Conducted by Slimming World, the survey suggests that the anxiety is felt particularly firmly by people who are unhappy with their weight, with 77% having seen a photo of themselves they don’t like on social media.
The idea of being tagged in an unflattering picture (35%), having their appearance judged (32%) and people seeing they’ve gained weight (29%) are the most common social media photo fears for people who are unhappy with their size.
The survey showed that social media photo anxiety has spoiled occasions for more than half of people who are unhappy with their weight (52%) and nights out with friends (19%), weddings (17%) and trips to the beach (16%) were the most cited events.
Seeing an unflattering photo of themselves on social media left people who were unhappy with their weight feeling embarrassed (34%), unattractive (36%) and overweight (31%). The survey revealed that many had developed tactics to try to avoid it, including hiding behind other people in photographs (28%), offering to take the picture (23%) and making excuses not to be in it e.g. no make-up on or too short on time (21%). More than one in 10 (12%) had even asked a friend to remove an unflattering photo from social media.
Dr Linda Papadopoulos, expert psychologist, said: “Producing, editing and consuming pictures of ourselves and others has become such a big part of everyday life in our society that it’s hard to imagine a time when we weren’t inundated with visual images of people’s lives and behaviours. Before the digital revolution, the average person only posed for a few pictures a year – on holiday, on their birthday and at an occasional family wedding. What’s more, those printed photographs would often have only been seen by a handful of family members and close friends. It was much less public and, as such, we felt we had a sense of control over how we were perceived by others.
“Now though, smartphone cameras have made documenting our lives with photos the norm, while social networks mean that those photos can instantly been seen by large numbers of people including old school friends, colleagues, ex-partners and even strangers. To complicate things further, because of the structure of social media sites, we expect feedback once we post pictures. We expect to be ‘seen’ and so posting becomes an exercise in valuing and assessing appearance and, as a result, it has become a barometer of self-worth for many people. It’s not surprising therefore that people talk of feeling exposed and judged, and many report that these value judgements lead to enormous anxiety and self-consciousness. The problem is that instead of going on to connect, we often go on to compare and this can lead us to feel like we aren’t good enough.”
The key is to engage with people – both in the real world and online – who will support and inspire you, helping develop your confidence around health behaviours. The success of support groups like Slimming World comes from the fact that goals are realistic and support is genuine and consistent, so people do less comparing and instead spend more time supporting and learning when they engage online.
However, social media can have a positive impact too. A separate survey of 1,014 Slimming World members** revealed that 75% have received personal encouragement on social media and 88% said social media had helped them to lose weight. Furthermore, 92% said that the support and inspiration they get on social media complements the weight-loss programme they are following, rather than providing a replacement for it.
When it comes to who inspires them on social media, the research revealed that slimmers are more likely to be inspired to make healthy choices by real people than by celebrities. While Holly Willoughby was chosen as the celebrity who most inspires people to live healthily through social media, she was chosen by just 8% of the general public while 61% of the general public and 74% of slimmers said that they are not inspired to live healthily by any celebrities.
Conversely, 88% of slimmers say that getting real people’s tips and ideas inspires them to lose weight and 80% say real people’s weight-loss results motivate them on their journey, while 89% are inspired by transformation photos.
Losing weight was found to improve self-belief and 73% of slimmers say they now feel more confident on social media, with 91% saying they feel more confident in general.
Dr Papadopoulos continued: “Social media is here to stay and while there are negatives there is also research to suggest that if consumed in a healthy way, social media can have a positive impact in terms of motivating us and even educating us to reach our health goals. The key is to engage with people – both in the real world and online – who will support and inspire you, helping develop your confidence around health behaviours. The success of support groups like Slimming World comes from the fact that goals are realistic and support is genuine and consistent, so people do less comparing and instead spend more time supporting and learning when they engage on line. No one should ever be made to feel judged, criticised or humiliated and to let fears of what others think hold them back from living the life they want to live. Getting support from a friendly community will give you the inspiration, support and belief to make the changes you want to make and to reach your personal happy weight.”
Slimming World members are using the hashtag #BeSnapHappy alongside #SWBeInspired to encourage people to share pictures of themselves at their most confident and inspiring. The campaign aims to inspire people to never let social media photo worry stop them from living their best life. Being part of a caring and supportive community allows people to be confident and proud on social media and inspires them to achieve their goals.
Fay Marshall who has lost 8st 8lbs with Slimming World and now has more than 8,000 followers on Instagram as @fmsw16. At her heaviest Fay Marshall, 23, from Enfield in North London, weighed 21st 5lbs and says having her photo taken would fill her with dread.
Student Fay says: “I hated seeing myself in photos and the idea that pictures I didn’t like might appear on Facebook or another social media channel was awful – I’d be embarrassed at even the thought of it. It reached a point where I stopped going out with my friends to avoid it.
“It was a vicious cycle though, because the bigger I got the less confident I was about going out so I’d stay in and secret eat instead. My confidence hit rock bottom at that point. I’d go to bed early, get up late and I didn’t really leave the house much at all.”
However in January 2016, after being mistaken for being pregnant on the London Underground twice, Fay joined Slimming World and has since lost 8st 8lbs – dropping from a size 22/24 to a 12. She feels much more confident and enjoys socialising now.
Fay, who was named Slimming World’s Woman of the Year 2017, says: “Before, whenever I walked into a room I would feel as though everyone was looking at me and thinking ‘wow, she’s a big girl!’. Now I can walk into any room standing up straight and with my head held high.
“It’s the same online. I’ve now got 8k followers on Instagram and it’s amazing to me to think that I can just post a photo of myself and not worry what people will think. Social media was a huge inspiration for me on my weight-loss journey. I’ve loved seeing other people’s transformations and getting ideas for recipes to try – I’ve found Instagram in particular is such a supportive community and my Slimming World group has its own closed Facebook group where we support each other in between our weekly meetings which really complements our group sessions, so I hope that I can help inspire and motivate other people in that same way. “I feel like a butterfly who’s finally found her wings.”