***TRIGGER WARNING – TALK ABOUT DISORDERLY EATING
Dr Chris Evans, former GP turned tory MP for Leicestershire, proposed the Digitally Altered Bodily Image Bill to Parliament on the 12th of January 2022. This Bill would require a logo to be displayed on any digitally altered images of bodies, in an attempt to combat body dysmorphia online. The purpose of the bill is for greater transparency as to when influencers have photoshopped, facetuned, or digitally augmented any paid promotional material. This would not extend to non-brand affiliated posts, as the MP stated, ‘this isn’t about stopping you touching up your wedding photos or removing red eye on a post, it is targeted at those with significant, far-reaching influence and those with commercial intent’.
The NHS has seen a rise in eating disorders, ‘from April to October 2021- the most recent data - there were 4,238 admissions, 41% more for children aged 17 and under than the same period the year before.’. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 3 teenagers feel shameful about their body image, with nearly 20% of adults feeling disgusted about their body image. Research has found that higher body dissatisfaction is associated with a poorer quality of life, psychological distress and the risk of unhealthy eating behaviours and eating disorders.
I spoke to a friend who has built a brand for herself based off of non-restrictive eating and romanticising your own life. @wholesome.mils has over 199K followers on TikTok, and 14k on Instagram; you may recognise her from her inclusive recipes targeted towards those living dairy/sugar/gluten free lifestyles. ‘I think it [The bill] is an incredible idea. Anyone that complains about it is most probably part of the issue. In my opinion, there is absolutely no need to edit your body. Influencers, however much they are bashed and told how little they contribute to society, actually ironically leave a huge imprint in young people’s lives and minds, usually unconsciously too. Their unconscious impact on young people makes this a very important topic.’
Girlguiding Girls’ Attitude Survey in 2020 found that 51% of 7-10 year old girls feel ‘very happy’ with how they look, and by age 11-16 when most young girls start to use social media, this percentage drops to 16%. ‘The Covid-19 period reinforced the pressure as girls spent more time online exposed to images in adverts and on social media of the ‘perfect’ appearance.’. The connection between social media and poor self-esteem is what Dr Evans wishes to pin-point. Therefore, monitoring influencers’ posts that are more widely circulated due to financial boosting may be a good place to start.
‘It is also important to consider that people who do edit their photos are usually under pressure or influence themselves. Or perhaps suffer with their own body image issues. I think both sides should be supported. The only issue I can think around this bill is that it could be weaponised against vulnerable ‘influencers’ themselves to bash and expose them for their body image issues they seek to sooth through the use of photoshop. I feel like it should be looked at holistically. Why in our society has this become the norm? Why do female influencers especially feel the need to edit their photos? It makes me so sad as I feel they are so demonised in a way when often they are also naive and insecure. It seems more of a systemic and deep-rooted feminist issue in some ways.’
It is undeniable the impact bloggers have on our lifestyle, whether it be fashion trends, advertising or public opinions. ‘As a blogger I feel I have a responsibility to be realistic and set attainable standards. I am just a normal girl living her life in a way that feels good day-to-day to achieve what everyone wants to in the end, happiness! However, it can be challenging with the ever-evolving landscape of social media apps and their demand for ultra-authenticity. Controversially, I think true authenticity will never be attainable on social media, as you cannot fit your life into a minute long video and show every emotion throughout your day. You can try your best like I do, but it just won’t ever be able to reflect your whole life experience.’
Millie’s suggestion of a weakness in the bill was that there is the partial responsibility of the viewer themselves. ‘People must use social media responsibly and be educated on how to navigate what can become a toxic place. However, I’m a firm believer that social media is only toxic if you follow the wrong people or get consumed by it. I think it can genuinely be an incredible tool to improve your life, find inspiration and learn new things. Well for me anyway!’. Perhaps if there were updated lessons in school and the workplace about social media presence, things such as cancel culture would be far less prevalent online. Additionally, the consumer must be responsible and work to consider how what we engage with online may be affecting our mental health.
‘I have tried my best to fill social media with positive messages around food and body image. However, in my own research I found that most eating disorders are usually triggered through trauma or nature rather than environmental factors such as social media which surprised me. For me, when I felt effected by social media it was because of what I was consuming. I was purposefully following underweight models, people that also had ED’s etc. My own struggles with eating were not triggered by this, but I actively sought to consume content of a triggering nature, whether it was unconscious or not I don’t know.’
As great as that TikToker’s outfits may be, if you find yourself negatively engaging with her ‘What I Eat in a Day’ videos maybe take the time to press ‘not interested’. Or if you find yourself a little too consumed by the workouts a certain Youtuber is posting, try unsubscribing for a while, just to give yourself a rest. Working to get on the ‘good’ side of social media is worthwhile and could in fact be where this bill helps out. Perhaps if apps such as Facetune became less commonly used, the standard of beauty would drop slightly from the unattainable to the every-day. The Mental Health Foundation found that one in eight had edited pictures of themselves to change their face or body shape; while Girlguiding UK found ‘over a third (34%) won’t post a photo of themselves unless they change aspects of their appearance’. Perhaps if influencers were forced to show more confidence with their unedited selves, this would gradually encourage consumers to feel the same. In December Alexandra Cooper, host of the ‘Call Her Daddy’ podcast, posted a bikini photo featuring her ‘banana roll’ (a little bump of fat where her thigh meets her bum). She spoke out about the thousands of nasty comments she received, but with each came an even amount of praise, thanking her for posting a very normal and common bodily feature that some of her followers also shared.
If you’re looking to get on the ‘good’ side of the internet, Millie left a few recommendations:
‘I tend to read self-development books around happiness. The podcast “I weigh” by Jameela Jamil radically changed my perspective and relationship to food and body image. It is incredible. ‘Sarah’s Day’ on YouTube also really helped me as her tagline is “listen to your body”. Any feminist podcasts or books have helped me. My entire dissertation was on how the media creating beauty standards through visual and verbal modes. I loved it so much I managed to achieve a high 1st (I was very keen). I noticed throughout researching, writing and well, after my dissertation, my confidence improved 1000x. It was the most life changing period of time. Even now I think about all the things I found in my experiment and what they meant. It really shaped my understanding of these subliminal messages I learned through advertising and society growing up as a women.’
The Bill is currently awaiting its second reading in Parliament, but so far has been met with positive feedback. If you want to find Millie online her socials are @wholesome.mils on both Instagram and TikTok, she also has an e-cookbook. And if you’ve been affected by this article and want to find further help some important links are:
BEAT contact details
Help for England
Helpline: 0808 801 0677
Help for Scotland
Helpline: 0808 801 0432
Help for Wales
Helpline: 0808 801 0433
Help for Northern Ireland
Helpline: 0808 801 0434