Bodies Are Canceled. Thanks, Instagram

Leaked documents and a congressional hearing recently proved the obvious: Instagram is harmful to many users. This has been known by Facebook for years. One slide from the company concluded that Instagram makes teenage girls' body image problems worse. This is despite years of research that has shown that many users are more satisfied with their bodies than they were before the app was launched. According to one study, Instagram can ruin a woman's mood in just seven minutes.
There are many ways to reduce the negative effects of the constant stream of unrealistic images shared by friends and strangers. Common sense strategies include curating your Instagram account and showing gratitude to your body. To drive out the negative (images that depict idealized bodies), some people choose to focus on the positive (body-positive photos showing a variety of shapes, sizes and colors). There are apps that can help you cut down on the time you spend using other apps when all else fails.

None of these strategies can solve the root problem. The stock phrase body-image problems barely begins to describe it. The way we view ourselves and others, as well as the often-negative consequences that follow, is more a matter if hair-trigger emotions rather than rational thought. Renee Engeln, a psychologist at Northwestern University who founded the Body & Media Lab, said that once you have learned to view your body as an object, it is impossible to turn that off. You cannot walk away.

Therefore, the best strategy is to be a little more extreme that anything previously suggested: Stop creating and eating images of bodies. Cancel corporeality. You can perceive and be perceived less.

Here's a short history of self-perception. For millennia the best way to see yourself was in a reflective surface like a pool. (RIP Narcissus. Glass mirrors were first used in homes around 500 years ago. People took their first photographs with photographic cameras less than 200 years ago. In 2010, Kevin Systrom uploaded the first Instagram photo.

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Mirrors could have a profound effect on people's relationships to their appearances, but a glance at them was only fleeting. Photographing, however, required a violent transfer of ownership. Susan Sontag's 1977 essay, On Photography, stated that to photograph is to take the thing you are photographing. It is putting yourself in a position to perceive the world as knowledge and, therefore, power.

At least 82 per cent of American youth have posted selfies online in an age where they take an average of 1.4 trillion photos each year. Any image can be edited and shared across dozens of social media platforms within minutes to be liked, commented on, or ignored. The question of who has that power has become more complex.

Engeln and her colleagues have demonstrated that objectification is a problem in popular media, including television and social platforms. This has been true for more than 20 years. This happens when people, especially those who are perceived as females, are seen as less agents and equals and more objects that can be visually evaluated. The harm does not stop there. Researchers have suggested that these ideas can become internalized over time and that people's self-worth is tied to how they look. This can lead to shame and anxiety, depression, as well as disordered eating.

This also leads to more self-surveillance. Experimental studies have shown that even seemingly insignificant things, such as being near mirrors or scales, or getting a comment about one's appearance, can lead to cognitive declines. This is because the brain's attention shifts away from the task at hand to focus on the body and how it looks to others. Engeln explains in her 2018 book Beauty Sick that the result is that many people have an invisible mirror between themselves and the outside world.