Plenty of people today live their lives in search of the perfect image to share on Instagram. But how many Instagram moments are truly representative of real life?
The photo-sharing social networking site allows us to use filters and other digital tools to present an unrealistic view of how we look. And overwhelmingly, the images we see in our feeds from marketers are of young—or at least young-looking— people. This suggests that the ideal is to be young, and this can easily instil in people the feeling that they are only of value if they look a certain way and are under a certain age. It’s well-known that many women begin to feel invisible as they get older. A 2017 US study on body image and ageing in women over 50 (Hofmeier et al, 2017) reported that more than half of respondents said they experienced a sense of invisibility and irrelevance.
Does Instagram increase these feelings with its relentless stream of youthful good looks? To be ageist is to characterise, show prejudice or discriminate against a person on the grounds of their age. Experiencing ageism can impact on your confidence, financial situation and quality of life. Carol Marak, columnist and editor at seniorcare.com, said that: ‘Social media, in many respects, has reinforced ageist assumptions; viewing elders as being mentally and physically frail’ (Marak, 2016). So, although perhaps not intrinsically ageist in itself, is Instagram encouraging ageism through its promotion of youthful beauty as the ideal?
Surely, if we want to change people’s perceptions of ageing, we’d should celebrate the strength, experience and wisdom that come with age. We should promote the importance of wellness for enjoyable, healthy ageing. Because to age is a privilege. Therefore, we should encourage young people to see ageing as an aspiration, rather than something to fear. In June 2018, Instagram hit one billion monthly active users (Constine, 2018). This growth rate is far higher than that achieved by either of Instagram’s closest rivals, Snapchat and Facebook. Of these one billion people, it has been reported that 32% are aged 35 and over (Statista, 2018) and 68% are female (Omnicore, 2019).
My concern is that the continued rise and influence of Instagram will lead women to seek treatment for the wrong reasons. Rather than using aesthetic procedures to help them be the best of who they are and to treat well-founded concerns, they may seek treatment to try to look unreasonably younger than their age. This is something we as professional aesthetic practitioners cannot achieve. And even if we could, it wouldn’t change a person’s actual age. Although the underlying pressure older patients feel to conform to an idealised version of youth may be temporarily eased, it will not fundamentally be changed. We have all been faced with patients seeking treatments they don’t need, and we must always ask where these insecurities come from. The images we’re perpetually fed on Instagram surely contribute.
Betsy Fitzgerald, in her editorial of 6th November (Fitzgerald, 2018), asked how we can protect ourselves—and each other—from the damaging effects of these insecurities. Perhaps one way is to be more considered in our use of social media sites, including Instagram. At its best, social media is a powerful force for good. Let’s use that good to fight ageism, not ageing.
Constine J. Instagram hits 1 billion monthly users, up from 800m in September. TechCrunch. June 2018. https:// tinyurl.com/ybsozo46 (accessed 24 January 2019)
Fitzgerald B. The ethics of marketing aesthetic procedures. J Aesthet Nurs. 2019;7(9):461-461.
Hofmeier SM, Runfola CD, Sala M et al. Body image, aging, and identity in women over 50: The Gender and Body Image (GABI) study. J Women Aging. 2017; 29(1):3–14. https://doi.org/10.1080/089 52841.2015.1065140
Marak C. How social media can help stamp out ageism. Huffington Post. 3 August 2016. https://tinyurl.com/y9ukrvzq (accessed 24 January 2019)
Omnicore. Instagram by the numbers: stats, demographics and fun facts. 6 January 2019. https://tinyurl.com/ya8q9mx4 (accessed 24 January 2019) Statista. Distribution of Instagram users worldwide as of January 2018, by age group. 2018. https://tinyurl.com/yd27z3gx (accessed 24 January 2019)