33 SES 05 A, Gender and Teaching During the COVID-19 Pandemic
In January 2020 the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Significant morbidity and rapid spread of the virus has led to unprecedented public health measures, one of them being a decision to shut down schools in Latvia at first in March-May 2020 and later on in January 2021.
There is a mounting evidence of the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women around the world. Evidence of the negative impact of these restrictions on mental health is also emerging, highlighting substantial deterioration in mental health during the COVD-19 lockdowns, with women and young people affected the most (Banks & Xu, 2020).
A majority of parents and especially, mothers, use social media (Statista, 2017) to share experiences and opinions about motherhood. Thus it is interesting to look at representations of motherhood and homeschooling on Instagram - a platform visual by design and popular within women aged 20-40.
Many studies have explored the negative effects of social media, especially visually oriented social media like Instagram, which is positively correlated with a increased symptoms of anorexia nervosa (Turner & Lefevre, 2017). Instagram users can edit and filter their photographs to achieve a “perfect” look, post captions text with their photographs. Instagram use, is particularly harmful for women’s body image (Holland & Tiggemann, 2016). Correlational research has shown that Instagram use is related to a variety of body image concerns (Cohen, Newton-John, & Slater, 2017; Feltman & Szymanski, 2018).
The effect of exposure to thin idealised media images on women’s body satisfaction has been attributed to social comparison (Levine & Murnen, 2009). Social comparison theory (Festinger, 1954) argues that humans compare themselves with others to make evaluations about their abilities, but when comparing their appearance to an unrealistic images in the media, most women will feel they are not good enough. Especially passive social media use (just following and scrolling through your social media feed) may make women unhappy through social comparison (de Vries et.al., 2016).
The proliferation of online representations of motherhood has shaped cultural references through which contemporary motherhood is consumed. Social media and especially visually oriented Instagram becomes a lens through which we can reflect on contemporary constructions of motherhood.
The notion of the “natural” mother, as essential, fulfilling, and biologically defined, has been unpacked across a wealth of literature that has explored the social, economic, and cultural constructions of motherhood (Woodward 2003).
Contemporary motherhood is much more complex. Digital technologies open up new environments in which the experiences of motherhood are created and told, becoming domains through which identities of motherhood can be contested and redefined. If we examine representations of Western motherhood in the mainstream cultural narratives, we have to take note of the unrealistic and unattainable idealization of motherhood presented in mainstream cultural narratives of hypernatalism (Douglas & Michaels, 2005).
We can speak about “intensive mothering” - a romanticized and demanding view that focuses on need for mothers to spend a great deal of time, energy, and money on child rearing, placing the needs and desires of their child above their own and being satisfied and fulfilled by this role (Lee, 1997).
We can see that the notion of a “perfect motherhood” has arisen on Instagram. These are women who home-school children, have a business and look perfect all the time. They represent a “natural” and “perfect” motherhood, where a woman can really “have it all”. Without going into details of the level of realism within these representations, it is important to understand what is the impact of these representations on other mothers who are struggling in the new pandemic world.
Many studies have explored the negative effects of idealised women’s bodies on other women’s body image. This research analyses how idealised motherhood on Instagram during the pandemic affects women’s wellbeing. Many of Instagram images are meant to be inspirational and encouraging for other women. Influencers present idealised life experiences and convey a sense of relatable-ness whilst being persuasive opinion leaders. They present idealised physical appearance; with female influencers commonly adhering to the conventional Western female beauty norms of being young, trim, and feminine (Hund, 2017). In this research Visual Analogue Scales were used echoing methods used by Tiggerman et.al (2016, 2018). First, images were selected: (1)Ten images from high-popularity female Latvian influencers with children at homeschooling age that represent posh, wealthy, perfect lifestyle of happiness and harmony, (2)Ten images from high-popularity homeschooling by choice Latvian mothers sharing their experiences on Instagram, and (3) Ten images from Instagram with mothers who have never homeschooled their children and now represent a more realistic and negative view on the challenges they are facing. Women for this research were recruited on Instagram and Facebook. They had children and were aged 25-45. They filled in an online questionnaire (n=90). Women were divided into 3 groups (n=30), each looking at one of the sets from Instagram pictures. they filled in a questionnaires, evaluating their mental well-being, how they evaluate their ability as mothers and ability to homeschool. After looking at Instagram pictures they filled in the questionnaires once again.
The current research advances the literature by considering the psychological effects of viewing idealised female influencer imagery on Instagram. The present findings underscore the negative psychological effects of idealised social media imagery found within the extant literature (Brichacek, Neill and Murray, 2018).
A.L. Brichacek, J.T. Neill, K. Murray. The effect of basic psychological needs and exposure to idealised Facebook images on university students’ body satisfaction, Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 12 (3) (2018), Article 2, 10.5817/CP2018-3-2 C. Feltman, D. Szymanski. Instagram use and self-objectification: The roles of internalization, comparison, appearance commentary, and feminism, Sex Roles, 78 (2018), pp. 311-324, 10.1007/s11199-017-0796-1 D.A. de Vries, A.M. Möller, M.S. Wieringa, A.W. Eigenraam, K. Hamelink. Social comparison as the thief of joy: emotional consequences of viewing strangers’ Instagram posts. Media Psychol. (2016), 10.1080/15213269.2016.1267647 Douglas, S., Michaels, M. (2005). The mommy myth: The idealization of motherhood and how it has undermined all women. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. G. Holland, M. Tiggemann. A systematic review of the impact of the use of social networking sites on body image and disordered eating outcomes, Body Image, 17 (2016), pp. 100-110, 10.1016/j.bodyim.2016.02.008 J. Banks, X. Xu, The mental health effects of the first two months of lockdown and social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK. Institute for Fiscal Studies Working Paper W20/16, (2020), https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/14874 J.Clement, Parents online - Statistics & Facts, Statista, 2017. https://www.statista.com/topics/2525/parents-online/ L. Festinger. A theory of social comparison processes, Human Relations, 7 (2) (1954), pp. 117-140 M. Tiggemann, S. Hayden, Z. Brown, J. Veldhuis. The effect of Instagram “likes” on women’s social comparison and body dissatisfaction, Body Image, 26 (2018), pp. 90-97, 10.1016/j.bodyim.2018.07.002 MacKenzie Robertson, Fiona Duffy, Emily Newman, Cecilia Prieto Bravo, Hasan Huseyin Ates, Helen Sharpe. Exploring changes in body image, eating and exercise during the COVID-19 lockdown: A UK survey, Appetite, Volume 159, 2021, 105062, ISSN 0195-6663, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2020.105062. P.G. Turner, C.E. Lefevre. Instagram use is linked to increased symptoms of orthorexia nervosa, Eat Weight Disord., 22 (2) (2017), pp. 277-284, 10.1007/s40519-017-0364-2 R. Cohen, T. Newton-John, A. Slater. The relationship between Facebook and Instagram appearance-focused activities and body image concerns in young women, Body Image, 23 (2017), pp. 183-187, 10.1016/j.bodyim.2017.10.002 Woodward, K. (2003). Representations of motherhood. In Earle, S., Letherby, G. (Eds.), Gender, identity and reproduction (pp. 18–32). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. Z. Brown, M. Tiggemann. Attractive celebrity and peer images on Instagram: Effect on women’s mood and body image, Body Image, 19 (2016), pp. 37-43, 10.1016/j.bodyim.2016.08.007
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