How I re-engineered my Instagram to boost my body confidence
By Ella Griffee
We all know that Instagram is our worst enemy when it comes to mental health, but "quitting" it isn't always a realistic option. Here's how to keep your feed fun, while fighting the negative mental health side-effects.
"Social Media seriously harms your mental health”. It’s a phrase that’s become ubiquitous; plastered across the backs of people’s phone cases and, ironically, you probably saw it first on some edgy Instagram account.
We all know that Instagram is rated as the worst social media platform when it comes to its impact on young people's mental health. For me, I could see that Instagram had the potential to exacerbate existing issues I’d had with my body image.
Once nicknamed Half Pint, I am a short, curvy, size 10 woman, with boobs that decided to grow dramatically faster than the rest of my body. For the most part, I had pretty easy ride with my body image. But one day, a checkup with a patronising male doctor, who flippantly told me that according to my BMI I was “slightly overweight”, was enough to knock my previously impressive body confidence. I obsessed over those words and let myself wallow self-pity; it could easily have led to a downward spiral of negative mental health.
Objectively, I should be happy with my body.
My body is largely considered by others as “normal”; my appearance grants me certain privileges as a white, cis woman. I have also seen the effects of serious eating disorders on the lives of three close friends who have battled anorexia. I worry that people could look at me and dismiss my story as not “serious”; but negative body image is something that can affect anyone of any size, from any background, to varying degrees.
All bodies can be subject to insecurities and sadly there is no specific factor that grants people immunity from them.
To quote the queen of Instagram Kylie Jenner, “it’s been a year of like, realizing stuff”. I began to realise the impact that Instagram was having on my mental health, specifically my body image, on a daily basis. So, I decided to make a change.
I knew I could never quit Instagram entirely; I’m completely hooked, and the idea of sleeping with my phone in another room is the quite literally the stuff of nightmares. I decided to curate my feed instead. I noticed that the type of accounts I followed had a huge influence on how I felt about myself. Of course, Instagram by nature is a "best bits" reel of its users. Celebrities, influencers and even friends make success look easy and instant. Comparison, disappointment and self-doubt are hard to avoid.
I decided to unfollow any accounts that made me feel like shit.
Chiefly, I now refuse to follow bloggers who try to shove fitness plans and juice diets down my carb-lined throat and I only follow people who have more to offer than just their looks. I follow exciting designers, inspiring entrepreneurs, journalists, friends and, I’ll admit, the odd influencer. But I choose influencers who encourage me to view my body as desirable, no matter what it looks like.
I still want my feed to be frivolous and fun, but in a way that is inspiring for others, not intimidating.
My full criteria for a positive feed is as follows:
Unfollow people who have nothing more to offer than their appearances.
Unfollow people who make you feel inadequate.
Unfollow past flings (unfollowing an accumulation of Tinder boys was surprisingly liberating for me).
Say goodbye to thirst traps.
Follow people who represent you and make you feel seen (similar shape / size / ethnicity / sexual orientation). This is a huge step in the direction towards normalising your body. Hashtags can help you find them.
Make your Instagram feed a creative hub tailored to you. Follow journalists, designers, writers, chefs, magazines and startup companies. Follow the things you’re interested in. Your feed becomes your personalised go-to for instant, informative information.
Exploit Instagram as a networking tool. I uploaded my graduate collection to my stories and miraculously sold the majority of it without even trying to.
Simply becoming aware of the hidden impacts Instagram can have is a big step. Recognise how certain images make you feel and act on that without delay.
The reality is that graduate life is already enough of an assault on our confidence as it is. Job rejections, a loss of routine and moving back home are all successful at knocking us down a peg or two. If we allow our self-esteem to be diminished even further by Instagram, it could hold us back from aiming as high for that dream job, or taking the right but risky decision that could one day pay dividends.
There are so many positive role models out there that we could be looking to for inspiration, instead of obsessing over Emily Ratajkowski’s impossibly toned stomach.
Some of the people who have made a daily difference for me include Charli Howard, author and activist. She parades her curves in Agent Provocateur’s new self-love campaign and proudly shows her squishy tummy. She writes beautifully, looks sexy AND is happy with her body. Paloma Elesser is a plus-size angel who is generating honest conversation around body image and mental health. Sam Smith recently broke the internet with a topless photoshoot image of himself stating, “I’ll always be at war with this bloody mirror but this shoot and this day was a step in the right fucking direction”. Emma Breschi is a model and photographer discussing female sexual health in a refreshingly honest way. Following people who are opening up dialogue and challenging the way we think about and apply ourselves, is important.
Re-engineering my Instagram feed is just one of the ways I am making peace with how I feel about my body.
I know can’t change the way I look, and frankly don’t really want too, but I can change how I think and what I have to offer. I can develop creatively, I can develop professionally, I can be a better friend, all by paying less attention to the superficial world around me.
This article is one in a series we are running as part of Mental Health Awareness Week. We hope it has reassured you that you are not alone in what you are experiencing. But, we also recognise that it takes much more than one article to manage mental health long-term. If you require support, we urge you to contact your local GP services (if based in the UK) or support lines like Mind’s 24 hr hotline at 0300 304 7000.
Image by unknown Pinterest artist.