Instagram tightens mental health-related searches — and rightfully so

Less body to love is not always the healthy option

More stories from Rebecca Mennecke


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Chief Copy Editor, Rebecca Mennecke, on the night of her junior prom. She said she never felt skinny enough for her dress, causing her to seek unhealthy weight-loss options.

Growing up, I was always told I needed to “eat more mashed potatoes.”

Okay, so maybe not mashed potatoes specifically, but I was told, essentially, I needed to gain weight. I’ve always been a little bit of a scrawny one, being only 5’ 4” and wearing your average size seven shoes (or men’s size four when I’m feeling particularly rebellious).

I’d wave off these well-intentioned comments by my family and friends, feeling that I still wasn’t skinny enough and, now, feeling self-conscious about my body. I liked having wrists that you could wrap your whole hand around, a tiny torso, and miniscule arms that didn’t have an ounce of blubber. In case you’re missing what I’m implying — that’s really not healthy. But, as a social media fiend, I was always inundated with images of beautiful women with super thin waistlines — some of them even my own friends. I wanted to be as pretty as them.

My weight came to a head in high school, when I was told I was in the 8th percentile for my BMI. Essentially, I was heavier than only 8 out of 100 girls my age. Technically, underweight is classified from the 0th-4th percentile and normal weight is between the 5th-85th percentile. But, since I had been quickly losing weight, my doctor told me that I could definitely stand to bulk up a little bit, especially since I had difficulties staying warm once my body got cold, and I often felt light-headed and ill.

But here’s the thing: people say losing weight is hard, but what’s really hard is gaining weight because you’re working against all the societal norms that say you’re supposed to be skinnier.

For a while, I had to force myself to stay off of Instagram because all I wanted to do was starve myself or start going on cleanse diets and deprive myself of the sugary-sweet goodness of Lofthouse cookies and Culver’s ice cream.

In 2012, Instagram made eliminated some hashtags on their platform — hashtags that might be triggering to some people, often relating to mental illness.

However, BBC Trending found that certain eating disorder-related keywords were still searchable on the popular networking site.

Instagram quickly blocked the different keywords and spelling of these words. They said that this came from the desire to make mental health not seem like a “trend” that people choose to do.

According to BBC, one user found that she followed many eating-disorder recovery accounts but Instagram began promoting weight-loss photos in her feed.

Besides this being just horrible, it’s not even exclusively the “eating disorder” hashtags that cause the problem — it’s our society’s sick fascination with looking thinner.

One of the hardest part of gaining weight is looking at these unrealistic people doing cool tea diets and eating all the right foods and trying not to aspire to be like them. Everyone trends weight loss, but no one trends weight gain. I wish we would start trending just being healthy and loving our bodies.

It’s something I’m learning as I begin to value my health over my looks.

So, as a friendly reminder as the wonderful, food-filled holidays come up — don’t forget to love your body and treat it right. Try to post about the people you love on social media instead of how much you love not eating good foods (Kale? Ew. Get out of here). In fact, try to avoid social media altogether and just live in the moment. Eat one more round of mashed potatoes, and enjoy every bite.

Mennecke can be reached at [email protected].