While celebrity culture is not the only culprit, it is a major factor in the relentless rise in teenagers with body image issues and eating disorders. The rise of thinspiration sites is a worrying trend driven by the perfect storm of celebrity culture and social media.
Over the course of my junior year of high school, I lost a huge amount of weight, mostly due to stress at home and at school, overworking myself, and a lack of sleep. I was not really aware of how thin I had become, until family members pointed out my sharply protruding shoulder and hip bones, and the too-visible tendons around my shoulders and elbows.
This weight loss coincided with increasing compliments on my figure from classmates. In a girls’ school like mine, there is a huge amount of body scrutiny and comparison. At my thinnest and least healthy weight, girls began telling me “you’re so skinny and I’m so jealous”. A few people said that I had lost weight “in a good way”, even though I had been at a healthy weight before this point.
Since I have returned to a weight that is more normal for me, the gushing over my waist has stopped. This brings me immense sadness. I am not upset because my classmates are no longer fixated with jealousy over my size, or because I am no longer that weight. I am sad because my beautiful, strong peers have become obsessed with thigh gaps and protruding hip bones.
EATING DISORDERS ON THE RISE
Between 2004 and 2014, there was a 172% increase in under-19s hospitalised for eating disorders in England. This is partly due to increased awareness of eating disorders and their risks, but it is also a sign of the impact of celebrity culture on young people. We are bombarded with celebrity workouts, celebrity diets, and brutal comments about celebrities’ figures.
A quick glance through about a dozen Cosmopolitan covers illustrates this: most of them promoted a diet or workout along with statements such as “look hotter in days”, “flatten your belly” or “get beach body ready”.
I know girls who have bought ‘detox tea’ to help them lose a little weight, just because it was promoted by a celebrity. I’ve seen girls refuse to eat on the day of a big party for fear of looking bloated. Some classmates spend free periods scrolling through Instagram, often expressing jealousy of girls with tiny waists, perfectly flat stomachs and thigh gaps.
I’ve watched my own mother feel compelled to try out diets she’s seen in the media. It’s no wonder people, especially girls and women, are afraid of gaining weight; tabloids and women’s magazines frequently run celebrity weight gain disaster stories with unflattering images. We are taught to pick apart the bodies of others, and constantly aim for a ‘better’ aesthetic.
The rise of thinspiration sites is a worrying trend driven by the perfect storm of celebrity culture and social media. We are overexposed to images of extremely thin role models, especially from the world of fashion. Social media has allowed us to feel more directly connected to celebrities, intensifying the degree to which young people compare themselves to the images they see.
I have been affected by the ever-increasing pressure and scrutiny associated with weight, size and body image on many occasions, so I understand how damaging it can be. Society’s obsession with celebrities shows no sign of abating, so we must find a way to help young people cope with the side effects it entails. Celebrities such as Lorde, who call out photoshopping, help remind us not to believe the hyper-perfected images that dominate the media.
Us mere mortals can help each other too. Parents who help children recognise and value their strengths and talents, rather than focusing on looks, will raise young people who have greater confidence and self-belief. As children are introduced to social media earlier and earlier we must remind them that pictures on social media, even if not edited, are carefully selected to present a particular image.
Rejecting social media and celebrity culture altogether is not a viable solution. We must instead help young people be more accepting of themselves, and battle the indefatigable idealisation of unachievable, photoshopped perfection.