An influencer’s side-by-side photos show how Instagram posts can be misleading

  • Emily Clarkson shares "Instagram versus reality" posts to remind her followers not to believe everything they see on social media. 
  • Clarkson shows her followers how certain poses, filters, and photo-editing apps can make people look totally different in their photos. 
  • "If people were told that what they are aspiring to is unobtainable, it might help them to make more peace within their bodies," Clarkson told Insider.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

As you scroll through Instagram posts, you believe you're looking at a glimpse into friends and celebrities' actual lives. It's natural to assume the pictures people put on their profiles are what they look like as they walk around every day, but that's often not the case.

Photo-editing software continues to advance, allowing people to totally transform how they look in pictures. But influencers like Emily Clarkson are trying to help people understand that photos on Instagram aren't always what they seem.

Emily Clarkson's 'Instagram versus reality' posts show how filters and poses can alter the way people look in photos

Clarkson, 26, is based in London. She's had a social-media presence since 2016, and she posts fitness and body-positive content for her over 100,000 followers.

Her posts often focus on how people can manipulate their photos to present an altered reality.

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This is a PSA to say that I am equally “HEALTHY” in both images. I can run the same (marathon) distance. Can lift the same (heavy) weights. I can also squish the same amount of biscuits in my mouth, for what it's worth. The body on the left is no more capable than the one on the right. It’s just society’s ridiculous standards that’ve put that idea into our heads. What you look like has no bearing on your ability. And what you see on Instagram is rarely a reflection of reality. The only difference between these two images is the positioning of my waistband and yet the left hand image, on its own, has the power to perhaps cause a person looking at it to judge themselves too harshly or compare themselves unfairly. The one on the right might (wrongly) give someone the idea that I am somehow unhealthy. Or unfit. Or deserving of a whole load of shit from ANYONE. I know on this page we are very willing to have this conversation but the more we see of brands diversifying their feeds (AT LAST) – the more I see the same tired and dangerous rhetoric in their comment sections. I'm really bored of people feigning "health" concerns underneath photos of plus size people and even straight size me when I share images like this. Particularly given that it so often happens in the fitness space. You tell people to do exercise… then shame them FOR DOING EXERCISE. It's a tired fucking excuse and we've made the comparison enough times: no one had an issue with a size zero Kate Moss on the cover of every magazine with a fag in her mouth. You don't care about health. If you did – you wouldn't be abusing people on the internet. Cos nothing quite fucks with your mental health like getting abuse from people you don't know online. Trust me. I've gone off on a tangent. The point remains though: both bodies are equally fucking capable. So don't presume to assume you know anything about a person for how they look, because you don't. If you're not a doctor dealing with a person SPECIFICALLY for issues surrounding their weight, it is literally none of your business. Stop judging. Start celebrating. Every body deserves respect. And endorphins, if they want them. So yes. Be nice! Pls xxxx

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She told Insider that she was already struggling with her body image before she got on social media.

"Truthfully, I think the damage that was done to me in terms of my body image and mental health happened before the days of social media, or at least it ran concurrently," Clarkson said.

"The way that the media spoke about women; how the female body was portrayed; the size zero culture; and the days of photoshopping in magazines took its toll," she added. "By the time I started on social media, I was already insecure."

But social media ended up being her outlet. Using her own platforms gave Clarkson the opportunity to take control of the narrative, and she felt empowered to share authentic photos on her page.

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*side effects of permanent posing may include, but are not limited to: oxygen deprivation, difficulty laughing, two dead arms, two dry eyes, some slightly squished organs, a general sense of irritation, feelings of massive knobiness and extensive ridicule from friends and family* ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 🤪 🤪 🤪 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ A mid week, mid-apocalyptical-heatwave, reminder that the pictures we see on here are POSED. They are created using good angles, good lighting and more often than not, good editing. So let's not go comparing our IN REAL LIFE lovely bodies to the perfectly fine tuned snapshots we're shown on here. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ For years and years I put all this pressure on myself and become so obsessed with wanting to look like the women around me that I prevented myself from properly living. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ And I know that sounds fucking intense but when you really break it down you realise it’s extraordinary the amount of time that we spend trying to "better" ourselves, comparing ourselves and trying to make ourselves look more like the people around us. It's all consuming. And ultimately it's such a fucking waste of all the time that should be spent living our lovely sweaty ~bit stressy cos there's a pandemic on~ lives! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Pose for the camera. And spend the rest of the time living. Breathing out. Eating. Laughing. BEING. You're enough. I promise ❤️❤️❤️

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In 2016, she started posting "Instagram versus reality" photos, showing her followers how certain poses and makeup can make pictures look vastly different.

"At the beginning, it was a bit tongue in cheek in response to perfect images of supermodels or the Kardashians, but as time has gone on, it's been something I have done in a bid to help women falling down the comparison traps," Clarkson said of her posts.

And as photo editing has advanced, so have Clarkson's cautionary posts.  

Today, Clarkson focuses on making her followers aware of the dramatic effects photo editing can have on a picture

Clarkson still shows her followers how certain poses and makeup alter reality, but she mostly focuses on making her followers aware of the dramatic effects photo editing can have on a picture. "I just really want to show women that all they see online isn't real," she told Insider.

Clarkson makes a point of showing her followers that even seemingly harmless filters that exist within the Instagram app can be dangerous.

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Sound ON and remember social media ISN’T real ⚠️ The amount of time most of us spend on social media it’s only normal that we will from time to time compare ourselves to the images that we see on here, PLEASE LET THIS BE A REMINDER THAT THIS SHIT AINT REAL. Still these apps exist, they get more advanced every day and there is no regulation at all which means people can make all these alterations without declaring it. It’s all sorts of wonky. And change has to happen but until it does we have to remember that we are enough, without all this shite. And that we must never compete our realities with someone else’s virtual depiction of themselves ❤️❤️❤️ #FILTERDROP @sashalouisepallari

A post shared by Emily Clarkson (@em_clarkson) on

"The problem with filters, to my mind, is that there is such an array of them and they all do different things," she said. "At the softer end of the spectrum, there is the 'Paris' filter," she gave as an example. The filter is built into Instagram's story function.

"I think that although this might be considered insubstantial and comparatively harmless, it's actually doing a great amount of damage," Clarkson said. "It totally smooths out a person's skin, so that as we are both creating and consuming content, we are doing so without seeing any real skin texture."

"When we go to look at our own reflection at the end of the day, we may not like our pores, lines, and spots," she said. "The beautiful things that make us humans, we don't recognize anymore."

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YOU NEED TO BE AWARE OF HOW WARPED YOUR INSTAGRAM REALITY IS. The skin that you see has been smoothed. The lines buffed out. The blemishes eradicated. The eyes are brightened. The tones are softer. Some bits are smaller. Others are bigger. There are not just a “couple of filters” out there that you gotta keep your eyes peeled for. There are a PLETHORA of apps out there and they’re doing everything you can think of and more. And the worst thing about that is, you have NO idea who is using what to do what. Whilst I will never blame an individual for editing themselves (most people are driven to it out of insecurity) we do need to address the behaviour of some of the people that we look up to on these apps. Because the fact that people can entirely alter their reality AND NOT EVEN NOT TO DECLARE IT will be causing more issues then any of us perhaps realise. We are comparing ourselves to people that simply DO NOT EXIST. I look at these edited photos of myself and I barely know the person, and yet… it’s ‘me’- just the “Hollywood” version available in some app. How am I meant to then be ok then with the person I see in the mirror… if she doesn’t look anything like the reflection I’ve curated for myself online? In the long run, no one wins with these apps. The external validation the altered images receive in the shape of Instagram likes will not be worth it to the individual who cannot compete with their online persona. And the consumers will never be happy if they are perpetually comparing themselves to people that literally don’t exist. I know I’m banging on about this. But so long as the apps are relentless, so must we be. Inspired again by @sashalouisepallari’s #FilterDrop campaign – FEATURED IN THE BBC TODAY BABIEEEES!! Xxx

A post shared by Emily Clarkson (@em_clarkson) on

Clarkson is also concerned about apps like FaceTune, FaceApp, and Photable, where people can drastically change their appearance. People can make themselves look thinner, get rid of blemishes, and even make it look like they have abs using the apps.

Clarkson thinks awareness of photo-editing tactics is even more important since people have been spending so much time at home in 2020

"We are spending so much time online, and really, there isn't anyone policing it all," Clarkson said. "Particularly in the current climate, many of us are seeing much more of our friends online than in real life."

"If they are only providing a certain image of themselves, it's not a surprise if we then end up comparing ourselves and finding that we can't match up," she said. "We have access to anyone. We are consuming more content than we realize, and we have no way of telling what is even real."

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Some things we’re gonna remember tonight: ✨ we’re gonna remember that the pictures we see on here are only one tiny second out of a person’s day ✨ we’re gonna remember that angles and lighting have the power to alter everything ✨ we’re gonna remember that the use of photoshop and “beautifying” filters is rife and so you can never be entirely sure that what you’re comparing yourself to is even real in the first place ✨ we’re also gonna remember that not only is comparison the thief of joy but that you cannot and should not compare a stranger’s pose with your relaxed body. Its like comparing a hedgehog to a tube of toothpaste. Or a lemon with a plug socket. Its just pointless. The thing that we are REALLY gonna remember though is that it’s impossible to laugh whilst you’re sucking in. And I know which one i’d rather be doing… xxxx

A post shared by Emily Clarkson (@em_clarkson) on

In Clarkson's opinion, having a better awareness of the falsities that are presented on social media can help people's mental health.

"There are young women all over the world who are trying to alter their bodies, whether through diet or surgery, in order to look like the women they see on the internet," Clarkson said. "If women were told that what they are aspiring to is unobtainable, it might help them to make more peace within their bodies."

The most rewarding part of Clarkson's work is the positive relationship she has with her followers

Clarkson told Insider that her work has allowed her to feel better about herself.

"I've just been able to make a career out of being myself, and in turn, I've been able to celebrate not conforming to the pressures that might otherwise be on me in this space," Clarkson said. "I no longer feel I have to be a certain size or look a certain way in order to live."

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Soft and strong, like good bog roll 🧻🤪

A post shared by Emily Clarkson (@em_clarkson) on

But the most rewarding part of her work is the positive relationship she has with her followers. "I do try to share content that is just me, and if it makes anyone feel better about themselves, that's all I could hope for," she told Insider. 

"Honestly, nothing matches hearing from parents telling me that they are now better aware of what their children are going through," Clarkson said. 

Clarkson's biggest piece of advice to people as they use social media is to not compare themselves to others, despite the negative messages they might see online. 

"Comparison is the thief of joy," she said. "We've grown up surrounded by such negative self-talk. It's no wonder, really, that we all struggle to like our own bodies."

"Taking time to make some peace with yourself and learning that you are a little miracle and that no one has the right to make you feel less than that is vital," she added. "Follow people that inspire you and be kind to yourself."

You can follow Clarkson on Instagram here.

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