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10th February 2014

Insta-eating disorder?

Fashion editor Susie Coen discusses the dangers of our favourite picture app

Last week, while out for dinner, I was overcome by a horrible realisation. Me and four friends were out for sushi, totally engrossed in our gossip and unaware when our shashimi arrived in abdundance. Yet before I could say ‘can you pass the wasabi?’, the iPhones were out left right and centre, frantically snapping away to get that perfect shot for Instagram in the hope of enticing those extra followers. I thought to myself, this isn’t normal.
Now, I’m not trying to place myself on a pedestal, and there have been multiple occasions where I’ve been confronted with paella that looks so good I simply have to share it with my adoring followers (all 44 of them), but this cult of Instagramming has become so second nature to our generation that it overshadows some of the dangerous messages that can be conveyed. The promotion of fad diets through trending phrases such as #22daysvegan #fastdiet #eatcleantraindirty creates a platform for likeminded people to encourage and reassure one another that this type of behaviour is normal. I’m not suggesting that eating well and exercising isn’t a positive way of life that we should all try to achieve. We all want those toned long legs to flaunt as we strut across the beach in summer and a flat stomach to match, but it’s the way we are bombarded with images, hashtags and ‘lifestyles’ which tell us that this obsession with what you eat and how many squats you do is a positive and natural mental outlook.
Intrigued to see if these ‘trends’ went further I tried searching for #eatingdisorder and #anorexia and was shocked to see a plethora of images for me to feast my eyes upon which were actively endorsing mental illnesses. Bulimia was documented through images of vomit in the toilet with accompanying hashtags such as #bingeandpurge. There were photos of drastically underweight girls with comments which complimented and encouraged their hard work along with images of ‘inspirational’ quotes such as ‘keep calm and the hunger will pass’.

I was stunned not simply by what I had found but also by how easily I had found it: through a simple search I had access to thousands of images. It astounds me that a company as formidable as Instagram allow these images to roam so freely on their social networking app. It dawned on me that the line between images of healthy quinoa salads, motivational messages to achieve impeccable abs and these Instagrams of bulimia and anorexia was perhaps much finer than one thinks.

Of course we are all hankering for that body for summer. With spring approaching our motivation multiplies and we cannot escape the reiteration of ‘new year new you’ from every magazine. Yet if an innocent Instagram of a sushi meal can all add to this complex culture of obsession we need to reconsider the images which fashion powerhouses at the top are projecting through these social media networks and realign the compass of normality.

Images: Instagram @carolemch; @iwillworkforit

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