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Sun, Sea and Self-doubt – The effect of reality TV and social media on self-image

I thought in this post we could explore the concept of body image and influences upon this. The theory behind our own perceptions of our body image seems increasingly relevant right now for a couple of reasons. Firstly, many of us will have made new years goals in an attempt to change how we look and feel about ourselves. This may include exercising more or giving up something that we feel is bad for our health.

Secondly, this Sunday marks the start of the biggest reality TV show in the UK right now – Love island. For those who are not aware of the format of the show, Love island brings together a group of people in a sunny villa somewhere lovely and hot. Most of these people appear to be young and what popular culture deems to be ‘attractive’ at the time. They all enter the villa looking for love, and I believe couples are made and challenged with the arrival of more young ‘attractive’ people throughout the series. I’ve never personally watched the show (apart from the one time a woman was watching it on the train next to me) so I can’t pass judgement upon it. But I thought I would explore the effects of this type of reality TV and the social media that surrounds it has on individuals behaviours with reference to their perceived self-image.

Watching shows like Love island can have a detrimental effect on our mental health and how we feel about our own bodies. As humans, we have a natural desire to make social comparisons. This means if we are unsure about something, we will look to others to determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against others.

Seeing the contestants on Love island and their apparent ‘success’ from being on the show, a lot of people may place them in high regard and look to them to show them how to behave. The problem here is that the type of people that are contestants on the show demonstrate a lack of body diversity, with most being muscly and super-slim. Some may look at the bodies of the contestants and feel insecure about themselves. The shows boss has recently defended their casting decisions, stating that  contestants were chosen by the producers to represent an “aspirational version” of the show’s audience (Link here).

But what thought is given to viewers when suggesting these types of aspirations? The Mental Health Foundation recently ran a survey on body image. In their survey they found that seeing images of ‘ideal’ bodies can contribute to people feeling more distress and shame about their own body, if it does not match up to the presented aspirational ideal (Link here). Further to this, they found that 23% of 18-24 year olds said they had experienced suicidal thoughts and feelings because of concerns in relation to their body image. Fifteen percent said they had self-harmed or deliberately hurt themselves because of concerns about their body image. As a result of higher levels of body dissatisfaction, an individual may experience a poorer quality of life, psychological distress and be at risk of starting unhealthy eating behaviours.

With contestants going on to have very successful careers in social media afterwards, their influence expands way further than just the programme itself. It’s not unusual for contestants to be paid by companies to promote diet programmes, makeup and skincare on their social media platforms. But this can lead to their followers feeling inadequate and less worthy because they feel their body doesn’t look a certain way. More than a third of 18-24 year olds (34%) said images used in advertising and promotion on social media made them worry about their body image (Link here). An article from the NHS last week states that there has been a 37% rise in hospital admissions for eating disorders in just two years (link here). Claire Murdoch, national mental health director for the NHS said that individuals mental health was being damaged by “massive pressures about body image, fuelled through social media”.

‘In a Society That Profits From Your Self-Doubt, Liking Yourself Is a Rebellious Act’

As programmes like Love island carry on getting ever more popular, it’s even more important to spread the word and promote positive body image. Everyone has the right to feel at home and comfortable in the body they were born in. Below I’ve linked some great instagram accounts that I follow that actively promote self-love and acceptance, so feel free to follow them if you would like to:

https://www.instagram.com/i_weigh/?hl=en – I Weigh is a campaign about radical inclusivity.
https://www.instagram.com/dontcallmepretty_/?hl=en – Big on promoting self-love.
https://www.instagram.com/theinsecuregirlsclub/?hl=en – A space which promotes empowerment through embracing vulnerabilities.
https://www.instagram.com/peterdevito/?hl=en – A inspirational and inclusive photographer