Analog Killed the Instagram Star
How to quit (or limit) image-based social media
Affirmations and body image boosts 👇, but first an essay from me…
Want to stop scrolling? Get hacked. I don’t mean a little hack, like an alert that your password was breached. I mean, the kind of hacking that has you investing nights and weekends into trying to speak to a human at a company seemingly run by bots. The kind that keeps you from running for office, since you’re certain that the moment you do, the hacker will post whatever incriminating photos they have of you. I guess someone else will have to be President.
All Facebook will tell me is that my account was taken over by email@example.com. Hotmail! That should have been their first clue that something fishy was going on. How in the world they let someone with a Hotmail account outsmart them is beyond me. My most generous interpretation is that the fraudster did so because they wanted to use my photos to catfish the love of their life. I’m flattered. After the news that 11,000 people were fired at Meta, I lost all hope that a human will ever help me find a workaround to the complex takeover my attacker placed on my account. Instead, I’ve decided to wish the catfisher good luck on their quest for true love.
That closure means the loss of hundreds of photos, beliefs held by my younger self, and friends dating back to when I was in college when Facebook first came on the scene. I still remember the day my roommate and I huddled around a laptop at Florida State to create our accounts, which would be used to find out things like the boy we met at the bar last night followed the Tallahasse Christian radio station and had a one too many bleached blonde lady friends. I knew it wouldn’t be a love match, but I still went on the date. We didn’t make it through placing our sandwich orders before he walked off with another blonde who’d wandered into the restaurant. I quickly learned to heed the warning signs social media stalking provided when dating.
Social media’s impact on my struggles with body image is hard to measure. My eating disorder was well underway before I ever logged into Facebook, but it sure fanned the flames. I used it regularly to unfairly compare myself with other women. I’d compare myself to exes that looked nothing like me and mean girls I wanted to like me. I also used social media to curate a version of myself that always looked carefree, adventurous, cultured, and of course, thin. Nonchalant was my most used filter.
By the time Instagram rolled out, I was squared away in the love department with someone who’d love me no matter my size, but social media still had lots of games to play with my mind. Now in my 20s, the wellness movement was peaking. Fitfluencers, with iPhone production skills that rivaled Hollywood and Vogue-level airbrushing, began shaping warped views of wellness and self-optimization that teetered just shy of disordered. Diets, cleanses, workshops, kombucha, whole foods, pricey gyms, hydration, crystals, spas, serums, fitness equipment, teas, skimpy athleisure, and greens filled my feed. I’d follow girls whose seemingly only job was to attend and share their thoughts on the best boutique fitness classes in NYC — “what an incredible life!”, I thought — a clear sign of just how far I had lowered the bar on what a fulfilling life entailed.
The message peddled by these Fitfluencers was clear — sweat daily for your monthly slice of Lucali (because #balance), look fabulous while doing it (because #gymtimidation), and still, have enough time to unwind in a yoga class a few times a week (because #mentalhealth). These seemingly “real people” made an ideal body type equal health in my mind. Because it looked achievable, it seemed just within reach if only I stayed committed to the fad program of the week, which left me feeling even more inadequate when I never quite measured up.
The algorithms perpetuated this break from reality, and as I continued down what author Rina Raphael dubbed a “kale-covered path of wellness” I dug myself deeper into a #fitspiration content-filled hole.
If that doesn’t sound like you, don’t worry. Social media has a place to make you feel less than others, no matter your goals. Wedding season brought on a flurry of svelt chic 10-ft tall women, all extremely comfortable in black-tie-worthy gowns. After finding my dress, I smartly unfollowed most of this content so I wouldn’t be left with any regrets. Today, a quick scroll on my dressmaker’s feed, and I don’t see a single woman with a body like mine. They’re not even trying to pretend like they are inclusive with a few token “inclusive” bodies.
Then, as a new mom, posts about workouts and ways to squeeze movement in reminded me daily that I should be doing more while my baby naps, and that my baby was the perfect extra weight to wear to burn some extra calories while I got outside for fresh air — turning a perfectly pleasant activity into a calorie-torching chore.
As my daughter entered toddlerhood, I was introduced to the sensationalized world of social media “food activists” who informed me that everything I was eating and barely pulling together to feed my family would indeed kill all of us. I was forced to choose — serve pricey groceries or pricey organic premade meals — both of which my picky eater would refuse, but at least I didn’t offer her RoundUp. Gradually, I loosened up my grip, desperate to get any food eaten by my kids. I stopped following these activists, especially the ones who showed me their kids eating all the “healthy” foods they were able to score, while carefully avoiding all the hidden “chemicals” in foods you may have thought were safe. Last week, I even humored my daughter and let her add Gerber cocktail weenies to the shopping cart. I hid them because serving what looks like baby fingers in formaldehyde is a bridge too far for now, but just allowing her to pick it out was a step in the right direction to have her grow up not moralizing food as “bad”. It’s just food. And, my hunch is that the stress of getting a homecooked, organic, expensive meal on the table is worse than a Gerber meal that took minutes to pull together and gave us the time to go on a long walk together.
My Instagram feed delivered me hourly access to remedies promising to cure all that ailed me, or as Raphael puts it, to “regain something I believed I had lost”. Fixating on optimizing my time, workouts, meals, and mental health allowed me to overlook that I was lacking the basic health foundations that needed to be built: intuition, intrinsic value, perspective, emotional regulation, assertiveness, and integration. These are things not easily sold in a single post — though I’m sure people will try one day, as more of us catch on that these are the things that will bring about real wellness.
All that said, social media offers an incredible power — connection — and if wielded properly, can be very additive in our lives. Human connection can have all sorts of benefits — decrease feelings of isolation, give us higher self-esteem, and reduce anxiety. It can help us discover new ways of thinking, make us feel like we’re not alone in our struggles, and help crowdsource solutions that move our society forward.
Here are some of the facts about social media I keep at the forefront of my mind when consuming it, and some of the tips and alternative platforms I’m exploring to limit my exposure to image-based social media that exposes me to too many triggering concepts and images.
Mama’s affirmations 🙏:
Connection is about quality not quantity.
I approach technology with awareness and intention.
Body image boosts 🚀: Social Media
Some facts to keep in mind when scrolling:
According to the latest data, the average amount of time spent on social media worldwide is set to hit 147 minutes, or two hours and 27 minutes, a day in 2022. Not only is this a two-minute increase on 2021 numbers, but it is also the highest ever recorded.
Instagram’s own research found that the platform is making body issues worse for one in three teenage girls, mainly because Instagram contributes to unhealthy social comparisons among teens. Body image was the only area where teen girls who reported struggling with the issue said Instagram made it worse as compared to the other 11 well-being areas (like loneliness and sadness, which were improved by Instagram).
I set up parental monitoring software on my device for 48 hours, with the only alerts requested to be around body image content. In just two days, the software analyzed 29K pieces of activity, and I got alerts about my activity saying gut health trends were trending. I’ll omit the actual specific one it flagged in case anyone gets any ideas — but the alert highlighted that it was “part of a long line of trends that can create disordered eating patterns in teens and tweens”. The other alert was for a rise in “body checking” trends, which the alert told me may appear innocent, but actively encourages users to focus on their body shape, or accentuate certain areas of the body using filters and baggy clothing. I also got an alert that my tone in emails was a bit negative, but that’s a whole different essay.
Insider reported that “a small 2018 study found a correlation between time spent on social media, negative body image, and disordered eating. This was especially true if participants were scrolling through appearance-related content, like the account of a fitness instructor or model on Instagram.”
Gospel of Wellness pointed me to a study titled, Fitspiration on Social Media, a content analysis, which found that “fitspiration” imagery over indexes thin, toned women more likely than men, and more likely to have their full bodies on display with their “buttocks emphasized”
I spoke with Dr. Carl D. Marci, M.D., a physician-scientist and author of "Rewired: Protecting Your Brain in the Digital Age" to learn more about the link between digital images and IRL comparisons. He confirmed my gut feeling that “it is definitely true that idealized images are more damaging to body image than real-life experiences”.
Perhaps that’s because most of the photos we’re seeing have been edited, per a 2017 Harris Poll, which found that nearly two-thirds of Americans edit their photos before posting.
Interestingly enough, even the act of editing your own images can contribute to negative self-perception. Insider reported, “according to a 2022 review, the research found that taking and editing selfies was more harmful than posting them, perhaps because it allows you to focus on — and try to fix — your flaws.”
How to do image-based social media better:
Marie Kondo your feed — if it doesn’t bring you joy, get it out of your feed. You can unfollow accounts that are bringing you down, or if you’re worried about causing a tiff with a friend, opt to “mute” them. You can pick if you want stories, posts, or both muted. Instagram won’t notify the person that you’ve chosen to take a break from their content.
Keep your network tight. Remove followers you don’t recognize regularly, and keep the circle to people who you know aren’t judging you — the ones that like you for you. You may feel way less pressure to get your images just right, and maybe even enjoy sharing.
Remove image-based social media apps from your home screen, and ask your phone not to suggest the apps. Sometimes I’ll remove Instagram altogether from my device to give myself a week's break. If I really need to get on, I’ll use the mobile browser version, which is far less “sticky” than the app version. My account is still intact when I return, and I’m usually less “addicted” to it for a few months because I’ve gotten better at finding things to do when moments of boredom strike.
Find accounts that align with your values around things like body image and food. Note that these will likely change over time if you constantly practice releasing what’s no longer serving you.
Share, and get out of there, fast. This might sound narcissistic but I don’t look at many people’s posts. I just post (without giving myself too much time to think about my appearance) and get out as fast as possible. I know I’ll be happy to have some photos later, but I don’t need to sit in icky feelings if I don’t like the way I look, or waste too much time on getting the shot instead of enjoying the moment that was picture worthy in the first place. I also like to take real photos with my phone vs. in social apps, that way I’m not pressured to share them while I’m enjoying a fun moment.
Alternatives to image-based social media:
Social media can cause a lot of dysfunction — that is real. But it’s not the whole story. Being social is part of being human, and there are some innovative ways to connect in a more conscious way — without relying on sharing images as the main way to connect.
Whatsapp — just text it. Most of the time, the people I really want to share things with are just a text away, and I get way more interaction, comments, and feedback when I just share a video, thought, or photo directly with the group. Take the time to set up chats with people you care about most — friends from work, mom friends, immediate family, cousins, creative friends, etc. so you can deepen the conversations based on your shared interests and common ground.
Substack is my favorite of all for right now. There are so many great authors to draw knowledge and relatable experiences from, and within each one, an engaged community of like-minded people all commenting and sharing their experiences. Here are some of my favorites:, , ,, , , ,, , . These ideas around body image have been discussed a lot in the last few years. Because I'm so new to finding my post-recovery voice, flab isn't really to a point where I'm sharing "my" ideas -- just helpful ideas that worked for me and helped me recover. Many were absorbed by subscribing to these authors. Just reading (especially this far) is a form of activism for this cause, and you should pat yourself on the back for taking the time to give this topic the attention it deserves. I encourage you to get the Substack app to make the experience as sticky as Instagram. I get way more out of a 5 min read of any of these newsletters than I do out of 5 minutes of scrolling.
Good Inside — I first joined this network for advice and workshops, but have stayed for the community. The support and speed of feedback I get from other parents are so much more helpful than trying to infer what I should be doing based on the seemingly perfect moments I see on Instagram. They even have a section of “common threads” that show just how active the community is — there’s even a collection of body image-related threads from the community that you can join in on.
OnBeing Retreats, the next one kicks off Nov. 15 at 5 p.m. ET. The virtual gathering will explore the big questions of meaning at the intersection of spiritual inquiry, science, social healing, and the arts, such as: what does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? Who will we be to each other? I’ll be at the upcoming one if you want to join me!
Sessions by Masterclass — unlock new skills with a structured 30-day curriculum. This qualifies as a “social network” because the new feature allows you to get feedback and stay inspired from a supportive community, submit your projects and receive feedback from a trained Teaching Assistant, who can get all your questions answered — no matter how big or small.
Ask Diem — a new search engine for women. A dedicated place for people to search, collect, discover and share information with each other, inspired by the way women have been passing knowledge to each other for centuries. Think of it like the best and biggest group chat you’ve ever been a part of, where all the important, silly, quick, private, and frenetic knowledge you share is organized and stored for everyone to benefit from.
Blast Radio — I’m trying my hand at audio creation and adding read-alouds to my newsletter. But, in between issues, I’ll be speaking my mind (without any images!) via live radio broadcasts at blastradio.com/flab. Think of these as audio-only IG stories that expire after 24 hrs. I’ll be sharing playlists, expanded thoughts on posts, and more. Download the app here for the best experience and to get a notification when I go live. Disclaimer, this is a brand I represent in my day job as a publicist, but I’m sharing because I genuinely love creating on this platform.
Best of all, practice social connection IRL with OnBeing’s Guide to Better Conversations. This guide will help you connect with a group of friends in a conversation that might take place over weeks or months and serves as a flexible roadmap you can adapt for your group.
Go image free with flab:
If you want a guarantee to never come across an image of someone else’s body, or stumble across tips for what to eat, how to move, or how to change your appearance, stay tuned into flab. Here are all the ways to connect:
I’ve shuttered the IG account, instead, follow along on Twitter @flabwellness.
Live radio (no images!) broadcasts at blastradio.com/flab.
Subscribe to the flab Radio show on Apple Podcast.
Subscribe to the flab newsletter via Substack below.
In other news 📰:
What did you guys think about the Anti-hero controversy? My takeaway is that if an entire team OK’d it — at the very least it exposes just how oblivious we are to our fatphobia. There is so much unlearning that needs to happen. Follow along with the expert,, for more on this topic.is giving a talk on "the consumerization of science-led self-care" -- now if they find a way to sell a guilt-free nap for moms, I'd buy it in a heartbeat.
Until next time, be well, like the real kind of well.