Filtered Reality

As part of my Year 11 Personal Project, I explored the empowerment of women in sport using photography. During the project, I came up against many issues around the use of the images and consent. It was apparent that young female athletes at ISL did not feel comfortable with certain photos being shared beyond the context of my portfolio. Creating an exhibition of posters was out of the question. While it confirmed that girls are often uncomfortable with others seeing them play sports, it led me to realise that girls are often not just uncomfortable with being photographed but also worry about living up to a certain image.

It goes without saying that the culprit is most often social media, where we are constantly being exposed to unrealistic bodies, beauty and lifestyles. As the use of filters has become totally normalised in recent years, we are constantly comparing ourselves to a false image that does not exist in real life.  After a long day at school, sports and activities, it is impossible to live up to the expectation created by full time influencers with their lives revolving around creating the perfect image of a toned body, full face of makeup, unrealistic diets and expensive clothing brand deals.  Social media creates an idealised image of what it means to be beautiful. So, of course girls are uncomfortable with people taking pictures of them and these pictures being shared as they know that they are never going to look the way that they have been “programmed” to believe it is acceptable to look. Our view of what it means to be beautiful has been so distorted that as soon as you look at a picture of yourself, you immediately focus on what aspect of yourself does not match society’s ideals. What can also be confusing for young girls is that this ideal body type and face  is constantly changing. One day they are told to be skinny with natural looking makeup and the next they are told to have lots of curves with heavy, intense makeup. 

But it’s not just social media. Movies, TV shows, magazines and advertisements can also make girls feel uncomfortable with the way they look. Girls are exposed to approximately 400-600 media images per day. If all of those are pushing girls to lose weight or to look a certain way, this has a huge impact on girls psychology and self worth.

Let’s not forget some other causes:

  • Being made fun of as a child because of the way you look. 
  • Growing up in a family that pushes and cares about a certain body type or look. 
  • Having members of your family feel ashamed of their body type or be unhappy with it. 
  • Having members of your family dieting or using other ways to control their weight. 
  • Having people judging you because of your appearance or the idea that people will. 
  • Peer pressure on girls to have a certain body type, go on diets, over exercise and compare their bodies to those around them. 
  • Having a lot of talk about dieting in women’s media. 
  • Public health campaigns pushing people to lose weight. 

Statistics only back this up. A study found that 63% of American women and girls feel that their weight can affect how happy they are. It was found that weight is even considered to be more important than family, school or their career! It has also been found that 86% of women are unhappy with their bodies. Many girls think that the key to being more confident is to be thinner. People believe that their body defines themselves. A study found that only 2% of women worldwide would describe themselves using the word “beautiful”. 

So what can we do about this? Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to change the huge prevalence of unrealistic images and lifestyles in social media as ultimately they create big business for individuals and the economy. While there are, of course, big voices in the body positivity movement, there are individual things you can do to improve how you view yourself and others. I think using natural and realistic images on our social media as well as supporting those that do so is the main thing individuals can do. 

Although the photos from my personal project are unfortunately not going to be used beyond my personal project product, I still believe I made an impactful change. Ultimately, making the effort to recognise the female athletes at our school and making them feel valued and important has made a difference to them. Seeing images of themselves looking powerful, strong and enjoying their sport showed that you can be beautiful in photos when doing sport. It was amazing seeing how excited some of the girls and coaches were to get the attention and recognition from photographing their training sessions. I think that if we all start treating photos as a way to show our true selves we would put a stop to society’s unrealistic standards and make a change.