technology – such as filters and facetuning – on beauty standards had also influenced Getty Images’ decision to ban photos of retouched models from its image database.

Undoubtedly, these are steps in the right direction. But as social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok continue to grow in users and become increasingly commercialised, is it enough?

Perhaps we should consider a positive trend that a growing number of celebrities and influencers have started to promote the idea of body positivity and self-acceptance; this could lead their followers to become inspired to change the way they view themselves and feel accepted for who they are.


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