What’s really happening when body shaming on social media goes viral?

#collarbonechallenge, #bellybuttontest and #thighgap may seem like harmless hashtags – but these challenges may have a greater impact than we realize. 

“Social media and hashtags greatly affect body image,” says Ally del Monte, a 16-year old Connecticut-native who runs Losergurl, a blog dedicated to ending bullying and body shaming both online and in real life. “Social media has in some ways replaced or become just as important as friends you have in real life, and some people will do anything for likes and retweets, including starving themselves,” she tells us. 

Hashtag challenges

Like many viral hashtags, the origin of The Collarbone Challenge is unknown. Encouraging people to stack as many quarters as possible in the void created by their collarbone, many have viewed this along with other popular hashtags like #thighgap, #bikinibridge and #bellybuttontest as a way of promoting unhealthy body images on the Internet. The idea behind most of these challenges is the thinner you are, the better your success rate.

Instagram/deevibess

Instagram/ambertutton

Instagram/lindalossani

“When there is a hashtag that is considered ‘desirable,’ like  #ThighGap
or the #Collarbonechallenge, it sets an almost impossible ideal that is,
in fact unhealthy,” del Monte claims. “Very few people are naturally that slender, yet people will starve themselves to reach these unattainable goals.”

Though some Instagrammers have taken a lighter approach to the trends, there is still a concern over what overall impact these have. 

Instagram/jessraeking

“This is very disturbing and dangerous,” says Stacy Thomas, a Toronto-based clinical health psychologist. “There is good research evidence to indicate that exposure to media depicting a thin ideal is correlated with increased problems with negative body image among women.”

Though unrealistic images in the media are nothing new – recall France’s ban on ultra-thin models earlier this year – it becomes something different when it’s taken to a social platform. 

“Fat shaming is the last form of acceptable discrimination,” del Monte says. “I see it every day on my blog and on my Twitter feed.”

Thomas agrees, warning that “the fact that social media is a vehicle for anyone to post content, makes it an even more powerful tool for comparing one’s self to others, simply because the people featured are more relatable than celebrities who need to look a certain way for their livelihood.” So while negative body images may be regulated to some extent in mainstream media, it’s much more difficult to police this on a social platform. 

Last week Instagram came under fire for banning #curvy. The company explained to Re/Code that the ban was not in fact a dig at women with curves but rather a response to the inappropriate or pornographic results that came from the tag. That being said, many like del Monte are frustrated by the ban of a positive word that champions a healthy body image while words like #fatty, #fat and #FatPig remain searchable. 

“One of the impacts of the Internet is the increased power of the image,” Thomas explains. “The only way I see to fight this trend is to encourage more celebrities, bloggers, and the like to share more realistic images and stories of themselves and their lives. It will be an uphill battle, but maybe then women will have a chance to have realistic role models that promote a healthier, more balanced perspective of womanhood.”