Dr Chris and Dr Xand investigate: How to keep body positive in the #selfie era

First off, we know the struggle is real.

In an age when social media influencers bombard our senses daily, maintaining a healthy body image can be a real uphill battle. Online FOMO can have us believe that not only is everyone living the perfect life – they’re also doing it with the perfect body!

Most of us, regardless of gender, have had negative feelings about our bodies at some point in our lives. These feelings can interfere with more than our day-to-day mood; they can stop us from being creative, taking risks, socialising and generally enjoying ourselves and moving forward in our lives.

We see body positivity trending more and more on social media and more people in the public eye are speaking out about it. Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner recently told the world that trolls on social media attacking her appearance contributed to her six-year, ongoing battle with depression. Male stars aren’t immune to the pressures either, as Bodyguard actor Richard Madden made clear when he spoke out about the pressure to lose weight for a role.

In our programme Dr Chris and Dr Xand Investigate we explore how looking at altered or hyper-perfected images of models, celebrities, or even friends, can negatively influence the way you see yourself after only a few seconds. Stranger still, this happens to us even when we know an image has been altered.

Being filmed, photographed and in the public eye can also make us pretty sensitive to how we look. This is because mirrors and cameras cannot mimic the human eyeball, which means you are the one person you can’t truly see! As identical twins, we can see ourselves in each other, but that doesn’t mean we’re happy with how we look on TV or in photographs.

Here comes the science bit

So how does our self-perception get distorted? Well, the human brain is a guesser, not an exact replicator and it is impossible for our brains to hold a fixed, accurate image of ourselves. So we tend to compare everything in the world for context and clues. Exposure to altered images means our brains ‘set the bar’ for our own self-comparison against unrealistic images of perfection.

We start to perceive the edited image as the normal one, so real bodies start to look wrong. This misconception provokes an emotional response, making us feel inadequate. Lots of advertising is designed to do exactly that, to sell you a product or lifestyle.

It’s worth remembering, therefore, that perfection is manufactured and sold – with a purpose.

So how can we combat negative self-image?

Filtered images and unobtainable body standards abound on Instagram and in health and beauty magazines. We recommend limiting exposure to these in particular. Maybe suggest to your friends you all chat on a messaging service or a less image-centric platform, and make plans to see people face-to-face – this will allow your eyes to adjust to real people in all their wonderful variety and diversity!

You can also be savvy on social media by un-following the accounts that make you feel bad about yourself, block some unhelpful hashtags and seek out body positive accounts instead.

I (Dr Chris) take and post pictures of myself looking terrible! Nobody dies – it’s refreshing and a funny conversation-starter online. Why not try posting the naturally worst-looking photo of you and see how that feels?

Dr Chris doesn't feel the need to look 'perfect' on Instagram!

When should you see a doctor about negative body image?

Whilst we all experience negative thoughts some degree, we need to remember some body image issues are more serious and pervasive than others and can contribute to anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

You should visit your doctor or GP if you feel issues with negative body image may be affecting your day-to-day life, including your relationships, social life and work or study.

There are many ways of seeking help early with more serious disorders, including medication and counselling. If you’re concerned that negative thoughts about your appearance are interfering with your life, you should tell a professional: a school counsellor, parent, trusted adult, or GP.

Is the tide turning?

With celebrities like Chrissy Teigen celebrating her stretch marks and post-baby body on Instagram and makeup giants including Mac, Urban Decay and L’Oreal refusing to edit out women’s facial hair from ad campaigns, we could finally be moving in a more inclusive direction. More diverse representation of beauty across body, skin and hair could free future generations from the unhappiness of negative self-image.