LOOKING at the image of herself on her phone, Lottie Teideman felt a familiar sense of self-loathing.
However, a few clicks later, and a few inches digitally shaved off her already trim size-6 waist, the 7st bikini model finally felt confident enough to post the altered image to her Instagram.
Constantly comparing herself with the impossibly perfect images she was bombarded with on social media had led to Lottie doctoring her own pictures – a vicious circle that left the 30 year old from Berkshire anxious about leaving the house, depressed and eventually battling an eating disorder.
“I constantly felt like I wasn’t measuring up,” says Lottie, who works as a nurse.
“The only way I felt like I could compete with the images I was seeing online was by filtering my own. But that only made me feel worse about myself and more anxious. It was a horrible downward spiral.”
Lottie is not alone.
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A new report from the Health and Social Care Committee released in August revealed that 80% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their body image had a negative impact on their mental health, while 61% agreed or strongly agreed that their body image negatively impacts their physical health.
The study found evidence “about the potential harm from online content that promotes an idealised, often doctored and unrealistic body image and the link to developing low self-esteem and related mental health conditions.”
The Committee is now calling for the government to introduce a law that requires online commercial content – specifically on social media – to carry a logo that explains how the image has been filtered or altered, including noting any changes to body proportions and skin tone.
Add to this the fact that the UK recently topped a list of countries across Europe in searches for body-editing apps – with 23,510 searches a month or 800 every day* – and women like Lottie find themselves caught in a toxic cycle of comparison and criticism.
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In her late teens, 5ft 2in Lottie’s weight increased and she went from a size 10 up to a size 16.
She started to go to the gym and enjoyed boxercise and spin classes, healthily getting back down to a size 10.
“That was when I met some people who competed in aesthetics modelling, which involves shredding your body fat as low as you can and posing in a bikini to be judged.
"I liked the idea of a challenge, so I decided to get involved.
“I started working with a trainer, who helped me with a high-protein diet, gruelling weights workouts and posing techniques.
"I lost a further two dress sizes and I loved it.
"I enjoyed pushing myself – it appealed to my competitive side.
"When I entered my first competition in 2015, I came third. I was over the moon and immediately entered another.”
However, the further Lottie became immersed in that world – and the more fellow competitors she began following on Instagram – the worse she began to feel.
“I’d constantly compare myself to everyone else I saw, both in real life and online, and I grew to hate the way I looked.
"I’d always had curvy hips and, even as small as I was, I was convinced they stuck out too much. I felt completely inadequate.”
Getting up at 3am, she’d work out at the gym for four hours, before starting her day job as a student nurse.
When you start to filter your photos, tweaking your face and body, it can feel so innocent. You have no idea of the impact, both physical and mental, it can have on you and those around you. We really need to face reality – and ourselves – for how it really looks.
Existing on a diet of chicken and broccoli, her weight fell to 7st and she was running on empty.
In her next two competitions, Lottie came second.
Questioning why she hadn’t won, she became even more critical of her body and began filtering her photographs to make herself look even slimmer than she already was.
“It was terrible for my mental health,” she says.
“I became anxious about leaving the house, worried that people would realise that I wasn’t the same size I was online.
"But my friends didn’t notice the difference. In fact, they started worrying about me and asking if I was OK.
“The pressure of putting myself forward for judges and audiences to scrutinise every inch of my body, and the incredibly strict eating regimes, meant I ended up binge-eating anything that was in the house, including cakes and biscuits, then throwing up.”
Eight weeks before her fourth competition, in 2015, Lottie broke down in front of her coach and told her she couldn’t carry on.
Her coach suggested she take a break, but Lottie didn’t go back
Instead, she told her mum Debbie, 56, she was suffering from bulimia.
After seeing her GP, she was referred for a six-week course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Afterwards, she continued to work on developing her self-worth.
It’s affecting everyone, from young children who watch their parents altering their photographs, all the way up to people in their 80s.
“It took a long time to leave that way of thinking behind, and even now it’s an ongoing process to return to a healthier relationship with food.
"I went through my social media feed and unfollowed people who were involved in that world and started looking for less extreme body shapes.
“I stopped exercising completely for a while and only recently started gym classes again – but to be healthier, rather than to lose weight. Thankfully, my mental health has improved significantly.”
Today, Lottie is married to Alec, 33 – who she met while competing as a model, and who was supportive during her recovery – and is mum to Bella, four, and Bailey, 20 months.
Now 13st and a size 16, she says she’s happier than ever with her body.
“Having children definitely helped my mental health,” she says.
“I could see how much they loved me just for me, right from the start. Plus they helped me to start looking at my body differently.
"It had grown, birthed and fed two children – I started to see how amazing it was.
“I do still have wobbly days, largely due to social media, like if I see people I admire talking about losing weight.
"But on the whole, I feel a lot better about myself and love my body as it is.”
Lottie still filters her photographs – but this time clearly showing the before and after images, in order to show others how easy it is to alter your online image and reminding them not to trust everything they see.
“People are amazed when they see how easy it is to not only change your body shape, but to add freckles or transform your smile – and how impossible it is to tell fiction from fact.”
Dr Elle Boag, associate professor in applied psychology at Birmingham City University, agrees that the impact of filtering photos can’t be underestimated.
“It’s affecting everyone, from young children who watch their parents altering their photographs, all the way up to people in their 80s.
"We’ve recently seen a huge rise in ‘granfluencers’, causing people to ask: ‘Is this what I’m meant to look like at my age?’ It’s terribly sad.”
Elle explains that the way we view ourselves has a huge impact on the way we present ourselves to the world.
So if we have a negative body image, we start to doubt everything about ourselves, including our judgements and decisions.
“It can lead to a downward spiral, where people can develop depression, eating disorders and even go as far as suicide,” she says.
Despite the campaign from the Health and Social Care Committee, Elle doesn’t believe that labelling photos as filtered would help.
“It wouldn’t make a difference to the vast majority,” she says.
“Look at blank cigarette packets, or those labelled with health warnings, or the fat content that is put on food – they don’t stop people from smoking or eating junk food.”
Instead she believes that filters should be part of a constant discussion in school and at home.
“It’s not the sort of thing that will work as a single conversation. It needs to be ongoing and in a safe space, in order to protect ourselves from ourselves,” she says.
Yasmin Hussain, a 32-year-old learning consultant from London, also found herself suffering from low self-esteem as a result of doctoring her pictures.
It became incredibly addictive, because the more I saw ‘perfection’, that was all I – and anyone else – wanted to see. I’d get a rush every time my pictures got likes.
When she joined Instagram in 2015, she and a few friends started a light-hearted competition to see who could get the most followers and likes.
“In doing that, we discovered filters,” she says.
“Soon I was smoothing out my skin, enhancing my eyes, slimming my nose, even changing my skin tone.
"It became incredibly addictive, because the more I saw ‘perfection’, that was all I – and anyone else – wanted to see. I’d get a rush every time my pictures got likes.”
Before long, it started to take over her life.
“Every night out had to be the best ever, you had to be in the best relationship, have the best friends… Yet when you’re spending so much time obsessing over the photos and posting them, it rarely was.
"I became consumed over which photos got the best response. It was exhausting.
“I started to feel anxious over other people taking photos of me and posting them, unfiltered, online, so I would refuse to pose for others. I didn’t want people to see what I actually looked like.”
In lockdown, Yasmin was so scared of people seeing her unfiltered image that she refused to turn her camera on during work meetings.
None of her colleagues asked her why, but when she realised it could affect her career, she eventually forced herself to turn it on.
“It was a real anticlimax when I did,” she remembers. “The reality was, my colleagues didn’t care about what I looked like, they wanted to hear what I had to say.
“I began to realise it was becoming a real problem and made a conscious effort not to use filters.
Look at who you’re following and what messages they’re pushing. How do those messages make you feel? If it’s negative, simply stop following them.
"At first, I felt exposed and quite vulnerable. But despite experiencing a huge drop in likes, I actually felt better about myself. I was being more authentic, and none of my followers called me out about looking different in my images.”
Amy Bates, author of The Body Confidence Masterplan, says social media users need to think deeply about what they are exposing themselves to.
Many celebrities, for example, only post heavily filtered pictures of themselves.
“Look at who you’re following and what messages they’re pushing. How do those messages make you feel? If it’s negative, simply stop following them,” she says.
“Instagram can be a really positive place – if you’re following the right people.
"So start searching for positive hashtags, like #bodyconfidence and #bodypositive. It’s important to see people with bodies like your own, to know that how you look is acceptable, but also to be exposed to other bodies and to realise everyone is different.
“Above all, stop comparing yourself to someone’s highlights on Instagram,” she says. “Remember, that isn’t their full reality.”
Thankfully, that is exactly what both Lottie and Yasmin have managed to do – and both are happier for it.
“When you start to filter your photos, tweaking your face and body, it can feel so innocent,” says Lottie.
“You have no idea of the impact, both physical and mental, it can have on you and those around you. We really need to face reality – and ourselves – for how it really looks.”
- For information and support, visit Mind.org.uk.
- Source: *Bulk
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