Instagram’s Impact on Mental Health

Instagram is one of the biggest movers and shakers in fashion communication and promotion, but the promotion of perfect lifestyle is negatively impacting Instagram users. I was prompted to read the Guardian article discussion with the headline, ‘Instagram is supposed to be friendly. So why is it making people so miserable?’ It really got me thinking and I have shared some of the responses and thoughts below.

Nowadays everything is on show; nothing is a secret and very little is kept private as a result of social media being at the forefront of the majority of people’s minds and priorities.

Instagram death trolling is disgustingly now quite a regular occurrence. This is the case for 24-year-old fashion blogger, Scarlett Dixon, who was virtually attacked for her Instagram Listerine mouthwash ad post. The photo went viral; it saw her having breakfast on her bed – then the internet turned nasty.

Scarlett is perched on her freshly made bed, surrounded by heart shaped balloons, with a plate of pancakes made out of tacos and a cup of tea which happens to be an empty cup next to her. She looks flawless, happy and glowing with full face makeup on. In the corner is a tiny bottle of Listerine. The caption is all about waking up and feeling your best – “The best of days start with a smile and positive thoughts. And pancakes. And strawberries. And bottomless tea.”

This is definitely a farcical scene and Instagram reality at its finest! I really don’t feel that this should have ever been approved and signed off by the brand. It is asking to have the mickey taken out of it. It is very filtered and I can see why it went viral on twitter with people making cynical comments.

I feel that the ad is very extravagant, unfamiliar and ‘over-the-top’. Yes I agree that this is possibly an unrealistic evaluation of what her actual morning might look like and yes I also feel that it could definitely make individuals feel inadequate, however I do not feel she personally deserved the comments she was faced with under the photo. She has had death threats for merely pretending a taco is a pancake and purchasing a single use heart balloon.

If you have a platform, I believe that you have an innate responsibility to show authenticity; however I completely understand we are living in one of the most artificial, ornamented ages of all time. There is a massive movement now for showing ‘real women’. Having said this, they have the same responsibility as any of us; not to abuse their position, not to cause harm, not to mislead in terms of ads or be fraudulent. Other than this, I don’t think ‘influencers’ owe us anything; they are not politicians, they aren’t national representatives, they don’t shape legislation.

If people think an ad is daft or the post is pointless, just unfollow; death threats are definitely taking this past the extreme. It may be showing perfection and an unachievable reality,

Micro consequences could make young impressionable girls feel down in the morning, leading to the macro of low self-esteem, depression, eating disorders, anxiety, etc. It is cumulative, but Scarlett is not the representation of all of this.

Some people make change and others won’t, some people create work that has an impact and some won’t. At the centre of every viral storm, there is a human being.

Twitter often becomes the unwelcome platform of abusive strangers hurling abuse at other abusive strangers, who then all occasionally come together to bully a celebrity off the internet over some minor failing. On the other hand, Instagram looks like the friendliest social network imaginable. It has a visually led community where the primary method of interaction is double-tapping an image to like it.

However, it is this very positivity and perfectionistic stance that Instagram holds that is precisely the problem. The site encourages its users to present an upbeat, attractive image that others may find at best misleading and at worse harmful.

I see more and more articles on the impact of the site and the unreality of social media harming people. The Royal Society for Public Health’s, Niamh McDade, stated, “…endless scrolling without much interaction doesn’t really lead too much of a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing. You also don’t really have control over what you’re seeing. And you quite often see images that claim to be showing you reality, yet aren’t. That’s especially damaging to young men and women.” The risk of developing an unhealthy body image is often highlighted, but also giving people anxiety about a way of life they cannot afford or achieve.

Even though we’re being made miserable by the unreal lives that we follow, we also share an unreal version of our own lives: I enjoy Instagram and get inspiration from it, but even I am guilty of never showing anything about my personal life, bad days or struggles. I feel that it has changed from being a friendly environment, where most people posted food pictures, into a competitive social platform where everyone filters out their lives to represent a life that does not exist. Nobody looks good all the time, nobody is always happy.

Every time I open the app, I’m presented with an endless feed of my friends and family doing incredible things, having a wonderful time, and looking amazing. I often find out news through the platform such as engagements and friends going places or meeting mutual friends without telling me. It is like they keep it a secret and then expose themselves by posting and Instagram storying it in real time. I now try to focus less on using Instagram to find out what people I care about are doing and more on using it as a source of information and inspiration.

It’s true that there is a whole world of information best communicated in a visual medium. There is some not so informative and useful opinions circulating, however there is a myriad of others who are very much sources of useful advice, laser-targeted at people in a particular situation.

I honestly feel that taking a couple of weeks off social media to work on our ‘real’ relationships, would benefit a lot of us, including myself! We need to consider why we want to use the platforms and what we want to get out of them. I enjoy the aesthetics and capturing a moment through Instagram. However, this can 100% be taken too far – cue the comparisons. We all need to remember that the majority only post the highlights and would never share the down moments or struggles. I try to appreciate the art on a surface level, not reading too much into each post or over-analysing each photo I scroll past.


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