what it's like to be a man on social mediA: A LOOK INTO PHOTO EDITING, BODY IMAGE AND MENTAL HEALTH
Updated: Apr 17, 2019
Virtually unrecognisable from its origins as a photo editing app, Instagram has undergone a transformation arguably more significant than its competitors in recent years. In 2019, sponsored posts, high definition photos and a community of influencers seem worlds away from the washed out filters which used to dominate the homepage.
Often impossible to detect, apps such as Facetune and Photoshop have allowed a generation of ‘influencers’ to perpetuate the new beauty standard, one that has no room for flaws. In response to this, pages such as beauty.false and celebface have gained notoriety for exposing the extreme Facetune usage on Instagram, acquiring a following of over one million between them. The popular accounts take on a persona reminiscent of Gossip Girl, exposing the impossible beauty standards that can only be achieved through image doctoring.
Although their insight has been a refreshing and, arguably essential change amidst the chaos of influencer culture, both accounts have one significant detail in common: they fail to expose these same practises in men. Does this mean men simply don’t partake in such extreme photo editing? According to a survey of 26 male Instagram users, that is not the case. 92% of respondents believe male influencers edit their photos in order to improve their appearance, in the same way that their female counterparts do. The app Manly alone is evidence that this kind of editing exists among male influencer communities, allowing users to edit six packs onto their images as well as tattoos and facial hair.
Regular Instagram user Tyler Robinson, 22, is familiar with this: “I’ve noticed male influencers editing pictures, and I’m aware of apps that you can use to edit your body,” he says. Despite Robinson’s awareness that content is often misleading, this doesn’t change his feelings towards his own online presence: “When I was single I would care about the photos I put on, as I wanted likes and people to think I’m good looking,” he says.
Undeniably, Instagram is dominated by women, with men making up only 32% of users. However, that is not to say they should be exempt from conversations surrounding beauty standards. 69% of survey respondents felt that there is not enough focus on male body image, while 52% admitted to feeling insecure due to their Instagram feed, implying that social media is more than just a harmless pastime for men. Robinson admits that there is pressure for men to present themselves in a certain way online, saying: “We think we need to look like influencers to be cool or get women like they do.”
Freddie Cocker, 25, founder of mental health platform Vent agrees that social media is responsible for significant changes in male beauty standards: “Before there was more pressure to wear a certain type of clothing to look cool, but now there’s more alpha male culture. Men are expected to lift a certain amount of weights and look a certain way,” he says, something he admits is evident within his own social circles.
Though Cocker argues that standards have changed to focus less on expensive clothing, that doesn’t mean they’re more attainable. In fact, it seems to be the opposite: “There’s been this explosion in personal trainer culture and people posting photos saying you can look like this if you work out,” he says, adding: “It’s really deceptive and exploitive. I’ve been in the gym for four and a half years and don’t look anywhere close to this.”
But could modern beauty expectations simply be a trend, stemming from the popularity of reality TV? Cocker disputes this view, saying: “I think reality TV is a reflection of the social media culture, rather than the reason that culture is that way.” Though, he does admit that shows such as Love Island and Ex On The Beach promote an unrealistic standard for men: “The men all have washboard abs, big muscles and six packs, but it’s very hard to actually achieve that,” he says.
Significantly, survey respondents listed reality TV stars as the top male influencers, demonstrating the clear popularity of this body type. With stars sharing their lavish lifestyles online, Cocker worries that this will cause young people to associate a certain body type with success. “Instagram influencers get success financially, with the opposite sex and within media. If we keep portraying that narrative it’s gonna be damaging to the next generation,” Cocker says, adding: “Boys should be taught that they don’t have to go to the gym to look good, get female attention and to get money.”
Part of a new generation of nutritionists, Pia Saetre, 23, is prepared to witness the fallout from social media usage: “The biggest issue with social media is the negative effects in relation to body image and development of eating disorders, but also the way influencers have the ability to promote unhealthy diets,” she says, adding: “There’s scientific evidence that shows social media actually increases the risk of eating disorders for already vulnerable individuals.”
Though insecurity is predominantly discussed from a female perspective, Saetre is keen to point out that men are not excluded from this experience, saying: “The men I have spoken to all say that they feel a certain pressure on how they should look, which indicates a larger problem than what’s illustrated in today's media.”
So what can be done? Cocker argues that the first step is eliminating toxic masculinity within friend groups, saying: “If men feel that if they admitted their feelings they’d be bantered and ridiculed by their friends, that is only going to make them retreat further into their shell.” In order to tackle this, Cocker’s platform Vent provides a non judgmental outlet which aims to de-stigmatise mental health in men.
Saetre hopes to install a message of encouragement to future generations: “Looks can only get you so far. It may seem cliche, but kindness, humour, cleverness are the characteristics that should be valued. Not perfect hair, good jawlines and abs.”