How the ‘perfect’ Instagram body has changed in 10 years


This year marks a decade since Instagram was first launched – though most of us know how quickly time flies when you’re idly scrolling through your feed.

The platform has certainly been responsible for setting trends, especially when it comes to fashion and body image – with some viewed as positive, others less so.

In the early years there was the controversial ‘Thigh Gap’ fad, which caused shockwaves as women across the world celebrated having a space between their legs as a sign of beauty.

This was followed by trends such as #FitAndThick, while curvier women continued to hit back with hashtags like #mermaidthighs. Last year the beach body shape many celebs were striving for was branded ‘Slim Thick’ – with the more natural look seemingly a middle ground.

It’s very much the case that body standards seen on Instagram have an impact on its billion-plus users, especially the impressionable younger generation.

A recent survey by Plan International UK of more than 1,000 girls aged 14-21 found 72 per cent have seen photos of themselves that have made them feel bad about the way they look – and it takes, on average, 10 photo attempts before they’re happy to post it on social media.  

Rose Caldwell, CEO of the non-profit London-based organisation, told FEMAIL: ‘From a frighteningly young age, girls are bombarded with images on social media, on TV and in magazines telling them what an “ideal” body looks like. Girls are telling us that these unrealistic demands constantly change, whether it’s to be thin or have curves, to wear lots of make-up or have a more natural look.

‘As a consequence, many grow up feeling intense pressures on their physical appearance, which can undermine their self-esteem and harm their physical and mental health. 

‘Our recent survey found that a shocking 89 per cent feel pressured to fit an ideal face or body type, and the top place they feel this pressure from is Instagram.’

The fact these beauty ideals are constantly changing doesn’t help matters; a look at the Instagram profiles of some of the most influential celebrities now compared to years gone by show how much they’ve changed in a relatively short space of time, according to these beauty fads. 

When Cara Delevingne stepped out on the catwalk in 2013, she became one of the inspirations for the ‘Thigh Gap’ trend, which demands legs so thin they do not touch above the knees.

Admirers of this look even created Twitter and Facebook accounts dedicated to the ‘Thigh Gap’ with more than 700,000 followers sharing pictures. 

Even the usually curvaceous Holly Willoughby appeared to be embracing the trend, sharing a snap of her slim silhouette alongside her six-year-old daughter Belle on Instagram in 2017, while Beyonce was accused of Photoshopping pictures of herself to create a thigh gap. 

The focus on looking skinny saw some reality star celebs lose dramatic amounts of weight, such as Geordie Shore stars Holly Hagan and Vicky Pattison.

Both celebs have since embraced their more curvaceous figures and adopted a more natural make-up look as Instagram trends have changed.

In 2014, a new dubious social media trend emerged – the Bikini Bridge, described by the Urban Dictionary as ‘when bikini bottoms are suspended between the two hip bones, causing a space between the bikini and the lower abdomen’.

It was slammed by body positivity campaigners, with Lucy Attley, a spokesperson for Dove who worked on their self-esteem campaign, branding it ‘yet another example of piling pressure on women to feel increasingly anxious about their bodies’.

Body image and wellbeing expert Katie Lowe added: ‘The bikini bridge is just another example of horrendous thinspiration that encourages young women to develop poor body image and self-esteem.

‘Images like this used to be constrained to pro-anorexia websites – which are themselves dangerous, damaging communities for young men and women to encourage disordered eating behaviours.’

Invented by lifestyle and fitness guru Russ Bateman, the SBC rapidly became an exercise empire that hooked in celebrities like Millie Mackintosh, Suki Waterhouse, Daisy Lowe and singer Ellie Goulding. 

In 2014 Nicole Scherzinger posted a video of her working out at the class, which has attendees crawling on their hands and knees and doing one-legged burpees (jumping upright from a press-up position).

Speaking about working with the star, Russell said: ‘When Nicole posted her SBC video some of the reactions were insane. People couldn’t believe what she was capable of. But the overwhelming factor was that it had inspired them.’

Yet again, this movement perpetuated the idea of skinny is beautiful, with a focus on achieving tiny frames through extreme gym workouts. Though many celebrities have since ditched the trend after footage emerged from the SBC’s Kenyan retreat, showing wealthy white women exercising in front of Masai tribesmen.  

Five years into Instagram’s existence, a backlash against the ‘skinny’ fad gained momentum, with a number of celebs jumping on the bandwagon.

Hashtags such as ‘strong not skinny’ became the new trend, encouraging followers to eat healthily and get plenty of exercise.

Former SBC member Millie Mackintosh led the charge, while former Towie star Lucy Mecklenburgh and Vicky Pattison also embraced it, sharing snaps of them working on their toned, muscular physiques in the gym. 

It also saw the rise of influencers such as fitness guru Kayla Itsines, who has 12.1million followers, and Jen Selter, with 12.8million, thanks to people searching for hashtags like #fitspo and #girlswholift. 

With more shapely figures back in vogue, confidence in curves started to grow, leading to the proliferation of hashtags like ‘thickfit’ and #FitAndThick – the brainchild of fitness guru Nicole Mejia.  

Models like Iskra Lawrence, Tess Holliday and Ashley Graham and singers such as Pink and Demi Lovato were instrumental in this movement, which saw curvy women finally enjoy some time in the spotlight.

It saw a rise in plus-size beauties taking part in underwear shoots and modelling campaigns, which were celebrated on Instagram and proved inspirational to followers who felt alienated by the skinny trend. 

A direct backlash to the thigh gap came in the form of #mermaidthighs, started by a meme which read: ‘If your thighs touch you’re one step closer to be being a mermaid, so who’s the real winner here?’

In 2016, Ashley Graham told People magazine that, having been made fun of for her thighs all her life, she’s now being ‘praised’ for them and encouraged women to know their own thick thighs are ‘saving their own lives’. 

Despite the surge in popularity of curvier physiques, Ribcage Bragging emerged as a trend in 2017.

It was sparked by a look that supermodel Bella Hadid displayed on her Instagram account in 2017, which was instantly copied by the likes of Kate Beckinsale, Nicole Scherzinger, Kourtney Kardashian and Rita Ora.

It usually involved artfully lying on your side or back in a skimpy bikini with an arm or two above your head to ensure maximum ribcage exposure, and it received backlash from anorexia support groups for encouraging young women to lose an unhealthy amount of weight to achieve it.

With five seasons of Love Island producing a growing number of young, fit Instagram influencers, the Slim Thick craze began gaining momentum last year.

According to the Urban Dictionary, the term describes a woman with ‘with big/toned thighs, plump booty, normal sized hips and a flat/toned stomach’.

Original Instagram influencers like Kim Kardashian as well as Jennifer Lopez, Iggy Azalea and Beyonce possess this sought-after figure, with a growing number of reality stars working towards achieving a smaller waist and bigger bum.

Love Island’s Alexandra Cane is a prime example; having been praised for her curves in the villa in 2018, more recently she’s hit the gym and showed off a more slender, toned physique.

Ex-Towie star Lauren Goodger is also a fan of the Slim Thick trend and regularly shares snaps of her ‘big booty’ and tiny waist with her 759,000 followers. 

It all begs the question; what body trends, from the bizarre to the beautiful, will the next 10 years of Instagram bring?


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