Instagram isn’t designed to help with your personal growth

Aggie explains why Instagram is a problematic platform for young girls

When I was younger, I decided to post a ‘sexy’ photo of myself on my InstagramHaving seen the amount of likes pictures of attractive women were getting, I knew that if I portrayed myself in a ‘sexy’ way I would get ‘likes’. After receiving a lot of likes (way more in comparison to any other pictures); I immediately freaked out. I deleted the photo, and the account. I felt as though I had betrayed myself. felt that I had said to the world – look at me, I am beautiful – and the message that this content was valued over anything else terrified me.  

I have known since I first explored Instagram how strange the etiquette is on the platform. It had seemed toxic to me at times, especially for young girls and women. What I had found particularly problematic when posting a sexy photo, wasn’t the positive reaction, but the overwhelming positive reaction in comparison to my other photography content.  

As a young woman living in a society with a male gaze, where the fabric of our society has been shaped from a male perspective; where the woman is often sexualised and still not viewed as equal to a man. It was easy for me to understand why ‘sexy’ photos of women are valued highly. But the idea of getting lost in that world and believing that my only identity was to be sexy terrified me. These days I find it really problematic when young girls want to aspire to beauty standards being portrayed by Instagram models. It makes me worry about young girls growing up, thinking that their appearance is their main quality that is of any worth.  

Jameela Jamil often explores the effects of Instagram on young girls. A constant advocate for positive body image and better beauty standards, she uses her following of 3.3 million people on Instagram for good. She demands that there is more transparency from Instagram influencers and models over the plastic surgery they have had; the strict diet and lifestyle regime they spend a lot of time on; and any Photoshopping or editing they do to transform their photos. She also believes it is crucial for young girls to be aware of the extensive effort these women have gone to to display an image which isn’t always an accurate reflection of how they look in real life. 

Transparency is so important because it seems that countless hours are being stolen from girls and women as they perfect photos of themselves online.

Transparency is so important because it seems that countless hours are being stolen from girls and women as they perfect photos of themselves online. Hours which could be spent: reading, learning a new language, or seeing friends and family. It seems that we are still living with the long-standing narrative that women are to be seen, and not heard. That if we are conventionally beautiful according to society, then we have higher value.  

I have been thinking about the dangers of social media and Instagram on and off since my university days, but only recently have I experienced feeling a strange pressure surrounding my content. Some people have followed me on Instagram and questioned me as to why I don’t have any current photos of myself on social media. As if, because I am a young woman, it is expected of me to flaunt my physical appearance to others online. I don’t like this. I don’t like feeling as though I have to explain why a woman has a choice to display photos of herself or not. There should not be an external pressure. If a woman wants to post photos of herself online, then that is her choice. Girls and women should not be pressured to present themselves in a certain way online.  If I wan’t to post photos of myself online in the future, it will be of my own accord.

Because I am a young woman, it is expected of me to flaunt my physical appearance to others online. 

Joe Rogan and Gabrielle Reece have an interesting conversation about Instagram and the effect it is having on young women on his podcast, The Joe Rogan Show. It is titled, ‘The Ethics of Becoming an Instagram Model.’

Gabrielle mentions the pressure young girls are under from this exposure to perfected images of women online. She also emphasises that it is other qualities that will shine through as you age, and there is so much truth in this. But my advice is, don’t wait until you’re older to find out what qualities these are: find them out now. Ask yourself, why are you so great? What are your strengths? How can you be of service to others? There is so much to be said for a strong character. And be mindful that spending too much time on Instagram can make valuing aesthetics over other qualities seem like ‘the norm’. 

We have been exposed to filtered and airbrushed photos of other women on an endless stream and on technology that is so addictive we don’t always consciously recognise choosing to view this content. Over the years to come I think it will become very apparent the damage that has been done to younger generations of girls and women.   

We have been exposed to filtered and airbrushed photos of other women on an endless stream and on technology that is so addictive we don’t always consciously recognise choosing to view this content. 

Perhaps if the platform offered some way of demonstrating an individual’s whole character: their intellect, kindness, physical strength and any other admirable qualities you can think of, it could be very different to have sexy photos in amongst that. But in my opinion, we haven’t reached that point. Social media apps cannot suffice for real portrayal of a person. Momentary photos only show a skewed perception of someone. And with the amount of time people are spending on Instagram these days, it seems as though many people are conflating an online identity with a real one.   

I do believe that social media could be improvedIf the like button were to be removed permanently and the followers being displayed could be removed from the page presented, I believe it would reduce the anxiety and pressure the validation loop is creating on Instagram. However, I also don’t see those changes happening anytime soon. Instagram and Facebook are designed for the sole purpose of stealing our attention; for maximising engagement. Unfortunately, as explained recently in The Social Dilemma on Netflix, the managers of these massive corporations know our psyche is very much connected to wanting to be ‘liked’ and ‘accepted’ by others. So unfortunately it is up to us, to monitor our usage, and be aware of the content that we are exposing ourselves to.  

the managers of these massive corporations know our psyche is very much connected to wanting to be ‘liked’ and ‘accepted’ by others.

 For me feeling beautiful is synonymous with feeling connected to others and nature. Reallife connection cannot be replaced and that is what will make people feel truly happy and beautiful. When you understand that there is so much depth in everyday living, and if you find the beauty in it, you can also find happiness.  

 I hope that for young girls or women reading this that you will feel as though you have one more person rooting for you and your qualities which cannot be seen through a screen. Please remind yourself daily that the world can gain so much from the amazing things your mind and body can create.  And remember that these apps are not built to necessarily help with personal growth. 

How do you feel about beauty standards on Instagram? Do you enjoy using Instagram? Let us know on social media.

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