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Why Instagram is a Minefield for Young Women’s Mental Health

Are semi-nude Instagram selfies really a form of ’empowerment’, or are they just hurting us? We consider the highs and lows of being female on Instagram.

Kim K & Em Rata

via Instagram (@kimkardashian)

Dolly Alderton published a brilliant piece on growing up and womanhood on Red a few days ago. “There’s not just one type of woman you can be,” Alderton says, which rings so true in a world of Instagram filters – and filtering in general – that can really skew the average young woman’s brain, making her believe she has to fit the same cookie-cutter credentials as the images projected to us by the media.

I say ‘media’, but the blame can’t be placed solely on the naughty press any more. Other ‘regular’ women now have the ability to (unintentionally) make us feel bad about ourselves online by presenting exaggerated body and beauty ideals. And doesn’t it hit us harder when a ‘normal’ person, rather than a famous person, posts a ~lit~ selfie on the ‘gram? Celebrities have personal trainers and heaps of money – we’ve read enough exposés on celebrity photoshopping, we’re not stupid, we already know they’re lying to us – but if the pretty girl you go to uni with has a gaping thigh gap, huge tits and a flawless complexion, why can’t you look like her, too? I mean, you breathe the same air as each other and everything!

But it’s important to keep in mind that nobody looks hot 24/7 and, outside the realms of in-jokes and the phenomenon of the Ugly Snapchat Selfie, nobody in their right mind is going to post a picture of themselves make-up free (NB: actually make-up free, not just sans eye make-up) on the internet in an attempt to receive the most modern form of gratification: likes.

It’s easy to get caught up in the world of Insta-perfection. I like Instagram, but it’s enough of a double-edged sword that I consciously avoid getting sucked into it; 5 minutes in, it tends to makes me feel bad about my mediocre life, face and body. One could argue that Instagram can help girls with their insecurities. Thanks to the power of the Internet, girls can connect with other girls that they can relate to. At its best, Instagram has a great community feel. Friendships and girlie love-ins spark up constantly thanks to Instagram, and perhaps the rush of receiving an Instagram notification is ‘sober’ Generation Z‘s answer to taking a hit.

At its worst, Instagram can be terrible for anyone with insecurities. Young women now feel it’s OK to upload pictures in their underwear because it ’empowers’ them and pushes their feminist beliefs. It’s great that you love your body and you have every right to show it off, but whatever happened to being humble? Before I get jumped on by anyone, let me just state that I am a feminist. Well, duh. I believe that every woman, by nature, is a feminist. Why feminism is seen as a trend nowadays is baffling – it’s just a simple matter of equal rights, surely? Why would any woman NOT want to be treated equally to men? But if feminism is all about equality, how is posting practically nude pictures on Instagram helping push these equal values?

Last month, Jill Filipovic published an article for Cosmo, titled How Kim Kardashian Killed the Term ‘Empowerment’, which hit the nail on the head. ” Dubbing empowerment an “empty word”, Filipovic goes on to say the following (this is a long quote, apologies, but she puts it better than I ever could):

“Women and girls receive the persistent message that being beautiful, sexy, and happy with your body depends on other people — men, mostly — thinking you’re hot. It means being an object of sexual appeal for the visual gratification of others, not a sexual creature in your own right. It means your body is a stand-in for sex (when we say “sex sells,” what we actually mean is “women’s mostly naked bodies sell things”). Sexualized images of women are everywhere, but the very things that would actually allow women to have sex for pleasure (easy access to contraception and abortion, sex education in which boys and men were taught that female pleasure and orgasm matter as much as their own) remain politically and socially contentious.”

I’d understand over-exposed selfies better if slews of men were posting pictures of their crotches. But that’s not a thing. Men don’t stick topless, post-gym selfies on Instagram with the hashtag #empowered. If my boyfriend threw it into conversation that he felt ’empowered’, I’d be confused. Disagree with me all you want, but let’s be frank: most of the time a girl uploads a raunchy selfie, they’re definitely doing it for the ‘gram. They want the comments. They want the attention. They probably genuinely believe that Kim Kardashian is empowering women. Oh, and I class ‘raunchy’ as any selfie you wouldn’t send to your parents or your grandparents – not because I’m a prude, but because if you’re so empowered by that picture of yourself wearing a triangle bra/side-boob-baring swimsuit, why not share it in the family Whatsapp group? Thought not.

I’m writing this mini-essay because I recently heard the sad story of a close friend’s 17-year-old younger sister, whose perception of ‘perfect’ girls on social media has led to mental health problems and crippling insecurities. Furthermore, as someone who has the physique of a prepubescent boy along with pale skin, annoyingly thin hair, a Jewish nose and a fun bout of hormonal acne every month, I’ve personally experienced how negative social media can be on the female psyche, especially during those delicate teenage years.

So this one is for any girls out there who would rather read books, write things, be quiet and blend into the background – blending into the background isn’t anti-feminist unless it’s a stereotype forced upon you by men, FYI. This is also one for the girls who want to play with make-up even though they don’t look like the girls in those YouTube tutorials, and the girls who want to wear a low-cut dress but feel they “don’t have the boobs” for it. Take heed Dolly’s advice, because there really isn’t just one type of woman you can be. Just be you.

This article was originally published on

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