Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but in the eye of the camera, it can distort the standard of what it means to be healthy.
When we were kids, our concept of body image was molded by images of celebrities who had perfect skin and bodies or were willing to go to any lengths for the perfect body—think Mary-Kate Olsen’s transition from sweet child star to strikingly well-dressed skeleton.
Suddenly, however, we can no longer blame Glamour or “E! News” for projecting unreal and superficial images of body type. We have taken body image creation into our own hands, with our cameras and social networks.
Don’t lie. You know you’ve done it. I’ve done it. Scanned through the photos of a high-school friend that you haven’t seen for months and wonder how they suddenly look so… good. Or sigh as you come across pictures of yourself at the beach and cringe as you compare yourself to the people around you.
Sometimes it feels as if we look a certain way not because we actually want to look good for a night out with friends, but because we are extremely conscious of the fact that we will not only be seen by other people, but also by their cameras. And although people may forget images, cameras don’t.
Our lives have become defined and hallmarked by images. And as if we weren’t already bombarded by enough images on a daily basis—on the Internet, in magazines and on television—social networks have made it infinitely easier to condense a person’s life and personality into a mere series of pictures.
This means a tougher battle for those fighting the advent of eating disorders caused by feelings of bodily insecurity. You can avoid the tabloids and the media, but it is not so easy to avoid social networks, which have become so vital for personal communication.
It’s almost too crazy to admit that we can now blame ourselves for the unhealthy body images that we sustain and support through social networking. I never think twice about lauding someone on how hot they look in a certain picture, when in the back of my head I’m usually thinking, “Really? Really, c’mon that’s Photoshoped.”
But in the age of Facebook flaunting, where pictures have to be posted hours after they are taken and where photos can make or break relationships, pictures seem to generate way more than a thousand words when they are really worth so much less.
In fact, recent studies have shown that as young girls spent significant amounts of time on Facebook, they were more likely to develop negative perceptions of body image. And with Facebook becoming as quick a fad as Bieber fever for preteens, this does not bode well for the future eradication of body stereotypes.
But there is hope in the fact that, if these networks can send negative messages about body image, they can also promote more positive perceptions of such images such as the “Healthy is the New Skinny” campaign.
We can really only stop the obsession over online images if we change the way we seek information about another person and realize that a profile is barely even a snapshot, and not even a very reliable one, of a person’s true personality; or if we can find a way to flip through a friend’s album that pops up on our news feed without judging them for how they look or judging ourselves for how we don’t look. Sounds simple enough, right? Almost as easy as making it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Oh, wait...
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There are probably several years to go before we can really see the effects of the vast multiplication of image circulation on self-perception and body image. But even now, we can realize that the comments or photos we leave on the virtual wall can help block the efforts of a friend who is trying to battle self-esteem issues and possibly even an eating disorder.
We’ve always been told not to judge a book by its cover. So now maybe it’s time we learned not to judge a face by its book.
Sony Rao is a Trinity junior. Her column runs every other Tuesday. Follow Sony on Twitter @sony_rao