Willa Tellekson-Flash from New York explains why picture-perfect health food blogs may be a recipe for unhealthy standards. [content note: body image, mental health, eating disorders]
It’s no secret that the media —social media in particular— influences the way we look at our bodies. The bodies we see on our screens, on the pages of magazines, and on billboards the world over, have been altered. Because retouching and editing are so common, we are trained to remind ourselves of the false reality that these images portray.
That doesn’t mean they don’t affect us. We must still take the time to actively react against the airs of perfection they proved in order to counter the effects that these airbrushed bodies have on the way we perceive ourselves and our own bodies. And while the toned stomachs, perky cleavage, and flawless complexion that take over my social media feed can still mess with my head a bit, at least I know to look out for them.
What I didn’t realize until very recently was that it’s more than just the seemingly perfect bodies that surround me that cause a whole lot of self-comparison. As someone who loves to cook, and is interested in healthy eating, much of what fills my Instagram feed is food.
But it’s not just any food. It’s beautifully shot photos of colorful, drool-worthy dishes. The smoothie bowls, grain bowls, black bean brownies, and perfect matcha lattes are never-ending as I scroll. My main motivation for following all of these accounts is for the recipes.
I’ve made delicious bowls of soup inspired by accounts I follow, and I’ve recreated one food blogger’s delicious healthy peanut butter chocolate chip more than a handful of times. Their creativity inspires my own in the kitchen. My taste buds are often thankful.
But it isn’t all foodgasms and perfectly-plated lunches. Subconsciously, in the same way that an athlete’s six-pack might become the standard that I compare my own stomach to, I began to compare the contents of my own plate to what everyone else on my social media feed was eating.
I spent more money than I should have on products that I saw promoted, hoping that they’d make my meals look as perfect and nutritious as those I was looking at. An extra ten minutes in the kitchen was worth it if it meant that I could make my bowl photogenic enough to post alongside everyone else’s eye candy.
While it may seem like comparing apples and oranges, airbrushed bodies and the perfect smoothie bowl have a lot in common. They’re both carefully crafted, for one. Though a smoothie bowl may not be airbrushed to eliminate any unwanted fat, the toppings are thoughtfully placed in a manner that will make the final product as appetizing as possible.
Neither tells the full story, either. An edited image of a model likely doesn’t come with a disclaimer that the photo has been retouched, or that the model, the very same one that is currently making you feel so crummy about the way you look, may be unhappy with her body.
Similarly, the person who posted that gorgeous photo of a smoothie bowl likely doesn’t eat something quite so photogenic for every meal. More likely even is that sometimes her smoothies look like sludge—even the tastiest of smoothies can be a terrible color—but you would never know.
Those aren’t photographed. The most important commonality, though, is that many of us are prone to compare ourselves, our bodies, and our habits to these incomplete snapshots. And as a result, we hold this level of apparent perfection as our standard, an incredibly unattainable one at that.
There’s nothing wrong with a beautiful, produce-filled grain bowl. Or a cupcake made without refined sugar. Or a colorful smoothie bowl.
Unless, of course, you feel guilty about eating a cupcake made with refined sugar since no one on your social media feed is eating regular sugar. Unless you’re consistently late for class or work because you just had to make your bowl of oatmeal photo-worthy.
If your Instagram feed or that food blogger you love is making you feel inadequate for not always having the time to whip up the perfect homemade banana bread. It’s having the same detrimental effect as the photos of the muscular arms that is causing you to pinch at your own arms to try to determine whether what you can feel is fat or muscle.
Comparison is comparison, and it hurts all the same.
Willa Tellekson-Flash, New York