The controversy over Khloé Kardashian's unedited bikini photo exposes the ugly reality of social media

Samantha Grindell
·5 min read
khloe kardashian 2019
Khloé Kardashian's team is trying to remove an unedited photo of her from the internet. Frazer Harrison / Staff / Getty Images
  • It's no secret celebrities edit their photos, as an "unauthorized" shot of Khloé Kardashian showed.

  • These altered images can have damaging effects on social-media users' mental health.

  • Celebrities are also harmed by the editing, but their jobs require them to keep up the status quo.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

On Monday, an "unauthorized" photo of Khloé Kardashian wearing a bikini and posing near a pool was accidentally posted by an assistant.

It's an innocuous image, but Kardashian's team quickly moved to have it removed online after it started popping up on sites like Reddit and Twitter.

"The color edited photo was taken of Khloé during a private family gathering and posted to social media without permission by mistake by an assistant," the chief marketing officer for KKW Brands, Tracy Romulus, told Page Six. "Khloé looks beautiful but it is within the right of the copyright owner to not want an image not intended to be published taken down."

As Kardashian's team attempted to remove all traces of the image, people lamented its disappearance online, complimenting the star's appearance and its contrast to the highly edited shots she usually shares.

But Kardashian's reaction to the world seeing an unedited picture of her points to a larger issue with social-media use, as it can negatively affect mental health and alter people's perception of reality.

It's common for people to edit or curate photos for social media

It's not unusual for people - celebrity or not - to post edited photos on social-media platforms.

"People tend to engage in selective self-presentation" on social media, said T. Makana Chock, a media psychologist who is a communications professor at Syracuse University. For instance, people might share pictures of themselves only from certain angles, using filters, or taking advantage of lighting to present themselves as ideally as possible.

Khloe Kardashian
Most people edit their social media photos. Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

But some users, including celebrities and influencers, take it a step further by using photo-editing apps to dramatically alter their appearance.

Chock told Insider that celebrities in particular were prone to editing their photos because their image is often closely tied to their brand and their income.

"They're playing a role, and to some extent, their image actually helps them to create and define this role," Chock said.

Looking at altered photos can harm social-media users' mental health

Chock told Insider that social media was dangerous because it presents a false version of reality.

When you're looking at a magazine spread of a celebrity, you might assume the star had a team of makeup artists, stylists, and photographers to help them look good, as well as editing of the image itself.

But Chock said those associations don't pop up with pictures of famous people on social media, even though it's likely the stars use the same tools to optimize the shot.

"There's this perception that somehow this is an achievable ideal," Chock told Insider.

Altered social-media images can be particularly harmful to young women. In 2017, Jasmine Fardouly, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University in Australia, studied how often female college students compared themselves with people they saw on social media.

"In our study, comparisons to attractive others on social media were particularly harmful because they put women in a more negative mood and made them feel worse about their appearance," Fardouly told Insider of the study.

Studies have also shown edited images increase issues around body image and self-esteem. Chock said this was especially true for avid users who frequently interact with their favorite stars' posts.

Celebrities are victims of social media's dangers as much as they are perpetrators

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Kardashian is harmed by social media, too. Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

It would be simple to blame celebrities for the negative impact of their edited photos, but Chock said the reality was more complicated.

Social media is currency for stars and influencers, and they face constant pressure to look good in the public eye. Because the images they share on social media are part of their brand, anything that doesn't fit with that brand could damage their reputation.

"As an influencer who wants to be successful in what is essentially business, you are expected to appear in a certain way, to have a certain appearance," Chock said, adding that for women that often meant placing the focus on their weight.

For instance, in 2018, Kardashian shared that her sisters said she needed to lose weight because her size was "hurting" their "brand," emphasizing that her image directly affected her and her family's success.

And on Wednesday night, Kardashian released a statement on Instagram and Twitter addressing the controversy, telling her followers that she feels "pressure" to live up to beauty standards as a direct result of being constantly scrutinized in her public life.

"In truth, the pressure, constant ridicule and judgment my entire life to be perfect and to meet other's standards of how I should look has been too much to bear," she wrote.

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Kardashian and her peers are trapped in the social-media cycle, unable to break free even as the system hurts them and those around them.

Representatives for Kardashian did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.

Read the original article on Insider