Just an Innocent Instagram?

Amidst a sea of cute puppy and pretty nail photos lie images of another nature.

Posted Mar 02, 2013

It is only recently that Instagram has come upon my radar with greater frequency. And while amused to see photos of cute animals, panoramic natural wonders, and the occasional blinged out nail, I’ve also come to see a somewhat disturbing trend. Among many younger users (although of course not limited to this group), one comes across self-objectification and exploitation of concerning proportions. Photographs of headless bodies abound. And I’m not talking C.S.I.-style. Just body parts. Young girls posting photos of their derriere, men of their bulging muscles. No heads, just body parts.

There was a time when we single-handedly blamed the media for objectifying women’s bodies. Certainly we know by now that advertisements regularly use women’s busts and booties to boost sales. Men’s abs and arms flanked by more busts and booties do likewise. But taking it further, rape culture is often understood by many feminist theorists to arise from a range of factors including pornography. While a causal link between pornography usage and sexual assault has not been established, just as we can never prove smoking causes cancer, the implication of correlational studies are still staggering. Studies have shown that within 10 minutes of exposure to aggressive pornography, males are more likely to believe rape myths. Furthermore nearly 70% of sexual abusers assaulted or beat their victims after viewing pornography, with 88% of convicted rapists being regular users of pornography while often mimicking the depicted acts in their crimes (Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault). It suffices to say a picture is worth far more than a thousand words.

For those who deny the impact of media and objectifying images on violent crime, might we look at disordered eating. Today is the last day of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Although there are countless factors from genetics, personality traits, and biology that contribute to the development of an eating disorder, the impact of media images cannot be disregarded. There is a reason we have never seen a contestant on the Bachelor who doesn’t look amazing in a bikini.

What does this mean for social media? Well, once folks got tired of seeing pictures of people’s lattes and lunches plastered all over their Facebook newsfeeds, conveniently enough Instagram came around to let us revel in the photos of all things interesting and inane. It is a vehicle which works through photos first, and words second. And so you might scroll through and see beautiful bodies, tanned legs on the beach, a “casual” but certainly posed shot, and a cupcake that might really only get half-eaten. Because where we once thought our Facebook lives were scripted and superficial, Instagram in some ways takes things to the next level. You no longer gain a “like” as you would on Facebook. Instead, you get to “love” a photograph. And in a society as starved for love and affection as ours, who wouldn’t objectify themselves for a little bit more love? Especially if you are young, unsure about yourself, and just trying to fit in. Just as in behavioral modification where we provide rewards to increase the desired behavior, perhaps we need to be more mindful of what we “like” and “love.” Maybe instead we simply need to tell each other personally how much we value and care for one another rather than seeking it online. And then for good measure, add how much we enjoyed the photo of that paperclip they posted.

Follow me on Twitter at MillenialMedia, but please don’t love any of my Instagram photos, thanks!