Young woman doing a plank with a dumbbell in one hand, while cameras and lights surround her for her social media.

If you use Instagram, you probably are inundated with people posting their healthy meals, smoothie bowls, gym routines and fit bodies. The social media platform has become quite the haven for promoting the healthy lifestyle. But what if it is doing more harm than good?

Instagram uses a photograph or a group of photographs to snag the attention of the everyday user. So what grabs attention and gets you more followers? Usually a photograph of perfectly arranged brightly colored foods, or posing in fitness gear with a rock hard body. But what does this do to our positive body image? It does the same thing that magazines and society has done for years. It promotes a body image that is often unattainable and sometimes unhealthy.

When we are constantly bombarded with images of what we perceive as “perfect bodies”, we are telling ourselves that we need to do everything possible to look like that. We need to eat what their eating, do the workouts they’re doing, and document every living second of it. When we see other people succeeding in their life, it changes how we think about our own bodies. We start to think, “I need to do this to look like that.” A lot of women (and men) tend to think of their own bodies with an outsiders view in mind. We want others to think we look great, eat healthy, and are happy more than we want that for ourselves. It can create quite an obsession of trying to do everything perfectly, and can lead to unhealthy habits, anxiety and even depression.

The most dangerous thing about Instagram, is we can scroll through our feed and see “everyday normal people” promoting unattainable lifestyles. We know that when we look at a magazine ad, it is probably photoshopped and the model has prepared for the shoot for months beforehand. When we look at Instagram, we think this person just posted a photo and they’re not famous, so if they can look that good, eat that well, be that fit, than obviously we can too. We fail to admit that most photos on Instagram are actually heavily edited and photoshopped as well.

Not all Instagram is negative for our body image. It can help create a community with supportive people all around the world. It can give tips and tricks on how to eat healthier, workout more efficiently, and the wide array of resources are endless. But the safest way to enjoy Instagram without falling into the thought process of, “I’m not good enough” is to tread lightly. As with any form of social media, limit your time on it. Acknowledge that a lot of pictures are edited, photoshopped, prepared for, and not necessarily “real”. Know that what works for someone else might not work for you. Be realistic about what is really going on behind the camera. And most of all, enjoy it. Follow a variety of accounts, not just ones that focus on eating habits, body habits and aesthetics.