Instagram’s Negative Effect on Body Image of Young Girls

We live in a generation where we are constantly on visual display. Facebook albums. Twitter pics. Pinterest boards. Tumblr pages. Instagram posts. Never before have we had this much real time connection with people, no matter where we are in the world. And with the innovation of smart phones and apps, the accessibility to these profiles and pages have never been easier. Our outward appearance is held to a higher degree now more than ever before. This effect coupled with society’s pressures of body image and beauty, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Media today has set impossible standards to define beauty. This standard skews the ideas and self esteem of women, thinking that they can achieve this unattainable level of–what society calls–beauty. The website Mirror Mirror: Eating Disorder explains that the average American fashion model is 5’9” to 6’ and weighs 110 to 118 pounds, while the average American woman is only 5’4” and weighs 142 pounds. Women are now trying to emulate this impression of what a “real” woman should look like, therefore pushing them in the direction of eating disorders or tortured levels of self worth. Anorexia and bulimia have been on the rise since the 1930’s (NEDA) and with the contribution of social networking, it’s only worsening.  In this exclusive from International Business Times, they explain the growth of these unhealthy subcultures through social media, especially on the newest photo-sharing app to hit smart phones world wide, Instagram.

Instagram's growth over the past 4 years
Instagram’s growth over the past 4 years

Instagram was founded in October of 2010 by its co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. Within two months, the app gained its first million users. By September 2011, its user base grew to 10 million. 2012 was an expansion year for Instagram with Facebook buying the app for one billion dollars. By February 2013, Instagram had 100 million user and within 7 months following, the app reached 150 million users. It is estimated that they currently have 200 million users. Instagram gained its 150 million active users in half the time it took Twitter and two years less the time it took Facebook. This insanely rapid growth only proves that Instagram caters to a large array of people. Instagram has spread to so many people that it has a very diverse group of many subcultures. One of them being the pro-eating disorders and pro-self-harm subcultures.

These Instagram subcultures encouraging anorexia and bulimia are growing, especially with the new ease of hashtagging. A hashtag is a digital tag that groups together and creates a thread of posts or picture that have similar ideas or themes. This is how pro-anorexia, bulimia, and self-harm accounts are spreading. Searching terms like “#thin” and “#anorexia” allows you to view millions and millions of images that encourage, engage in, and motivate these unhealthy and dangerous practices.

Instagram has recently taken a step in a positive direction by instating a content advisory when a user searches terms such regarding eating disorders or self-harm, and even a few bans, as of April of 2012. This advisory appears warning the viewer that the posts may contain graphic content and attach a link to either an Instagram sponsored page about eating disorders. And a similar content adivisory appears when you search posts regarding self harm, except a link to, a site for people suffering with thoughts of suicide or self-harm. A few of the terms that have been completely banned are ones like “#thinspiration,” “#thinspo,” “#selfharm,” “#proanorexia,” and “#probulimia.” However, this ban is very inconsistent and easily avoidable by simply changing a letter in the word. Words that Instagram considers to be less threatening or severe (like “#thin,” “#anorexia,” “#suicide, and slang versions of eating disorder related terms like “#ana” or “#mia”) only require a disclaimer.

If you were to click “Show Posts,” you would connected instantly with millions of images regarding the glorification of eating disorders and/or self-harm. Here are a few examples that were not too graphic:

Would you rather? This convinces girls that there are only two options...
Would you rather? This convinces girls that there are only two options…
Encouraging thoughts of hopelessness and isolation...
Encouraging thoughts of hopelessness and isolation…
Motivation for girls to eat less/none at all...
Motivation for girls to eat less/none at all…
Exemplifying and solidifying ideas of self-harm...
Exemplifying and solidifying ideas of self-harm…

The accessibility of these harmful accounts and the vulnerability of the targeted audience are the true dangers behind these Instagram. It is extremely easy to log onto Instagram, search some of the terms I have listed, and become engulfed in these damaging community. The content advisory has good intentions and it does have links for more information, which is definitely a positive move, however, Instagram is not doing enough to cut down on these dangerous communities. A quote from an article posted by National Eating Disorders Information Centre sums up my point very well:

The power of these images however does not just lie in the picture itself, but that the fact that they have facilitated the creation of pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia communities where people are promoting and reinforcing each other’s harmful and dangerous behavior through the amount of likes and the comments they post on these pictures.

Since 90% of its 150 million users are under 35 and 68% of that user base are women, it is very obvious that Instagram’s target audience is young females. Young females throughout their teenage and twenties years are most susceptible to developing an eating disorder. This their prime years for development and are experiencing a great deal of pressure from societal norms to look a certain way, which leads to eating disorders and lowered levels of self-esteem. Pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia on social media are perfect fodder for this generation of young women. Social networking sites like Instagram can no longer evade these seriously harmful subcultures that are developing before they damage anymore vulnerable people.




Work Cited

Ahmad, Irfan. “Timeline of Instagram from 2010 to Present [INFOGRAPHIC].” Social Media Today. N.p., 7 Jan. 2014. Web. May 2014. <;.

Befrienders Worldwide | Emotional Support to Prevent Suicide Worldwide. Befrienders Worldwide Inc., 2012-2014. Web. May 2014. <;.

D’Onfro, Jillian. “This Chart Shows How Instagram Reached 150 Million Users In Half The Time Of Twitter.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 18 Feb. 2014. Web. May 2014. <;.

escapingtheworld_. “I feel like such a failure. I disappoint a lot of people, and I don’t deserve to be here #cutting #depressed #lonely #anorexia #suicidal.” 3 May 2014, 1:35 p.m.

“Instagram: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (Part 1).” National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC). National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC), 19 Feb. 2014. Web. May 2014. <;.

International Business Times (“IBTimesTV”). “The Quest for ‘Thinspiration’: Pro-Anorexia Material Banned on Tumblr, Pinterest Moves to Instagram.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 20 Apr. 2012. Web. May 2014. <;.

little_failure. “Pick a number lovelies (icon) #ana#anorexia#anorexic#fat#skinny#thin#size00#deb#ocd#sue#ednos#failure#notproana#sad#anxiety#depression”. 3 May 2014, 1:46 p.m. Instagram.


maybeiam_dead. “~ #depression #depressed #stressed #anxiety #anxietydisorder #panic #panicattacks #panicdisorder #ana #anorexia #mia #bulimia #ednos #ed #eatingdisorder #fuckup #saveme #selfharmmm #selfdestruction #sad #sadness #insecure #selfhate #overthinking #relapse #failure #broken #blackandwhite ~”. 3 May 2014, 1:27 p.m. Instagram.

Smith, Cooper. “Here’s Why Instagram’s Demographics Are So Attractive To Brands.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 13 Mar. 2014. Web. May 2014. <;.

“Statistics on Bulimia.” Mirror Mirror: Eating Disorders. N.p., n.d. Web. May 2014. <;.

___ana_and_me___. “#notme #depression #depressed #hate #sad #thin #skinny #suicide #suicidal #selfharmmm #ed #eatingdisorder #size0 #size00 #scars #selfhate #dead #death #strave [sic] #purge #cut #cutting #anorexic #anorexia #mia #ana #bulimia #thinspoooo #selfharmmm”. 3 May 2014, 1:27 p.m. Instagram.


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