Is social media altering the way we see ourselves?

Feeling good about yourself? That may change with the latest trend: “Thinspiration,” a word created from a combo of thin and inspiration. Images appear on sites like Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram of athletic girls with an inspirational saying attached to the picture. The quotes say things like “Tired? Keep going” or “Don’t forget to sweat.”

Images like this one appear on social media sites like Instagram and Tumblr in order to  "motivate" people to out work harder.  Unfortunately, these photos often have a negative effect.
Images like this one appear on social media sites like Instagram and Tumblr in order to “motivate” people to  work out harder. Unfortunately, these photos often have a negative effect.

In some ways, seeing images of athletic girls is inspiring. Looking at pictures of people who are in shape motivates me to work out harder and eat healthy. However, there is a negative side to the photos of physical perfection appearing on social media.

What is dangerous about the “thinspiration” images is the fact that many people will never be able to obtain the bodies presented. In an ideal world, everyone would have six pack abs and toned thighs. Unfortunately, some people do not understand that they can’t transform into a supermodel overnight and will go to incredible lengths to achieve the “perfect” body.

This summer, my friend *Amanda was set on getting in shape. She used all of her allowance in order to pay for a professional trainer to help her reach her goal. Her inspiration? The fitness accounts she followed on Instagram.

I still remember when we were driving in the car and she asked me if I followed any of the same fitness Instagram accounts. Amanda pulled out her phone to show me the photos. She scrolled through the images, analyzing everything on the fitness models bodies. She pointed out the girl’s toned abs and thin arms as if they were pieces of expensive art. Looking at the images made Amanda obsessed with getting a body exactly like the girls in the pictures.

Amanda began to exercise three times a week with a trainer and run six miles on her off days. She even started a drastic sugar-free and fat-free diet. Slowly, her body started to change. Her legs became thinner and her stomach, usually coated with thin layer of baby fat, showed a hint of six pack.

Amanda appeared healthier, but my old friend wasn’t the same. She no longer wanted to laugh over a bowl of ice cream or order her favorite mocha frappucino at Starbucks. Amanda told me to remind her not to order the unhealthy options when we went to lunch – as if she needed someone to hold her back. She also was always swiping through Instagram in order to gain motivation from the thinspiration images. It was like we couldn’t talk or interact the way we used to. Every conversation we had was either about food, diets, or exercising.

Screen shot 2014-11-21 at AM 10.12.57

After a summer of obsessing over obtaining the perfect body, Amanda finally began to realize that her goal was unrealistic. Through her experience she learned that it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but her life does not need to revolve around achieving a supermodel’s body.

As a result, she began setting realistic goals for herself. Instead of wanting to lose weight, Amanda’s goals are now set around what she can do in the gym. For example, each week she tries to increase the amount of pushups she does at the end of her workout.

Although my friend’s story has a positive ending, many people are not that lucky. Having a negative perception of your body can easily lead to dangerous disorders and overexercising.

Here is another example of a thinspiration image. Typically, they are captioned with an inspirational saying like this one.
Here is another example of a thinspiration image. Typically, they are captioned with an inspirational saying like this one.

Negative body perceptions are not just developing among a few unlucky teenagers – it is happening to almost everyone who watches or uses any type of media. To test this theory, I conducted a little experiment at school.

I first asked random high school students how they would rate their appearances on a scale of 1-10 (1 being low and 10 being high) when they were not looking at any media. Most people rated themselves highly (around a 7 to a 9).

However, I then showed them an image of a Victoria Secret Model or an athlete. This time they rated themselves significantly lower. When shown the image, 10 out of 12 girls rated themselves at least 2 ratings lower than their previous number. Nearly five out of six boys rated themselves one rating lower when shown the image of an athletic male.

It is sad to see the way media is altering the way we perceive ourselves. Looking at photos of items I can never own and body types I will never have often leaves me feeling a sense of emptiness. I find myself thinking, “Why can’t I have legs that size or why can’t my hair look like that?” This type of attitude is extremely unhealthy.

Instead of looking at social media sites as a way to tear our self-esteem apart, we should admire the images and move on. Next time I open Tumblr or Instagram, I won’t think about the qualities I am lacking, but I will realize that I am lucky for the things I have been given. I will strive to be myself and not some girl on the Internet.


*Name changed for privacy.

Author: Mackenzie Hirsch

Mackenzie Hirsch is a Senior and a new addition to the Eye Staff this year. She is originally from Greensboro, North Carolina but has lived in Singapore for 5 years. In her free time, she enjoys swimming for the SAS varsity team and traveling to new places.

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