Coláiste Dhúlaigh Series: Social media and beauty standards

bring back our girls protest in nyc
Elizabeth Quinn

May 7th 2021


This series is in collaboration with first-year Investigate Journalism students in Coláiste Dhúlaigh CFE


Social Media. A huge digital tool that allows people of all ages and genders to create, post and share content with their friends and the public in general.


Social Media is an internet-based tool and allows users to connect and also communicate between each-other and share pictures and videos with each-other. Social media allows users to get in touch with businesses and also allows businesses to promote their own brand.


Through generations of technology, we have seen the up-rising of the Internet and Social Media. Social Media as a whole comes with its advantages and disadvantages. Disadvantages seemingly taking rule over the advantages as the years go on.


Disadvantages include: Social media and major brands like Instagram feeding us a perception of Beauty and ‘Body Goals’. When scrolling through Instagram, I and many others find ourselves comparing how we look to the Instagram models we see every day, we find ourselves being sucked into this black hole of self-loathing and self-judgement.


Instagram is one big business driven brand, with users that feel the need to feed off people’s insecurities in order to sell their “Amazing new, slimming smoothie” or “The amazing new waist trainer” that they themselves use every single day and have had or are having amazing results with.


In 2017 an Irish Examiner/ Reach-Out Ireland survey was put in place to show the implications of mental health issues and the affect they are having on teenagers. This survey showed that 75% of teenagers have Body image issues. 43% of these teenagers say that social media caused them difficulties in their lives.


To be a young girl, scrolling through Instagram means one day wanting to look like the women and girls that take up their Instagram feeds. This means being slim, thin and having fabulous skin and having a face for social media and for boys this means one day wanting to have that perfect 6 pack and being totally and completely shaven.


On average, we spend 2+ hours on social media every day, a number that is forever growing. Seeing filtered images, advertising and women with the apparent ‘Ideal body type’ is constantly affecting our mental health.


In 2014, Jennifer Read Hawthorne, discovered that we have 12,000- 60,000 thoughts a day. 80% of these thoughts are negative. Assuming Jennifer’s discovery was based upon how teenagers feel about their body image, we would see that from already looking at the Reach Out Ireland survey that these statistics show how teenagers are negatively impacted by body image issues.


At first, I assumed that the younger generation have more image issues when it comes to not just social media but media as whole. When researching I realised that this is not entirely true, in reality it seemed to have been older women that self-judge and self-loathe more than the younger generation do in terms of Body image.


Jean Kilbourne is mostly recognised for her work on the image of women in advertising. Jean’s Film ‘Still Killing us Softly’ in 1987 show how women are portrayed in adverts and how this beauty isn’t real or even reachable. In 2010, ‘Killing us Softly 4’ tells us about how this unrealistic beauty in adverts has gotten worse over the years saying “Failure is inevitable with the ideal being based on absolute flawlessness”.


When speaking to award-winning documentary filmmaker Jenny McQuaile about her documentary ‘Straight/Curve: Redefining Body Image’ I asked her if she thinks social media has any impact on the older generations’ perception of beauty.


Being part of the younger generation, I know that I look at older women and admire their confidence and will power in all aspects of their life but I tend to forget that they have Image issues and Body image issues the same as the next person does.


In response to my question Jenny says “I think social media has an impact on any generation that’s plugged into it. Older people might be wiser at curating their social media feeds and might be more media literate, but older people are definitely being marketed to on social media as well and fed a standard of beauty they’re meant to fit into.”


The older generation are targeted when it comes to the next anti-age cream or weight loss regime, weight loss being something that is constantly being ingrained in the lives of the women who are plugged into social media. People of all ages are being targeted and are being fed the ideology that being thin and slim, a gym-goer and living a healthy lifestyle will have a lasting effect on your happiness and mental health but with my research I have figured out that this is not the case at all, the term ‘Happiness comes from within’ plays more of a role in this topic than I initially thought.


When you search the term happiness, the result you will get is ‘the state of being happy’ and the example underneath that, saying “she struggled to find happiness in her life”. Off the bat, the term happiness is put into a negative and the self-loathing category and all you have done is search what the term means. When I think about happiness, I think about a person who loves every single last thing about themselves, their weight, their appearance, their style, their job and everything else in between, but it has become a rarity to find someone that is in a complete state of happiness.


“This survey showed that 75% of teenagers have Body image issues. 43% of these teenagers say that social media caused them difficulties in their lives.”


Social media not only creates a beauty standard but it creates an emotional standard. On Instagram we constantly see, expensive cars, designer clothes and happy people but this portrayal of happiness usually has a four-step process 1. Get the thing your supposed to be happy about 2. Smile for the camera 3. Post it to your social for the world to see how happy you are and 4. Once this picture is posted, stop pretending and go on about your normal life.


There are so many psychology websites and psychologists that have tried to prove that happiness does come from within but I think maybe if we were to change the term happiness comes from within to confidence comes from within, it would be much more fitting.


Confidence and happiness fall within the same category. Confidence is being able to be happy with how you present yourself either physically or through your personality and loving yourself and the person you are and do it with ease. It has been proven on countless occasions that in order to be confident you have to be happy within yourself and Jenny McQuaile gave me ways in which you can do this “Learn self-acceptance and self-love. Some practical exercises include looking in the mirror and naming 3-5 things you like about yourself. You can even write some positive affirmations on post it notes and stick them on your mirror or even start checking yourself when you speak negatively about someone else’s body or appearance as that leads to a cycle of negative thinking”.


Edel Hill a past student of National College Ireland did a small-scale survey which showed, that overall positive self-assessments are linked to happiness and life satisfaction.


Going to the gym and being slim and eating healthy does not mean a happy and positive mindset, yes exercise and fresh air have been proven to help this mindset but this isn’t fully true.


Plus size women can be happy, healthy and confident, imagine that? This does not mean that Plus size women don’t go to the gym or eat healthy, it means by process of elimination they chose what makes them happy and what makes them feel confident and decided whatever it was, was the best route to take for their own personal happiness and confidence.


Around the world people are being put into category’s, this is the equivalent of putting someone in a box, making people feel they can only be a certain way in order to fit in with society. Society today and Social media today tells us we have to look and act a certain way to fit in with the way the world is going.


Plus size women and models have changed the game and continue to change the game today in terms of raising awareness with hashtags such as #Borntobeme and changing people’s perception of what beauty should be.


Plus Size women represent 68% of shoppers, yet there is not enough clothing or clothing brands around to supply this 68% of men and women who wish to buy clothes the same as a size 6 would do.


Today, being a size 12 means you are a plus size model. I hate using the term ‘Plus size’ as again it puts women in a category, I personally feel that beauty is beauty and that’s the way it should always be no matter your height, weight or style because despite all of these things, there will always be somebody that thinks your beautiful no matter how much self-loathing you have.


In 2013 Debenhams in the UK, decided to introduce a new size 16 mannequin to display women’s fashion. Debenhams, in doing this gained a lot of mixed reactions. Some people thinking it was finally representing diversity others saying it is giving people the wrong idea and normalizing being overweight.


Dr Eva Orsmond made her scepticism about the new mannequin size clear, saying it is “quite misleading to try and make women happier in themselves” (if they are overweight) going on to say “Extra fat gives chronic problems-high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. There is a link between low body weight and longevity. The smaller you are, the less you eat and the longer your life.” Other arguments consisted of people saying the same could be assumed about a slim mannequin as we have illnesses like bulimia and anorexia.


Both illnesses being very common in women in Ireland, Body Whys- The eating disorder association receive about 500 calls to its helpline and 4,500 visitors to its website every single month.


Sharon Dmake creator of Ireland’s Got curves is one of many women who wish to help other women feel confident in their curves and love themselves by showcasing this on a runway.


Irelands got curves is a safe place for women to say that they love their curves and how they look, this show gives them the opportunity to show off not only their style but their body too. But Sharon herself was subject to being put in a category and made feel less than for her size. When being interviewed she spoke to me about her story “ I worked In the plus size industry back in the 90s, I was a smaller size with a flatter stomach and in the clothes I was wearing they put padding on a couple of shoots, that’s when I left, they would pad out my bum and my hips and leave my stomach relatively small.”


Being ‘Plus Size’ is finally moving in the right direction, and body diversity is slowly coming, every now and again I will see a plus-size model on Instagram that model for the clothing brand Boohoo, or hear that Victoria’s Secret, a brand who pride themselves on having slim, thin models will now broaden their brand to plus-size. Which means that hopefully social media will soon look like a huge community of people of different weight, height and color. All wanting to do the same thing.


Feel Beautiful.


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