What’s the first thing you do when your alarm goes off in the morning? Almost all of us press snooze. We force our eyes open to see the latest posts on Instagram, as it dominates our lives along with 200 million other individuals around the world that use Instagram to view stories, images and videos. As we continue to hoist ourselves awake, we violently squint to see images of thin emaciated models and celebrities, glorifying perfectionism, immediately making us feel dissatisfied with ourselves from the minute we wake up.
The greater majority of us compare ourselves to these models and become addicted with the constant thought and reminder that, ‘I too can look desirable, I too can starve myself, and train myself to death’. Every so often our insecurities will take over our opinion, rational decision making, power and become toxic to our health. The pursuit for perfectionism leaps far beyond what is normal, and into a compulsive and obsessive lifestyle, as many of us fear gaining weight far more than failing a subject at university. Which begs the question;
Has Instagram made us obsess with how we should look?
Instagram has sparked the addiction that many people between the ages of 18 and 25 have developed. Instagram’s presence in everyone’s life is significant, its influence of the ideal ‘body’ is unavoidable. The incessant pursuit and drive for thinness is impairing young women’s mental health and causing them to make destructive eating and exercise choices, as they are dissatisfied with their image and continue to compare themselves to the famous.
Studies have shown that people who engage in more social comparison tend to have greater dissatisfaction with their body. These negative thoughts are ignited by images and messages posted on Instagram focusing on appearance, body shape and a new found focus of muscularity in women.
Do Instagram pages trigger dissatisfaction with ourselves?
We see communities developing campaigns that drive and encourage the notion of thinness ‘skinnygirlsmakegraves’ and fitness bloggers managing ‘fitspo’ pages, demonstrating how easy it is to become thin. It is easy to see through the façade, that fitness pages merely advocate healthy activities and lifestyle choices, when it is clear that their main focus is more superficial and based on having a perfect appearance. The constant posting of workout videos and selfies infects the minds of many, and results in individuals comparing themselves to others. This ultimately leads to many fearing the thought of gaining weight. This fear is created and constructed so that people feel accepted by society if they conform to the body ideals shaped by the world.
Society sets standards by posting the weight of models, eliciting a sense of adoration of a very thin ideal. The average BMI of a model these days is what we are comparing ourselves to. Instagram contributes to the emergence of eating disorders and body dysmorphia through the influence of pro-eating disorder pages. It was declared by the The New York Post that once women engaged with Instagram platforms that focus on body image and appearance, they exhibited emotions of disappointment with their appearance after viewing images of worshiped celebrities, models and ‘fitspo’ pages.
The science behind the addiction
The brain is the social organ of the body. Therefore, social media and brain function go hand in hand. The brain’s reward centre responds to sensations of pleasure, via a chemical known as dopamine, naturally stimulating the reward centre. Dopamine is the main neurotransmitter driving the reward pathway. Research suggests that the situation is more complex and that dopamine is not only related to pleasure but even to learning and memory, as it encourages individuals to indent and maintain bad habits. Dopamine changes a person’s perception of liking something to becoming addicted to it.
The brain recognises and registers all pleasures in the same way (i.e. drugs, food, gambling, alcohol). Instagram triggers the release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, which allows the prefrontal cortex to communicate in a way that motivates us to take action and to seek out sources of pleasure, in this case starvation and exercise. Over exercising and depriving yourself of food grants your brain with the sense of pleasure, reward, achievement and power. The enjoyment of seeing results and resemblance to Instagram models fuels the addiction.
Obsessing over body image prevails as the brain’s reward system floods the nucleus accumbens with dopamine. The consolidation of memories of pleasure and satisfaction is associated with the hippocampus, leading to continuous repetition of such extreme behaviour. The hippocampus allows the amygdala to build a conditioned response to certain stimuli, such as Instagram and the fear of not looking thin or fit. Instagram exposure results in the amygdala constantly being activated, as individuals are in constant fear of gaining weight or looking bad, which triggers the addiction.
Like any addiction, alcohol is not bad, too much alcohol is bad. Gambling is fun, but too much gambling is dangerous. Instagram is inspiring, too much Instagram is toxic.