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9 Nov

The contagiousness of insecurities: is sharing online actually caring?

Are we ‘normalising insecurities’ or simply giving young people recent ones?

There was a time when opening up about insecurities on the web was widely praised, when people lauded it as starting necessary conversations, making celebrities more ‘human’ and helping the remainder of us feel higher about ourselves. But while breaking down physical stigmas and societal beauty standards can have been the initial goal of this sort of content, it’s taken a bizarre turn – now, it appears like we just discuss other people’s insecurities to feel higher about our own. 

Last month, TikTok creator Bert sent out an open call on TikTok to “keep physical trait insecurities to yourself or to a specialised support community”. In a now-viral video, he claimed that individuals are “spreading insecurities like diseases”. Bert believes that insecurities are “contagious” and that sharing them could make others notice recent, negative things about themselves. “I used to be getting numerous videos on my TikTok For You Page that were principally people ‘showing off’ their insecurities using TikTok trends and it was annoying,” he tells Dazed.  

Countless insecurity-centred TikTok trends are currently circulating on the app, including hyper-specific things like checking if you might have a gap between your mouth and nose. Then there are the anti-Semitic nose filters that individuals post as a solution to rid themselves of insecurities, making those with larger noses feel worse in the method. Of all of the trends, these faux insecurities, either created by make-up or filters, seem probably the most insidious. “Let’s normalise insecurities,” wrote one creator while using gum to create fake buck teeth. One other used make-up to create a crooked nose, writing “you’re beautiful just the best way you’re” because the caption and posted a video where she glued hair between her brows to create a monobrow. Each videos have over 20 million views. By taking suggestions from the audience that don’t exist on their very own bodies, these creators are playing dress up with other people’s insecurities, making a bizarre content loop that capitalises on the virality of this trend, after which washing off the “insecurity”.

Ketki Mahabaleshwarkar, a 21-year-old based in London, says she was always discovering “recent” insecurities on social media in her late teens. “I all the time thought that the older you get, the more self-acceptance and self-love you are inclined to achieve, but it surely definitely appears like I’ve unlocked an entire recent set of body-related insecurities prior to now few years,” she says. For Mahabaleshwarkar, the wrongdoer has been the “clean girl” and “gentle healing” aesthetics championed by Instagram influencers, which she describes as portraying “it-girl-ness”.

Mahabaleshwarkar’s “unlocked” insecurities include “not having a line” down her back and stretch marks. “Stretch marks were something I had personally normalised as I grew up seeing them on my knees and lower back,” she says. “Seeing certain influencers zoom into their bodies and show them off wasn’t the problem, I actually thought it was empowering and exquisite to see. As a substitute, the statement: ‘it’s OK that you might have stretch marks as a young woman and you continue to deserve to indicate them off!’ was what made me uncomfortable.” Mahabaleshwarkar says that before reading that she wasn’t aware it was something that many individuals hide. 

The phrase “insecurities are contagious” is common online, with research backing up that emotions themselves can spread in groups. As social creatures, the concept we can be influenced (positively or negatively) by our communities is to be expected. Nonetheless, social media is exposing us to more people, more emotions and more insecurities than ever before. How a lot of us knew what a “thigh gap” was before Tumblr or what “strawberry arms” were before brands tried to sell us a cream to repair it?

Dr Leslie Becker-Phelps, the writer of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love, says that the closer your relationship is with one other person, the more likely their emotions and insecurities may have an impact on you. While there are limited online studies, this is also applied to shut parasocial relationships (your favourite influencer perhaps). “It is feasible to attach with others by joining together of their insecurities, which is able to heighten them and could lead on to other insecurities,” she says. “Anxiety has a bent to spiral, to construct on itself.”

As having insecurities is a natural a part of the human experience, this doesn’t mean we must always avoid the subject altogether. In actual fact, Dr Becker-Phelps says sharing insecurities in a closed forum may very well be extremely helpful. “The collective identity can be about growth, not about insecurities,” she says. “Encouraging growth doesn’t mean just validating someone from the skin but encouraging them to seek out their value from inside.” Dr Becker-Phelps also says that context matters lots on the subject of insecurity content, with the message that we’re all imperfect ultimately having the potential to be helpful. How this often manifests online, though, could be within the format of thin, white women bending their bodies to create bloating or “fat roll” content. This speaks over actual body acceptance or body positivity activists existing in marginalised bodies.

Bert’s video encouraging people to not share their insecurities also touches on a vital topic of whether the onus is on the creator, viewer, or social media channels themselves to be mindful of what they’re sharing. That said, despite developing recent insecurities online, Mahabaleshwarkar doesn’t imagine creators ought to be censored from expressing vulnerability online.

“Normally I devour the content with the idea that it has good intentions: to normalise body types and share personal stories of empowerment,” she says. Once viral, nevertheless, the content could also be interpreted in hundreds of other ways. Mahabaleshwarkar believes we must always do more to curate our own content, including utilising the filter and block buttons. The problem with that is that probably the most susceptible generation (young teenagers) could also be less inclined to achieve this. Using the block button alone also won’t address the larger culture of physical fixation and body checking. Even with probably the most honourable intentions, hyper-focusing on any specific body part can only further encourage the analysing of bodies in an unhealthily microscopic way.

In an algorithmic world, there’s an argument for small creators to have the agency to specific insecurities without expecting each video to achieve a million eyes. For adult creators with large platforms, nevertheless, attempting to “normalise” an insecurity that you simply don’t have yourself, or to capitalise off other people’s insecurities, only continues to bolster these problematic beauty standards. Because if you happen to can shrug off the “insecurity” after the video is finished, you would possibly not be the very best person to talk about it. And if it’s something you’ve never experienced discrimination over, it could be best to only share it offline with a friend. In any case, there are many other topics to make clear that won’t send us all into an insecurity spiral.

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