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The psychology behind the medical photo dump

Between risks and benefits

The psychology behind the medical photo dump Between risks and benefits

No more glossy, studied and artfully retouched images to convey the illusion of a life of glamour, smiles and no problems. "Perfect" Instagram feeds no longer interest anyone. In recent years, gaining space and likes on Instagram are no longer the posts of influencers and celebrities in impeccable evening gowns with makeup without the slightest smudge elegantly reclining on designer canapés, hibernating in plastic, aseptic fixity like a silent film diva. Aesthetic perfection has given way to blurred selfies, fries and bitten sandwiches, low-fi photos, acne and weeping reddened eyes. The result is a more authentic, direct, and truthful social language that seems to break down the distances and boundaries between a star and her community. In short, seeing Hailey Bieber in pajamas and hair not freshly shampooed or Gwyneth Paltrow with regrowth and clay mask splattered on her face makes them feel more like, close to us mere mortals. The next step in this attempt to make themselves "relatable"? Shots in hospitals or doctors' offices.

The trend of posts with medical content

Among the things the pandemic has given us, along with an increased tolerance for unwanted hair and an unquenchable desire for sequins, is medical-themed content. Featured prominently in the feed or hidden among photo dumps, more and more celebrities are sharing their moments on social as they undergo health treatments or doctor's visits. After handbags, jewelry, make-up and buns, now the focus is on IVs, scars, hematomas, bandages and syringes. The latest example is Bella Hadid, who, to justify her absence from the catwalks, last month posted a series of photos documenting her course of treatment from Lyme disease, an infection transmitted by the bite of ticks and caused by the spirochete Borrelia that can lead to neurological changes and cardiac and rheumatological complications. The gallery shows the model, who had already spoken openly with fans about her mental health problems, during treatments, amid medical reports, IVs, transfusions and the affection of family and her dog. 

Like Bella, there are many stars who have chosen to show their fragility and pain. Last year, Emma Chamberlain documented her eye infection on Instagram. Tom Holland posted the immediate aftermath of his wisdom tooth removal. Back in 2021, Marc Jacobs posted on IG about his process of recovery from a facelift, and before that Selena Gomez showed a shot of herself in the hospital after a kidney transplant, while Lady Gaga took advantage of social media to declare that she suffers from fibromyalgia.


Are medical treatments the new frontier for influencers?

In August Kim Kardashian posted a rather unusual snapshot for her feed: she posed, complete with gray hospital gown, next to the Prenuvo Scan. No, it wasn't a teaser for her appearance on Grey's Anatomy, but in the caption she extolled the benefits of the machine, a kind of preventive total body MRI, capable, according to Kim, of "detecting cancer and diseases like aneurysms in its early stages, before symptoms occur." The Skims founder was not the only well-known face to advertise the start-up Prenuvo's machine.Others who have lent themselves to the marketing effort include Cindy Crawford, Miranda Kerr, Kris Jenner, Lily Aldridge, Zac Posen, and Ian Somerhalder. 


The risks of medical content by celebrities

Medical experts are skeptical about the Prenuvo Scan and the uninsured preventive whole-body scan touted as "life-saving." They advise against it, especially for asymptomatic people, both because of the unaffordable cost of $2,499 and because they say "there is no evidence to support" its effectiveness and that and scans could "cause significant harm and waste money and health care resources." 

When we come into contact with people through the media, we begin to develop a familiarity almost as if they were part of our family, often unconsciously developing positive associations: everything those celebrities endorse or talk about has an effect on us. Simply put, if we like that individual, we have equally positive responses to almost everything he or she does. This can prove especially dangerous when a person we like talks about medical therapies or products, despite not having the proper qualifications to do so. The risks are manifold. It can lead patients to rely on his or her favorite celebrity opting for quick, superficial solutions rather than seeking the comprehensive care offered by a medical professional.It can create misinformation, erroneous self-diagnoses, and oversimplify solutions to complex health problems. And even bring out "the hypochondriac in all of us."


Medical-themed posts can also be helpful

Talking about and showing the effects of illness, both mental and physical, on social media undoubtedly has benefits. Some conditions, particularly some mental health problems, are still stigmatized. Celebrities' honest posts can do much to normalize them and make sufferers feel less alone. Whether it is Lyme disease, endometriosis, lupus or chronic pain, sharing public awareness can also get people to talk to their doctors about nagging pains they had not considered as possible symptoms or generate interest and funding for further medical research. Somewhat like what happened when Angelina Jolie talked about her decision to undergo a preventive mastectomy by raising awareness about breast cancer or how Selma Blair her everyday life with multiple sclerosis.

In conclusion, one must always be careful to distinguish the line between destigmatization and marketing, especially when the most influential people online are posting and no longer just talking about herbal teas for a flat belly or dietary supplements, but serious illnesses for which one should seek a specialist and not Kim Kardashian.