Fear of being tagged in unflattering social media photos ruins special occasions for many

  • Four in 10 people have turned down an invitation to a special occasion and half have had an event ruined by anxiety at the thought of unflattering social media photos, research shows
  • Nights out with friends, weddings and trips to the beach are the most commonly spoiled occasions – with the thought of being tagged in an unflattering picture the top stressor
  • People who are unhappy with their weight feel particularly anxious about this and 77% have seen a photo of themselves they don’t like on social media 
  • However, the study by Slimming World shows that social media can also provide a source of inspiration and encouragement for people on a weight-loss journey, with 88% of slimmers saying the positive community has helped with their weight loss
  • Real-life slimmers are much more likely to inspire healthy lifestyles through social media than celebrities, with 74% of slimmers saying no celebrity inspires them to live more healthily and 80% saying real people’s weight-loss results are inspiring.
  • Photo transformations, real people’s tips and ideas and seeing slimmers’ weight-loss results are the top inspirations and 92% say these complement the support they get on their weight-loss programme

Half of people (47%) have had special occasions spoiled and 40% have chosen not to go as they were worried about unflattering photos being shared on social media, a UK representative survey of 2,000 people has revealed*.

Conducted by Slimming World, the research shows 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.

Experts at Slimming World said that the technological revolution of smartphone cameras and frequent sharing on social media has amplified the anxiety, which they likened to scopophobia – an anxiety disorder characterised by a morbid fear of being seen or stared at by others. The research 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.”

Dr Linda Papadopoulos, expert psychologist
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.  
Dr Linda Papadopoulos, expert psychologist

However, social media can have a positive impact too. Complementary research 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.”

Notes to Editors

* Research conducted on a UK representative same of 2,018 people by market research agency, Censuswide. The data was broken down by age, gender, region and feelings about weight.

** Research of 1,007 Slimming World members, who responded to a survey on the organisation’s member website LifelineOnline.

For more information on this press release please contact Leigh Greenwood at leigh.greenwood@slimmingworld.co.uk or call 01773 546101 or 07940 582491.

About Slimming World

Slimming World was founded by Margaret Miles-Bramwell (OBE, FRSA) in 1969. There are now more than 18,000 weekly groups supporting 900,000 members across the UK and Republic of Ireland. Groups are run by a network of 4,500 community-based Slimming World Consultants, who receive specific training in the role of diet and physical activity in weight management, as well as sophisticated behaviour-change techniques. Slimming World’s healthy eating plan, Food Optimising, is based on the science of satiety and energy density. Our phased activity programme, Body Magic, eases members into activity until it becomes an intrinsic part of their daily routine. The principles behind Slimming World’s philosophy are based on a deep understanding of the challenges faced by overweight people and recognition that those who struggle with weight carry a double burden, the weight itself and a burden of guilt and shame about their weight. Slimming World’s programme integrates practical, up-to-date advice with a highly developed support system based on care and compassion, and Consultant training focuses on facilitating behaviour change in a warm and friendly group environment. Consultant training is delivered through the Slimming World Academy. Slimming World also invests in a comprehensive research programme to develop its support for long-term weight management. The group support provided by Slimming World is recognised as effective by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the NHS.

For more information about Slimming World’s approach visit www.slimmingworld.co.uk or call 0344 897 8000. Follow Slimming World on Twitter at www.twitter.com/slimmingworld or become a Slimming World fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/slimmingworld

About Dr Linda Papadopoulos

Dr Linda is one of the most well-known psychologists in the UK today. She has a prolific academic publication record and has published widely in peer reviewed academic journals in the fields of Psychodermatology, Body Image, Counselling and Medical Psychology. She is a Chartered Counselling and Health Psychologist and an Associate Fellow of the BPS. She is also a regular commentator on psychological issues in broadcast, radio and print media. She is a regular commentator on psychological issues in broadcast, radio and print media. She has fronted shows for the Networks including the Discovery Channel, National Geographic and TLC, as well as presenting factual segments on ITV’s This Morning, BBC’s The One Show and Good Morning Britain. She is a regular commentator on Sky news in the UK. She has also presented programmes and provided professional psychological commentary for numerous American and International television and radio networks including CNN, CBS, CNBC, BBC International, VH1 and MTV to name but a few. As a psychologist and as a mother Dr Linda is passionate that young women develop a healthy self-esteem and body image.