The picture Khloe Kardashian didn't want you to see and the pressure to look perfect
It was uploaded by mistake. And the photo seemed reminiscent of any old Kardashian snapshot: a dreamy backdrop, perfectly manicured nails and a fashionable bikini.
The difference from Khloe Kardashian's usual posts? This photo was without obvious edits, filters, or digitally edited. It was quickly deleted, and her team reportedly tried to make it disappear, a reaction the 36-year-old reality star addressed directly.
"The photo that was posted this week is beautiful. But as someone who has struggled with body image her whole life, when someone takes a photo of you that isn't flattering in bad lighting or doesn't capture your body the way it is after working so hard to get it to this point – and then shares it to the world – you should have every right to ask for it to not be shared – regardless of who you are," Kardashian wrote.
The "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" star acknowledged her own struggle with body image – part of which stemmed from having "every single flaw and imperfection" analyzed by the public "and made fun of."
"You never quite get used to being judged and pulled apart and told how unattractive one is, but I will say if you hear anything enough then you will start to believe it," her statement read. "This is how I have been conditioned to feel, that I am not beautiful enough just being me."
Kardashian isn't alone in feeling the pressure to meet beauty standards.
"Because these standards are impossible to meet, they leave women feeling subpar, which can easily lead to body image concerns," says Naomi Torres-Mackie, Ph.D., head of research at the Mental Health Coalition. "We know from countless psychology studies that negative body image impairs mental well-being in terms of self-esteem, interpersonal relationships, and daily functioning."
She adds the pressure to look perfect can contribute to disordered eating. In the United States, 30 million people will be affected by an eating disorder at some point in their lives.
"Although there has recently been a lot of talk about body positivity, the dominant narrative is to hide all imperfections at any cost," Torres-Mackie says.
However, this can send a dangerous message to young fans, says Marla Deibler, a psychologist and executive director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia.
"By overtly removing images that are less than perfect, (celebrities) send a message that imperfection is unacceptable and perhaps even embarrassing or shameful to their followers," Deibler says.
This can perpetuate the pressure to aspire to unrealistic realities by followers who may develop unhealthy beliefs about themselves, she adds.
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However, experts say if celebrities share "honest" photos, it can be beneficial. Cassandra Bankson, a medical esthetician with over 1 million YouTube subscribers, told USA TODAY in January that unedited photos serve as "a humbling reminder that we're all human."
On the flip side, constant exposure to highly edited photos can undermine self-esteem by blurring the lines between reality and idealism, says Kemi Balogun, an associate professor of sociology and gender at the University of Oregon.
Balogun notes many celebrities create an illusion of "effortless" perfection that conflicts with the reality that most of these photos are carefully curated.
"When photos are filtered or altered in a way that they're not allowing particular flaws to be highlighted, it's going to have a negative effect in terms of self-esteem," Balogun says, creating a "running dialogue of constantly critiquing yourself."
She says people may be compelled to conceal perceived imperfections with Photoshop or filters "because they are conditioned from society and media images to believe that these are norms they should ascribe to." But the key is to become aware of the fact that these photos are often not reflective of reality.
By acknowledging that people often don't appear how they do on social media, people can "see these posts more critically" and recognize the beauty of their own natural, unfiltered bodies.
How to combat the pressure to be perfect
If you're experiencing negative emotions about your body image, here are some tips to boost your confidence and engage in body positivity.
- Unfollow social media accounts that leave you feeling bad about yourself.
- Decrease the total amount of time spent on social media.
- Practice stopping yourself before making self-deprecating comments or comparing yourself to others.
- Sometimes it might seem impossible to love all aspects of your body all the time. Remind yourself that a balanced view is the healthiest view of yourself.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237, text "NEDA" to 741-741.