There are over 500 million individuals on Instagram. FIVE. HUNDRED. MILLION. Within that massive number, we can expect that many people in eating disorder recovery are also using Instagram as a form of support, and inevitably also a source of comparison. While I myself am an avid Instagram user, I’ve noticed some of the things that seem to help and hinder recovery.
Pro: Instagram can help build support communities and networks for those in recovery. Recovery requires as much support as you can possibly get; which still may not feel like enough. Instagram allows you to create literally 100’s of friendships with people from potentially different parts of the world. This also means that you can essentially have 24/7 support. Simply put: it feels good and reassuring to have someone else who can understand your struggle and your experience. These Instagram groups can also act as a motivating force behind recovery. A support network can create an immediate sense of accountability and challenge you to keep up with consistent progression towards recovery.
Con: Instagram can also build “pro-anorexia” groups. We’ve all heard the term “thinspiration” before. And if you haven’t, it basically means that people are inspired by their thinner Instagram followers, feel that their thinner followers are therefore more beautiful and worthy, and therefore also want to look like them (or thinner). It creates a competition between people who could have otherwise been valuable supporters and recovery encouragers. These pro-anorexia groups do not do anything for recovery besides discouraging it.
Pro: Instagram can help you re-identify. This is directly tied with the previous last pro. When we build support networks via Instagram, we’re introduced to a new variety of hobbies, interests, and personalities. When we join the Instagram world, we also automatically can join multiple other little worlds that our new Instagram friends welcome us into. This can be beneficial for recovery in discovering new things that you enjoy that you never expected to. It can help to re-identify yourself separate from the eating disorder by presenting yourself as a “yogi” or a lover of all things outdoors or a foodie; Instagram allows you to identify with anything else besides eating disorder if you use it for this reason.
Con: Does your Instagram identity start to become your “real-life” identity? I completely encourage creating a separate identity from your eating disorder. An eating disorder itself can quickly become an identity. I can personally recall feeling that my anorexic side soon became my only side; it is what people began to view me as, which then meant I felt that I had to keep up with its every demand just to maintain the identity of anorexic. This same sort of demanding identity can occur if we use Instagram to portray something that may not actually be as beneficial as it first seems. I’ve noticed many girls on Instagram creating a “fitness” identity in place of an eating disorder identity. While working out is healthy to do, when it becomes an encompassing and overwhelming identity, it loses its primary positive purpose. Our recovery account can lead others to perceive us strictly as the face of a recovering anorexic, or our fitness account can quickly become tiring rather than empowering and healthy. In either case, adhering to an Instagram identity can actually make us feel less and less like ourselves.
Pro: Redefine your relationship with food. Speaking from my own observations of recovery accounts on Instagram, I’ve noticed food photography that looks completely professional. I don’t know how long it takes you all to get those perfect angles of food with kitchen lighting that doesn’t appear fluorescent, but props to you. And by doing this, food sort of becomes “art.” When we view food as art, and make it fun by making it look like an actual masterpiece, it becomes at least a little less scary. This also leads to wanting to try more food for the sake of making more beautiful and “insta-worthy” photos. Instagram itself act as motivator to challenge ourselves, redefine our relationship with food, and to hold ourselves accountable by showing everyone what exactly we’re eating (and how beautiful we can make it look).
Con: Everyone else is ALSO posting food, which increases the risk for comparisons. If we see our Instagram recovering friend posting her lunch of merely carrots and a 2 oz piece of chicken, we are much more likely to feel pressured to post (and eat) a similar meal; resulting in a setback in recovery for both Instagram users. On the other end, when we see others with different goals than us (those not in recovery), we may feel like what they eat is “normal” and start adopting their meal plan. Just because the female fitness model is posting her Tupperware filled with tilapia and broccoli doesn’t mean you are also required to eat the same.
Pro: Instagram allows us to track our progress. We can very easily take photos that are saved in time sequence, giving us a realistic perspective of the changes we’ve made over the past weeks/months. Instagram can keep us on track to accomplishing our recovery goals, and also make us feel proud of our visible progress. In posting these pictures, it’s likely we also gain some positive feedback from our followers, further encouraging us to keep making progress.
Con: If you’re posting pictures of your body throughout recovery, chances are, other girls are too. Once again, this can lead to unhelpful comparisons, body shaming, and unrealistic goals for where we may be in recovery. Additionally, has anyone really taken the time to look at how these photos are set up? Not to minimize trainer’s and bodybuilder’s hard work, but most of the time a lot of thought goes into how to pose in a way that makes one look more ‘toned’ versus standing as one normally would (no flexing). Instagram is home to 1,000’s of such pictures, which really all start to look the same after a while. When we’re exposed to the same photo over and over again, we may start to believe that this is what we’re truly supposed to look like, and want to look like.
By no means am I telling you to get off of Instagram if by staying on it truly is helping you in recovery. What I am encouraging is to determine why you are using it, what role you want Instagram to play for you, how often you want to use it, and to what extent it actually is making a positive impact in your recovery.