Increasing emphasis has been placed on health and fitness as desirable goals. However, much of this pursuit of health may in fact be a pursuit of appearance ideals, including the thin, toned, lean, and muscular ideal. The aim of the current study was to examine the content of images labeled as #healthy and other health-related hashtags on Instagram to ascertain the proportion of content that was appearance-focused. Such content might contribute to appearance pressures and body image and eating concerns.
We took screenshots of 100 Instagram images per half day for a week in May 2016, as well as the top 9 images from 5 hashtags: #health, #healthy, #healthychoices, #healthylife, and #healthylifestyle. A codebook was developed to allow for the coding of all of the images based on their content, including their appearance-focus (people) and their subjective healthiness (food).
To date, 5,200 images have been coded. The majority (75%) of these images do not contain text, 8% are text alone images and 16% are images with both a picture and text. Most individuals portrayed are female (67%), and white (70%). For food images, the majority (88%) of foods represented were classified as “healthy”. The content of the text varied with 29% of texts judged to be fitness/health promoting, 34% including other positive/motivating text, and 3% promoting weight acceptance/body positivity.
Consistent with our hypothesis, a large proportion of the content associated with health on Instagram portrays appearance ideals and promotes engaging in specific exercise or eating patterns largely for appearance reasons.