Am I hot? The Detrimental Effects of Social Media on Body Image


credit: Flaunter .com

If you’re anything like me, yesterday might have looked like this. Your alarm went off, signifying a new day and a fresh batch of notifications.  Mmm yes, tastier than poached eggs on rye – and yes I’m going to stand up on my chair whilst I take this photo of my breakfast. During class, you snapped your friends the can’t-be-missed premature bald-spot of your unfortunate classmate Stephen. Lunch was accompanied by another Instagram photo of a wildly #unsatisfying vegan kale juice. The burger-flavoured chips that you demolished the second after, did not get featured for some reason. Alas, the day continues. I checked Facebook four hundred and twenty-two times yesterday. And that was a slow day.

There are 2 billion active users on Facebook, 1.5 billion users on YouTube, 700 million on Instagram, 328 million on Twitter, and 255 million on Snapchat. You could say that social media is a permanent fixture in our lives. Don’t believe me? Just look at all of those people who announce their departure of Facebook via dramatic status update followed by the anticlimactic clicking of “deactivate your account”. They always make their way back (I don’t have facts to support that, only personal experience that I won’t delve into much further). What I’m getting at is that we can choose from a variety of platforms to represent ourselves, to socialise, to voice our ideas and in some way, form an identity. I mean, the internet might as well have its own flag, and we are all netizens. However, while we have more and more people flocking to the land of Facebook and Instagram every day, reports of users experiencing a perception of a distorted body image are also increasing. What we put out on social media paints itself as reality, but it can be a mask and far from it.

Am I hot, or not?  

I’m an avid Instagram user. I post several times a week and post a photo on my story almost every hour. My most liked photos, if I’m being completely honest here, are ones where I’m dressed in my most expensive dresses, with more makeup than RuPaul’s drag-queens and a carefully selected filter that air brushes all the acne that poor dietary choices and genetics entails. Eighty likes never seems to be enough when a previous post has received more, and to my disappointment, I scan my news feed to see hundreds of highly contoured girls candidly poking at their salad and not sweating on breath-taking hikes. All of their photos rack up hundreds, if not thousands of likes.

And what goes on in my head is this:

I’m not good enough.

I’m not famous enough.

Am I even hipster?

My room is legit a tip and I haven’t showered.

I didn’t wear this outfit outside.

Its a pretty dire response, and I don’t believe I’m alone in thinking this.

When you uploaded a new profile picture, how many of you never checked your notifications? A survey was taken in Australia which collected data from 438 young teenage girls in their first years of high school and again, two years later. They were asked if they had a Facebook profile, how much time they spent on the site and how many friends they had to gauge their involvement. Survey participants also filled out a questionnaire about their body image and surveillance (how they look at their bodies) to check for their drive for thinness. It was found that the number of friends greatly affected the girls’ body image as they were able to make greater comparisons with more people against idealised images, including those they did not personally know in real life, but were friends with on Facebook.

If you walk down memory lane a couple of years back you would remember the controversy of how photo-shopping photos in magazines led girls to body ideals that were not only unhealthy, but impossible.

Instagram is the new fashion magazine. Only, the photos are self-selected and there are literally millions of accounts to follow, and photos uploaded Every. Single. Second. And instead of paying 4.99 for a magazine, you get it for free. Straight to your phone sitting in your butt pocket.

On top of this, it could be argued that by constructing an online persona with carefully selected photos, people (girls in particular, but men are not immune to the habit) are advertising their bodies as independent from themselves. They put aesthetically pleasing images of themselves for the purpose of others to like and critique. This coupled with high rates of body surveillance is a recipe for low self-esteem. It forges a culture of looking at our bodies from a viewer perspective, acting and behaving to fit into what we perceive as attractive to the eye.

Comparison with others who seem to have similar resources and lifestyles to users is common because it can seem that a peer’s lifestyle is more personally attainable . We begin to objectify others’ bodies, seeing them as images instead of their lives as a whole. Alarmingly, even the inspirational, age-defying, hugely popular women who post “fitspiration images” and assure us that fitness is purely for health, were associated with a drive for thinness, bulimia, muscularity and compulsive exercise. 17.5% of 101 “fitspo” account holders were at risk for being diagnosed with an eating disorder, because of the nature of their posting style they were driven to eat in a specific way to have results they could post. Extreme levels of exercise and diet can lead to injuries, social withdrawal and fatigue.



Okay, okay, so I’m actually a huge fan of Kayla Itsines. #Goals?!  But the stats are what I look up on the internet when I’m  too lazy to complete the BBG pre-training program…it makes me feel slightly better?

I mean, we could just go back to where it all started. Its October 2003 and Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg hacks into Harvard House websites to compile a series of photos of students that he uploads to a website that he’s created. The programming and algorithms are his main reason behind creating a rudimentary “Hot or Not” website where students can vote which student is hotter, just by the profile photos of his fellow students. The site is visited over 450 times in one day, racking up 22,000 votes. He called it Facemash, and it was the precursor to his much more successful development of Facebook later. But the controversy surrounding Facemash was not just about breach of privacy. It was the fact that students could vote on the level of attractiveness of each other.

And that’s the thing. Essentially, its the evaluation of physique that posting begs for. And if there are 2 billion Facebook users today, whose to know how many Facebook users there will be tomorrow? The harmful impact that social media has on body image is unprecedented, and most likely be proliferated through time. And whilst there are positive aspects to the fast-paced nature of social media such as spread of awareness and mobilization of social issues, only those with the social prowess will be able to beat the algorithm to spread their information.

So just like road signs aim to keep drivers and pedestrians safe, perhaps social media platforms need to form tools for users to use social media in ways that will be healthy. The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) in the United Kingdom conducted a UK-wide study called #StatusOfMind in 2017 which surveyed 1479 teens/young adults asking them about their feelings towards various social media platforms. Questions explored the impact these had on the individuals’ mental and physical health, body image, relationships with others and social life. They suggested that in order to help young people regulate their usage of social media and prevent negative mental health outcomes:

  • a ‘pop-up’ notification could be presented to warn users of heavy and unhealthy usage of social media.
  • social media platforms themselves could also screen their users by their posting style to find out who exhibits symptoms of depression and anxiety, and discretely notify health advocates and communities to support these users.
  • social media platforms could also pledge to highlight when photos of people have been edited to help users realize that what they are seeing is not completely natural.

These tools could greatly improve the way young people approach social media and thus positively affect their mental health, self-esteem and image. But even so, just the way we regulate our own usage can go a long way.

I mean, yesterday night I used Facebook to contact friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. I used Youtube to link my friend a video about cute cats, which may or may not have changed her life but probably didn’t ruin it either. I used Instagram to raise awareness of a cause I am passionate for, after tapping through Instagram stories of my friends. And I went to sleep, having clocked 1000 visits to social media.




This post was originally my assignment for my BYU writing class. It was modified from a research paper. All views are my own personal opinions.



Mormonism, Uncategorized

When an excommunicated member talks to me about Jesus, I listen


credit: Evan Kirby

I was touched by a beautiful post that made its rounds with my circle of Facebook friends last week about standing by Elder James J. Hamula. For those of you reading this who aren’t Mormon, have never heard of Mormons or try to avoid Mormons who knock on your door at 8pm in the evening, you probably have never heard of Elder Hamula. He served in my church in New Zealand, and from what I remember, he is a loving, spiritual man who has cared for and led many people to Christ.

Last Monday, Elder Hamula was excommunicated by the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. He was sustained a member of the Quorum of the Seventy in 2008, served as Assistant Executive Director of the Church History Department and later as the Executive Director of the Correlation Department.

The church confirmed to the Deseret News that the excommunication wasn’t taken because of disillusionment or apostasy. Or in more basic terms, it wasn’t because he lost his faith or taught doctrine incorrectly or the like.

To say I knew him personally would be an overshot because I don’t. At the time that he served in New Zealand I wasn’t the best at paying attention to leadership – not because I was defiant, but more because I was a distracted teenager who never really grew out of that phase when you need to stuff your face with Cheerios during the first speaker or color in something because your fingers start twitching (because you ran out of stale hoop-shaped cereal).

But someone I do know is Ashley.

Ashley was a lover of animals, a mother of two, and an excommunicated Mormon. When I wasn’t eating her Twix she wasn’t supposed to have, or getting scolded for the tears in my skirt, she taught me about Jesus. And I listened.

I met Ashley the day after I turned 20. I was a very fresh, very naïve sister missionary that had been sent to the suburbs of Nottingham, England. I knew nothing about the world except crumpled school reports, part time jobs and overpriced berry smoothies.

It had taken us several visits to Ashley’s place for her to finally be available for us to come inside. She had been taught for over 5 years by squillions of missionaries, and she was sporadic in her attendance at church due to health problems. The plan was that my companion and I (the other sister missionary who I was partnered with) were going to talk about Joseph Smith and the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a topic we often brought up as a starting point. We were advised by the bishop and ward mission leader to visit Ashley, who needed to be taught all the missionary lessons before she could get re-baptized. Her baptism would be an important ordinance that would turnover her excommunication and mean that she would be received fully back into the church.

We followed Ashley as she shuffled us into her living room that smelt of steak pasties, floral perfume and animals. I fell in love with her affectionate cats that purred to the slow rhythm of her obstructed breathing. She was in her faded fluffy bathrobe, eyes glazed: a sign of fatigue, stress and depression.

Ashley had been excommunicated some many years before self check-out systems at Tesco’s and when Old Market Square was just Market Square. She had always believed in Jesus, and prayed to God everyday. But she had made some mistakes, that cost her her membership in the church.

But that didn’t change her testimony. Ashley was a God-fearing woman, full of hilarious inappropriate jokes and her pet name for everyone, “duck”. Over the course of the next five months I learned all about Ashley- how she joined the church, how she fell in love with the wrong person, how she suffered pain, how she lost her membership. She was brutally honest, full of half-healed wounds and disturbing scars that I would have judged as unworthy had she not taken off her broken shoes and let me walk in them- at least for a minute, to get a glimpse of the heart ache, pain and suffering that she had been through in her life.

One of the best memories with Ashley was reading scriptures with her. We would text her a chapter to read and then catch up with her later and see what she thought. She was always full of wisdom, able to pick out a meaning that struck her heart strings. I was super eager to send Ashley reading assignments and texted her to read from the Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi chapters 22, 23, 24 over three days. After those three days, to my shock and embarrassment, I realized that 1 Nephi ended at chapter 22. When we visited Ashley later that evening, she laid out a feast of sweet and sour chicken (a very Ashley dish) and then proceeded to mime a big flick on my head for being the ignorant missionary I was. This was followed by a huge Mama Ashley hug, merciless teasing and laughter. Ashley never let me forget it.

But apart from my overall lack of scriptural knowledge sub-par for a Mormon missionary, there was something about Ashley that made me realize she knew Jesus a lot better than I did.

Ashley taught me what repentance was. And forgiveness. And she knew it was possible through Jesus Christ. She told me that she was a changed woman. She wouldn’t necessarily go back and undo what she had done, because through her mistakes she was able to gain wisdom and understanding that she otherwise wouldn’t have gained.

She told me, “Sister Huh, God will always find you. He will never leave you. He has always found me, again and again. But its only through Jesus, that you can go back to Him.

On December 12, 2015, Ashley was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I still remember her muttering under her breath that the water was way too fetchin’ hot as she got into the font (an error on my behalf, sorry Ashley) but coming out from the water beautiful and fresh, like the purest person I had ever seen. Her embrace, drenched and saturated and everything, was the sweetest moment of my mission.

Ashley asked my companion and I to wear hot pink because that was what she was planning to wear to her baptism. We turned up in our hot pink outfits, and we should have guessed, but Ashley turned up in purple. This was the kind of person Ashley was, and I loved her to bits.

Sunday morning of December 13, 2015, Ashley took of the Sacrament as a baptized member of the church. Symbolic of the body and blood that Christ sacrificed so that we could be forgiven of our sins and return to God, I contemplated on how eternal, unconditional and ever reaching that love really was.

Sunday morning of October 5, 2014, Elder Hamula gave a talk in General Conference about the Sacrament. He said:

Through mortality, every one of us becomes soiled with sin and transgression. We will have had thoughts, words, and works that will have been less than virtuous…

By the shedding of His innocent blood, Jesus Christ satisfied the demands of justice for every sin and transgression. He then offers to make us clean…

Indeed, the ordinance of the sacrament helps us faithfully endure to the end and receive the fulness of the Father in the same way Jesus did, grace for grace.”

I stand by what Elder Hamula says. Every one of us becomes soiled with sin and transgression. We all make mistakes, some with consequences more costly than others, more publicly ridiculed, judged and misunderstood.

But it is by the grace of Christ, that we are made clean. And everyone is given that opportunity. Let’s refrain from the shock and augmenting the scandal that comes with excommunication, whether or not they are high-profile. Instead, let’s love and celebrate the Atonement of Christ, the ability and gift that we have to repent and to change.



This post is my assignment for my BYU writing class. The name Ashley has been changed for the privacy of my lovely friend. It was tailored mainly for my Facebook friends, which is largely Mormon. All views are my own personal opinions, and not representative of the Church.