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Pause before you post: Social media ‘appearance-led’ content impacting Australians’ body image


Butterfly Foundation, the national charity for eating disorders and body image issues, have partnered with Instagram to encourage ‘conscious creation’ as new research shows the unintended impact content can have on Australians’ body image.  

  • 6 in 10 (59%) Australians say diet and fitness content on social media impacts their body image – yet two thirds (68%) aren’t adjusting their social media behaviour.  

  • 69% of Australians agree that influencers have a responsibility to be role models for their audience.

  • Butterfly and Instagram launch ‘Enter the Chat’ to encourage conscious creation and highlight tools to support users’ wellbeing online, featuring Australian creators April Hélène-Horton (@thebodzilla), Cooper Chapman (@cooperchapman), Milo Hartill (@milohartill), Riley Hemson (@rileyj), Mark Mariano (@markusmuch) and Lucy Neville (@lucymneville).


New research conducted by Butterfly Foundation reveals the unintentional harm that prevalent body appearance social media content can have. 6 in 10 (59%) Australians have reported that diet and fitness content on social media impacts their body image; nearly two thirds (63%) have said they compare their image to what they see on social media; and over a third (38%) agreed that social media has a ‘negative effect’ on their body image.


Despite being digital natives, Millennials and Gen Z are particularly impacted, with 1 in 5 Millennials admitting that diet and fitness content makes them feel dissatisfied with their bodies. Gen Z are most likely to be influenced by social media to change their eating habits or fitness routines (26%); and almost half (44%) considered acting on health and fitness advice shared by a creator on social media.


To combat the unintended impact of appearance-led content, Instagram and Butterfly have brought together six Australian creators, April Hélène-Horton (@thebodzilla), Cooper Chapman (@cooperchapman), Milo Hartill (@milohartill), Riley Hemson (@rileyj), Mark Mariano (@markusmuch) and Lucy Neville (@lucymneville), for a new social content series ‘Enter the Chat’. Housed on Butterfly’s Instagram (@thebutterflyfoundation), the series considers the impact of social media on body image, and shares the creators’ own personal experiences of creating content more consciously and protecting their mental health and wellbeing online.


Creator Lucy Neville (@lucymneville) knows the impact of social media on body image all too well. Growing up she was faced with a significant amount of appearance-led content in her feed, which impacted her body image and contributed to the development of disordered eating behaviours. “I wish I could go back and tell myself, who was really sucked in by this content, that if you have a question about health, that is a question for you and your doctor. Not you and an influencer that you follow. I wish that I could go back and give myself a hug, [you] don’t have to eat like someone else, [you] don’t have to look like anyone else”, adds Lucy.


Despite many Australians (43%) becoming savvier at identifying content that may have a negative effect on their body image, two in three (68%) aren’t making adjustments to support their wellbeing on social media – only 1 in six (16%) unfollow accounts or pages that promote unrealistic beauty standards or trigger negative feelings about their body image and less than 1 in 10 (9%) of Australians have used available social media tools to adjust the content they see.

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The role of content creators


More than two thirds (69%) of Australians agree that influencers (also known as content creators) have a responsibility to be role models for their audience, with strongest agreement coming from Millennials (71%) and Gen Z (70%). This research presents an opportunity for every user, whatever the size of their following, to play a positive role in responsibly sharing and posting appearance-led, diet and exercise content online.


Almost 9 in 10 (88%) Australians said influencers shouldn’t share advice when it comes to diet and exercise or should only post if they’re qualified. The impact of sharing this type of content has seen more than a third (39%) of Australians muting or blocking an influencer because they were promoting unhealthy eating or exercise behaviours.


“While most people are well meaning when they post appearance-related content on social media, our research confirms it can unintentionally have a negative impact on body image, which we know can have significant consequences across all aspects of people’s lives. We hope this campaign empowers all social media users to be more mindful about what they post and encourages Australians to support themselves online, to create social media environments that are kinder to our body image,” says Melissa Wilton, Head of Communications and Engagement at Butterfly Foundation.


“We acknowledge there is a complex intersection between social media and body image, and in recognition of this, since 2018, we have partnered with Butterfly Foundation to deliver four educational initiatives driven by community feedback and research. Enter the Chat underscores the importance of conscious content creation and highlights the Instagram tools and technology available to users in curating their online experience, including functions such as nudges, take a break, blocking, muting, hidden words, ‘not interested’ and more,” says Mia Garlick, Director of Public Policy at Meta Australia.


To watch creators ‘Enter the Chat’ and get involved at home, follow @thebutterflyfoundation on Instagram. For more information on ‘Enter the Chat’, watch the full-length conversation with creators and to find resources, social media tools, information relating to body image issues and where to get help, visit www.butterfly.org.au/enterthechat.

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