Educating social media users to pause before you post: ‘Appearance-led’ content impacting Australians’ body image

Social media users should think carefully before they post - and help prevent issues around negative body image.
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Butterfly Foundation, the national charity for eating disorders and body image issues, have partnered with Instagram to encourage ‘conscious creation’ as new research shows the unintended impact content can have on Australians’ body image.  

The move comes as new research conducted by Butterfly Foundation reveals the unintentional harm that prevalent body appearance social media content can have. 6 in 10 (59 per cent) Australians have reported that diet and fitness content on social media impacts their body image; nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) have said they compare their image to what they see on social media; and over one-third (38 per cent) agreed that social media has a ‘negative effect’ on their body image.

Despite being digital natives, Millennials and Gen Z are particularly impacted, with one in five Millennials admitting that diet and fitness content makes them feel dissatisfied with their bodies. Gen Z are most likely to be influenced by social media to change their eating habits or fitness routines (26 per cent); and almost half (44 per cent) considered acting on health and fitness advice shared by a creator on social media.

To combat the unintended impact of appearance-led content, Instagram and Butterfly have brought together six Australian creators, April Hélène-Horton (@thebodzilla), Cooper Chapman (@cooperchapman), Milo Hartill (@milohartill), Riley Hemson (@rileyj), Mark Mariano (@markusmuch) and Lucy Neville (@lucymneville), for a new social content series ‘Enter the Chat’. Housed on Butterfly’s Instagram (@thebutterflyfoundation), the series considers the impact of social media on body image, and shares the creators’ own personal experiences of creating content more consciously and protecting their mental health and wellbeing online.

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Creator Lucy Neville (@lucymneville) knows the impact of social media on body image all too well. Growing up she was faced with a significant amount of appearance-led content in her feed, which impacted her body image and contributed to the development of disordered eating behaviours.

“I wish I could go back and tell myself, who was really sucked in by this content, that if you have a question about health, that is a question for you and your doctor. Not you and an influencer that you follow. I wish that I could go back and give myself a hug, [you] don’t have to eat like someone else, [you] don’t have to look like anyone else,” Ms Neville says.

Despite many Australians (43 per cent) becoming savvier at identifying content that may have a negative effect on their body image, two in three (68 per cent) aren’t making adjustments to support their wellbeing on social media – only one in six (16 per cent) unfollow accounts or pages that promote unrealistic beauty standards or trigger negative feelings about their body image and less than one in 10 (9 per cent) of Australians have used available social media tools to adjust the content they see.

The role of content creators

More than two-thirds (69 per cent) of Australians agree that influencers (also known as content creators) have a responsibility to be role models for their audience, with strongest agreement coming from Millennials (71 per cent) and Gen Z (70 per cent). This research presents an opportunity for every user, whatever the size of their following, to play a positive role in responsibly sharing and posting appearance-led, diet and exercise content online.

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Almost nine in 10 (88 per cent) Australians said influencers shouldn’t share advice when it comes to diet and exercise or should only post if they’re qualified. The impact of sharing this type of content has seen more than one-third (39 per cent) of Australians muting or blocking an influencer because they were promoting unhealthy eating or exercise behaviours.

Tackling misinformation and negative body image

“We acknowledge there is a complex intersection between social media and body image, and in recognition of this, since 2018, we have partnered with Butterfly Foundation to deliver four educational initiatives driven by community feedback and research. Enter the Chat underscores the importance of conscious content creation and highlights the Instagram tools and technology available to users in curating their online experience, including functions such as nudges, take a break, blocking, muting, hidden words, ‘not interested’ and more,” says Mia Garlick, Director of Public Policy at Meta Australia.

About Instagram’s online safety measures

  • Nudges – Users will see a notification that encourages them to switch to a different topic if they’re repeatedly looking at the same type of content. This nudge is designed to encourage users to discover something new. We designed this new feature because research suggests that nudges can be effective for helping people – especially teens – be more mindful of how they’re using social media in the moment.
  • Take a Break – If a user has been scrolling for a certain amount of time, we’ll ask them to take a break from Instagram and suggest that they set reminders to take more breaks in the future. We’ll also show them expert-backed tips to help them reflect and reset. For teens, they receive reminders to turn on Take a Break when they’ve been scrolling in Reels for a period of time.
  • Blocking – Blocking prevents contact from those you do not wish to interact with on Instagram. Blocking someone also means they cannot search for your profile. We also make it harder for someone who you’ve already blocked from contacting you again through new and existing accounts. With this feature, whenever you decide to block someone on Instagram, you’ll have the option to both block their account and existing and new accounts that person may create. 
  • Muting – If you don’t want to see someone’s posts in your feed, see their stories at the top of your feed or see incoming messages they send you, but don’t want to unfollow them, then you can choose to mute instead. There are multiple ways you can mute someone on Instagram, and we don’t let them know you muted them.
  • Hidden Words – Anyone can add emojis, words or phrases they find offensive to their comment filter, and comments containing these terms won’t appear under the post. DMs will be send to a filtered inbox. Even with this filter turned on, we will still take action on people who send comments or DMs that break our rules. We also default Creator accounts into Hidden Words, because we know it can be a powerful way to prevent potential harassment or abuse. This feature can also be applied to recommended posts you might see across Instagram. Add a word or list of words, emojis or hashtags that you want to avoid – like “fitness” or “recipes” – and we’ll work to no longer recommend content with those words in the caption or the hashtag. You can access this in the Hidden Words section of Privacy settings.
  • Not Interested – When you see a post you don’t find interesting or relevant, tap the three-dot menu and then select ‘Not Interested’, or tap the X at the top right of a suggested post on Home. Tapping ‘Not Interested’ removes the post from your feed immediately, and we’ll suggest fewer posts like it in the future. Now, you can also tap ‘not interested’ on multiple posts at once, and we’ll apply this signal across other places where you see Recommendations, like Search and Reels. We are also testing an option for you to indicate “Interested” on a recommended post, so we can show you more of what you do like.

MIndful social media management

While most people are well-meaning when they post appearance-related content on social media, Melissa Wilton, Head of Communications and Engagement at Butterfly Foundation, says.”our research confirms it can unintentionally have a negative impact on body image, which we know can have significant consequences across all aspects of people’s lives”.

“We hope this campaign empowers all social media users to be more mindful about what they post and encourages Australians to support themselves online, to create social media environments that are kinder to our body image.”

Anyone needing support with eating disorders or body image issues is encouraged to contact:

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  • ·         Butterfly National Helpline on 1800 33 4673 (1800 ED HOPE) or 
  • ·         Eating Disorders Victoria Helpline on 1300 550 23
  • ·         For urgent support call Lifeline 13 11 14
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