On troubling body image concerns and social media fads

IN late June, a devastating video of a popular user sharing her botched up story after having a failed surgery done by a Nigeria based plastic surgeon dominated news outlets and social media platforms. The victim in a tell-all interview with BBC said the whole drama started after she went for a procedure that cost N1.2m to get her tummy flatter and her backside more pronounced. However, a few months after  the surgery, she started having complications.  Not long after, another viral video of a lady identified as Vick,  narrating the harrowing ordeal of complications she had after undergoing  a cosmetic surgery surfaced. According to Vick, she paid N1.6million to enhance her boobs but the result was terrible as her left breast turned red,— a condition that placed her permanently on injections and pain relievers. Perhaps due to the graphic nature of the video, or maybe the fact of the previous death of a beauty queen under similar circumstances, many saw or viewed this as the final straw, ensuring that the outrage on social media  reached unprecedented levels.

In today’s society, the importance of physical appearance as dictated by the media is arguably more persuasive than ever, especially among younger people and the traditional stereotype is that young women are more concerned about their appearance than young men, which is perhaps understandable as it flows from the societal responsibility andvision of viewing girls and women essentially from the perspective of their bodies and not their mental endowment.  Still, there’s a sense in which these oozing stories of botched surgeries represent how body image concerns have risen exponentially in the last few years with many women turning to altering their bodies and shapes under the knife in a quest for the perfect figure. Research has shown that in the United States alone, nearly a quarter million more surgeries are performed each year. Though no such research has been carried out in Nigeria, it has become obvious that cosmetic surgery is more rampant than we may like to admit because in Africa and in some parts of the world, bigger has always been better and the hourglass- figure 8 shape has proven to be the ideal shape for women and the men who love them. Unfortunately, not everyone is blessed with natural curves and some women turn to  plastic surgery to achieve this look, even if it means turning to a quack for help.

Nonetheless, the point has to be stated that social media is the leading culprit in messing with young women and pushing  them inexorably into the mindset of not being satisfied with their bodies and shapes and this goes on unabatingly. I should know, —as a young woman on Instagram, frightened by the things I see daily when I open the ‘Explore’ tab. Plastic surgery before and after ads, flat tummy teas, weight loss ‘inspiration’. Women posing for post-workout photos wearing waist trainers, and others flaunting the supposed ideal body in bikinis. To put it differently, there’s a growing culture that makes it desirable and even necessary for young women to alter their faces or their bodies. There is in existence today a rampant social media culture that encourages women to be dissatisfied with their bodies. In this wise, it’s worth noting that celebrities and so-called popular influencers are often paid to promote image after image, of what appears to be the perfect lives and bodies on social media, in spite of the deleterious  effect this phenomenon has on  millions of followers who spend a significant time daily consuming and internalizing  these contents. Combined with bikini photoshoots on the beach or selfies after workouts, those products are sending a strong message. They’re telling their followers: your body is not enough. But maybe, if you had an appetite suppressant lollipop or a flat tummy tea or squashed your internal organs with a waist trainer, you’d be on your way to looking like this or like that.

In the final analysis,  social media gives power and influence to people who are not necessarily prepared to use it responsibly. High levels of social media use have already been linked with the onset of eating disorders in people aged 19-32 and studies are also starting to find that selfies and social media use are contributing to body dysmorphia disorder (BDD), in which patients become obsessed with flaws in their appearance. With the endless sea of cosmetic surgery, filters, and photoshop, it is intuitively clear why having a whole generation of youths — and users of all ages — looking at altered versions of themselves daily would be detrimental to mental health.  Researches abound on how social media users are requesting plastic surgery with more frequency. The outcomes present serious public health risks, something corporations as well as social media influencers must address if they want youths to embrace a healthier understanding of their body image.

Even so, it’s about time, parents, educators, celebrities and social media influencers took on the responsibility of reaching out in love and compassion to those suffering from any form of body negativity and who experience its harmful mental and physical impacts. Together, communities and online users can end a cycle of unattainability and create healthier, more sustainable norms in a digital world. Our bodies are not trends, they are vessels which we use to do everyday tasks, and it should boggle and disturb us how the media and its influencers are using these bodies against us, forcing us to find parts of ourselves that are either not ‘on trend’ or different.

The real truth and what we should be teaching the youth and the general public is that there is no ideal body or shape, such that whatever your natural shape is, is what is best and good for you, which is the shape and body we are under obligation to embrace and love to no end. Whether it is slim, athletic, curvaceous, skinny, top-heavy or bottom-heavy, people should just be happy with being themselves. Being yourself means you stand out from a crowd of people all trying to look the same. And what else is the world about if not the diversity of bodies and shapes! We have got to look beyond the current social media fads and work on returning the society to good and sustainable mental health and less trouble with body image concerns.


  • Yakubu is of the Department of Mass Communication, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Nigeria.


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