As a website that routinely runs an “Instagram Girls of the Month” instalment, it might come off as self-defeating to point out that those same Insta babes are probably making you feel worse about yourself. More to the point, Instagram topped the list of social media platforms most likely to make you depressed or anxious, particularly if you’re young. It’s therefore no stretch to assume that bikini-clad models with over 100k followers are at the very least contributing to the problem. Will that stop us from checking them out and sharing? Probably not. But it’s still good to know we’re not the only ones feeling a little bit jealous after we do.
The somewhat unsurprising news that Insta makes young people feel low came on the heels of a study performed by the Royal Society for Public Health in conjunction with the Youth Health Movement. The two groups surveyed 1500 people between the ages of 14 and 24, asking them questions about the impact of social media on their mental health. It was quickly determined that Instagram–the mega popular photo sharing site with over 700 million users–had the “most detrimental” effect on young people’s mental health. Hot on Insta’s tails was Snapchat, followed by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Apparently, young women in particular are most impacted by Insta’s non-stop flow of carefully curated stories and pictures. However, in general, a number of youth reportedly experience a dramatic increase in depression and anxiety after using the site, feeling worse about their bodies, identities and social lives. A significant percentage of participants even claimed that baring witness to the well-manicured lives of others was causing them to lose sleep at night.
As anyone who uses Instagram is likely to know, the massively popular site offers a non-stop bevy of curated lifestyle shots dressed up as candid, off-the-cusp photography. In other words, the platform doesn’t exactly paint an accurate picture of our lives. Such an approach might seem natural in the age of surface impressions. After all, nobody wants to be the one guy or girl showing off what he or she looks like when first getting up in the morning, or changing a diaper, or sitting at a desk working on TPS reports. Instead, we’d rather share the vacations, the fancy restaurants, the attractive company we keep, and so on.
Nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent than on the pages of various hot Instagram babes, many of whom make a living by beach-hopping around the world, uploading their best poses and raking in tons of followers as a result. It’s really not a far cry from the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, except for the fact that it’s on Insta, which lends each picture a much more approachable vibe. In turn, viewers don’t feel like their looking at a magazine, but rather the real adventure of a life not their own. Suffice to say, feelings of FOMO and self-consciousness are practically inevitable.
Some folks might read about the study and say to themselves, “Well, duh”. That is, common sense could more or less tell you that witnessing only the good moments in other people’s lives might lead to instances of depression and anxiety. However, the reason studies like these are important is because of how young so many social media users are. Teenagers, for instance, already experience wild mood shifts, body issues and severe bouts of anxiety, with or without the Internet. They’re also at the most impressionable and vulnerable stage of their lives. It’s therefore important to point to statistics and even hold sites like Insta accountable for their actions.
Accordingly, one of the groups who conducted the study has suggested that sites like Insta and Snap implement “heavy usage” warnings, which would pop up after someone binges for hours at a time. Whether such measures will amount to anything might remain to be seen, whereas anyone who knows teenagers is likely to know that some sort of usage notification is probably far short of a problem solver.
To be fair to social media, the study in mention did determine that platforms like Instagram have more than a few beneficial uses, such as building relationships and providing support for those in need. However, the ultimate message (and subsequent irony) remains clear: sites like Insta are supposed to be connecting users, but in many cases they’re just making people jealous and insecure. In some ways, it’s the high school effect (i.e. jocks and beauty queens live it up while everyone else suffers), quantified by the Internet. And while usage notifications might be a good place to start, what would really help is if everyone let their guard down just a little, using the site to share both the good and the bad alike.
As the various tech companies and watchdog groups sort it all out, we’ll continue to scour the Internet in search of hot Instagram babes, even if it’s somewhat detrimental to our own mental health. Call it masochism if you will, but sometimes a man just needs to dream. For those out there who’d rather look away, we kindly direct toward our more wholesome, feel good Instagram page: @Manofmanytastes.