Are ‘healthy’ insta-trends really just trampling our body confidence?

We speak with the wonderful Maddy Tyres on the complicated relationship between social media and body image.

Oh, the double edged sword! Social media is a wondrous land of communication and inspiration and simultaneously a hamster wheel of inadequacy.

If you keep scrolling yet another person might just remind you how you don’t measure up.

Speaking on Body+Soul’s daily podcast Healthy-ish, Aussie actor, TV presenter and author of picture book, When Anna Came to Stay, Maddy Tyres, reflects on her lived experience of having eating disorder.

“I do sort of have sort of conflicting kind of thoughts of social media. I do think it’s a wonderful, powerful tool, but when used in the wrong way can also be quite dangerous,” she tells host Felicity Harley on the Healthy-ish episode Social media and body image: a complicated relationship.

Triple J’s Hack programme is currently running an investigation into the correlation between social media usage and body image concerns. This is particularly prevalent as many Australians spent exponentially more time on their screens during the pandemic.

“When I heard the news that Triple J were doing this investigation, I was actually so, so happy to hear it. Personally, I feel like there was moments throughout COVID that – and I’m well into my recovery journey, I’ve been on my recovery journey from an eating disorder for about ten years now. But I think this particular last 12 months has been a really difficult time for people,” Tyres says.

While the stress of the pandemic is certainly a factor, spending so much time alone, on social media, being bombarded with at-home fitness tips is a concoction of triggers for many Aussies.

“Tools that people with eating disorders would use as a go-to kind of stress relief have been taken away from them. That’s when you can fall into traps of restriction and kind of dangerous, dangerous things like that,” she adds.

Tyres says she wants Aussies to become more aware of what they’re consuming online and across social, and how this makes them feel.

“It’s really interesting because I think, these health and wellbeing, lifestyle type trends that we’ve seen rise and rise in popularity over the years initially started out as a positive concept,” Tyres explains.

“The people putting them out, they’re feeling like they’re helping people – trying to encourage people to live their healthy, best life.”

“It can actually send the wrong images, when taken too seriously. So, yeah, these #fitspo type accounts, #cleaneating, this kind of certain aesthetic…it’s an all genders kind of issue.”

She adds that there is such a huge focus on the obesity epidemic in the media but the other side of the picture, and the wide spectrum of eating disorders many Aussies face, just doesn’t get the awareness it deserves.

“It’s something we need to be super aware of when we’re using social media,” she says.

Maddy’s tips to improve body image

After going through an eating disorder and spending the last ten years recovered, Maddy knows a thing or two first-hand about beating those demons.

Her advice?

  1. Re-educate yourself: We spend so much time listening to what other people do for their bodies, but we need to consider how ours responds because everyone is different. Relearning your body and what it likes or doesn’t is crucial.
  2. Bin the terminology: Words have power and the way we use them creates meaning, so be careful what you say. For Maddy this was about stopping the ‘good food’ ‘bad food’ diachotomy. “Food is fuel, and anything in moderation is ok,” she says.
  3. Be more discerning on social media: Sometimes that is incredibly hard to do, especially when you’re young, but Maddy wants us to be more aware of the trickery on social. “Be aware of advertising and what it does to us as a consumer,” she suggests.
  4. Holistically approach mental health: Your wellness is so important, so try and find balance with sleep, meditation, nourishing wholefoods, connecting with friends, family and finding time for fun. Focus on the things that make you feel good.

If you or anyone you know need help or support for an eating disorder or concerns about body image, please call Butterfly Foundation National Helpline on 1800 334 673.

Mental health professionals are available 24/7 at the beyondblue Support Service – 1300 22 46 36 or via beyondblue.org.au/get-support for online chat (3pm-12am AEST) or email response.