I imagine I speak for many teenagers when I raise concerns over the damage unrealistic body images have on our mental health. These ‘ideal’ or ‘perfect’ body stereotypes are splashed all over the media, whether it is on TV, newspapers, glossy magazines, social media, billboards or public transport advertisements.
With research from The Sun concluding that 72% of adverts in the UK feature digitally retouched images, it is clear that many advertisers believe that only flawless models sell products. This promotes the message that in order to be beautiful, a person must be skinny and blemish-free, creating deep insecurities, particularly amongst women.
Unfortunately, we are literally buying into this ideology which is fueling a multi-billion pound industry. According to a YouGov poll, over a third of UK adults have felt anxious or depressed because of concerns with their body image. In addition, research found almost a third of British teenagers feel ashamed of their body, with imagery of “idealized” bodies on social media driving their insecurities. What many people don’t know is that excessive worry about appearance could result in mental illness. A 2019 study from the Institute of Mental Health in Singapore states: “Adults with body image dissatisfaction (BID) are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and suicidal.” Specifically, Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a type of mental illness relating to body image; it’s an obsession with a perceived “defect” in appearance.
A survey of teenagers undertaken for the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) shows that a third of young people have changed their eating habits to alter how they look. Various social media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and Twitter may often be one of several contributing factors, as evidenced by a recent study of women aged between 18-25 from the National Eating Disorder Association. The negative ideologies of the fashion industry is partly responsible for psychological issues linked to body image. Most importantly, we must all remember that everyone’s body is different. Even if every individual was to eat the same food and do the exact same workout for a certain amount of time, they would still not all look the same. As a society, we should demand change to the way the media depicts beauty and body image. We need to limit our exposure to fashion advertising and realize of our self-worth.
Although some celebrities such as Lili Reinhart, Drew Barrymore, Lana Condor and Rihanna are using their platforms to speak up about body positivity, the fashion industry continues to portray impractical and almost impossible stereotypes about what one should look like. Singer and body positivity advocate Demi Lovato shared their personal experience regarding self-image: "I was on Instagram, and I started comparing myself to these Instagram models, and I just thought to myself, someone needs to show my fans and anybody that's looking at my account that what you see isn't always what's real". To do just that, they posted three un-retouched photos of themself on their Instagram story. In one, they wrote "no thigh gap for me, and yet I still love myself”.
Young adults must be sent the message that being secure, proud and comfortable with themselves is more important than anything else. To achieve this, brands must present realistic models to represent real people and if this isn’t driven by the fashion industry itself, there should be legal restrictions on image enhancement of models. We are all beautiful, and beauty is about what you have within and what you can achieve, not whether you are 5’8” and skinny.