Instagram, Influencers & Healthy Body Image

Every day, we are bombarded with unrealistic standards that society has created for us, especially as women. There is a notion that everyone should look, act and be a certain way in order to be accepted. Every day, this underlying expectation and generalisation of beauty is continually reinforced by social media. It’s indoctrinating young girls around the world into believing we are not good enough.

I’m sure many people can relate to hitting that low point when we wish we could look like that girl on Instagram or dress the way influencers do online. I can’t stress enough how unhealthy this is for your mental health. Constant comparison to the unattainable online image eats away at your self-confidence.

Truth is, we’re never going to look like social media influencers. The only way anyone looks that way is by a combination of photoshop, edits and filters.

When you have a constant comparative narrative in your mind, the first thing it delves into is your body image. Before long, I was checking and trying all possible fad diets and miracle weight loss products to achieve the unachievable. Loading my body with countless supplements at all hours of the day and night did more harm than good. I ignored the warning signs to try and justify the desired effect of a so-called magic pill. I overlooked irregularity of my moods, periods, skin and immune system with only the end goal in mind. The new Instagram pop up, thanks to a simple algorithm, caused a spiral of addiction more serious than my teenage self could ever imagine. 

Too late in my life, I realised that there are many different forms of eating disorders. I never labelled myself as being bulimic or anorexic and could therefore convince myself that nothing was wrong. But, in hindsight, the way I was treating myself was not healthy. I was religiously monitoring what went into my body and eating far too little to fuel it. More than anything else, I had a constant feeling of guilt whenever I ate.

My mind was playing cruel tricks on my body and was totally in control of it. My type-A personality and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) added to a recipe for disaster. I was constantly hating myself for what I put into my body if it contained even a single calorie. Once I recognised the depression and anxiety this was spiralling me into, I had to make a change.

I did a lot of reading and listening to talks about my condition and had to train myself into believing something new…

The way I am is enough in its entirety.

There is not one thing in this world that should take that thought away from you. It becomes a lot easier when you can distinguish for yourself that the images you see online are edited a whole lot more than you realise. That’s the power of social media – people can be whoever they want to be – and unfortunately, it is often at the indirect expense of others.

I strongly feel that social media ‘influencers’ have a social responsibility towards changing this. Somewhere there are young girls looking at YOUR page, wishing so deeply that they were you or lived your social media life without realising that it’s completely glamourised. Why not encourage, empower and assist these young girls by showing real struggles and celebrating small successes. I lost a good few years by falling into this exact trap and have made it my mission to ensure others learn from my mistakes.

I still count my calories but am slowly feeling more comfortable. In fact, I eat double what I used to. I feel fitter and stronger than ever before. I’ve found informed and educated advice and built a network of support – they are the reason I am getting by. More than anything I am enjoying the process and celebrating my progress. I am proud of my body but even more proud of how far my mind has come to overcome the past.

I still don’t look like ‘that girl on Instagram’ but I sure as hell don’t want to anymore.

This is what I want young girls to realise. You are SO much more than the unrealistic standards society has forced upon us. You do you and be absolutely 100% yourself whilst doing it.

Diversity in Beauty is neither a Trend nor a Threat

For the first time in history, all of the major beauty pageant titles worldwide are held by black women. For the first time ever, young black and brown girls can see themselves represented in a space that had previously excluded them.

The women winning these pageants are being praised for embracing features that have not always been considered ‘beautiful’. During her final statement at Miss Universe 2019, South Africa’s very own Zozibini Tunzi said:

“I grew up in a world where someone who looks like me, with my kind of skin and my kind of hair, was never considered to be beautiful. I think it’s time that it stops.”

She is right, it’s time that it stops. Diversity in beauty should not be treated as a trend or as exotic or strange.

Cultural Appropriation

For years, white women have appropriated black beauty and fashion. More recently, the phenomenon has been normalised by the Kardashian-Jenner family and social media influencers. Kylie Jenner has made a billion-dollar empire from her desire to have fuller-looking lips – a feature often associated with black women. Kim Kardashian is currently accused of blackface on a magazine cover where her skin appears much darker than usual. The question is, are they to blame for the normalization of cultural appropriation?

In the influencer world, blackfishing is prevalent. Blackfishing is when white women present themselves as a mixed-race or black to gain a bigger following. It seems that most of them, as well as many of their followers, do not understand why this is problematic. For example, take the case of Rachel Dolezal. Dolezal is a white woman who, over time, morphed her appearance into that of a black person, and later held a prominent position at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Other recent incidents include ELLE Germany referring to increased numbers of black models with an article headlined “Black is Back”, and accusations of multiple forms of appropriation in Ariana Grande’s 7 Rings music video. These cases demonstrate the extent to which many people just don’t get it. The fact that they profit from appropriating black culture is even more appalling.

The Rise of Diversity

For a long time, black and brown women have had Eurocentric beauty standards imposed upon them. I have previously used damaging products to make my thick and curly hair more ‘manageable’. Now it seems that mainstream media wants to control the beauty narrative of black and brown women with kinky or curly hair.

This is what we are born with. We had to learn to love it and embrace it as a means to survive in a world that was not meant for us. So stop asking why darker skinned women are taught to hate their skin. Do not ask why a woman decides to embrace her natural hair instead of a weave or wig.

And, like Solange says: Don’t Touch My Hair.

The rise of diversity in beauty is changing what we consider ‘beautiful’. African, Asian, European, Middle Eastern and everything in between can co-exist. All are beautiful. Some of us aspire to look a certain way because no one is fully comfortable and confident in the way they look 100% of the time.

Different sizes, different skin tones, different hair textures and different face shapes can exist without one dominating the others. Diversity and inclusivity in society are not trends, and they are definitely not threats.

Acne Acceptance, Self-Love & Solidarity on Instagram

I’m 19 and have struggled with acne for almost 10 years. I’ve never met anyone that looks the way I do and felt really alone growing up. At times, it has been soul destroying to live with.

My skin problems are a result of having Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) – a condition that affects up to one in 10 women and has really taken its toll on my life.

In the last few years, I have been focusing heavily on trying to accept and love the way I look.

It’s very difficult, as my scarring is so severe and I get stares, questions and nasty comments from so many people. I absolutely hate when people stare and whisper in public places about my skin, or offer their opinions and tips on products they think would help. If I had a pound for every time someone suggests a miracle product from Lush I would be a millionaire!

I’ve had acne for as long as I can remember. I can’t remember what my skin looks like without it.

For a long time, I felt that bad skin was the end of the world – especially in school. I felt so rubbish about myself all the time and often felt alone and frustrated due to the way I was treated. People I considered friends would make jokes about my skin and bring me down at any opportunity.

It felt like I had nobody to turn to when I was feeling down. I can see now that the people I was surrounded by were toxic and unhelpful in my journey towards acceptance. I realised that far too late – once the damage was already done.

It has taken me a really long time to accept the way my skin is.

For years, I was unable to go out in public without makeup out of sheer embarrassment. Today, I can go about my daily life with very little notice of it. I still have bad days when I hate my skin but they are becoming few and far between.

I developed an interest in makeup about 4 years ago due to needing and wanting to cover my skin. More recently, I have created an Instagram account to show my skin journey. I just want to try and help people learn to love the way they look no matter what flaws they may have, and to help people build their confidence.

With @abis_acne, I want to show the world that acne does not define you. Acne doesn’t change you as a person in any way shape or form, and it isn’t permanent.

From my own experience, I know how mentally challenging it can be to live with acne. I made the instagram for anyone that feels underrepresented, especially in the age of social media. It’s a reminder that you aren’t alone and that your skin does not define you or alter your level of beauty.

On some days I feel like I’m at my wits end. It’s so disheartening when you think you are getting places and then things get worse. The stares and questions are bad enough, but I’ll never understand people who grimace at the sight of my skin or have something rude to say.

A few weeks ago, somebody pulled up to me in traffic. They made me roll my car window down so they could tell me my skin was “disgusting” and I “shouldn’t expose people to the sight of it”. This wrecked me and really hurt me on a deeper level. It was completely unprovoked and just an outright awful experience.

Over time, I’ve learned to brush people’s opinions off. I’ve often edited my social media pictures or used filters to cover up my skin and make it look better than it actually is. However, I have come to realise that nobody is walking around looking airbrushed. Everyone has their flaws and nobody looks like an Instagram model.

I’m learning to stop comparing myself to the absurd standards which are promoted within the beauty industry.

I try not to let my acne stop me from doing things or achieving certain things, but it is easier said than done. Obviously, I look different to most people I know and to be at peace with this has taken me a long time. Even now, I will admit it stops me from meeting new people.

Through Instagram, I’m starting to find people I can relate to and chat to about our experiences and feelings. Finding new friends and the lovely people I have encountered so far is heart warming. I definitely think my confidence has risen since I started the account. It’s helping me to just love myself a bit more and appreciate that this is my skin and I have to own it!

By sharing my own experience, I hope I can at least help one person. If I can, that’s my job done.

Snow White and the Seven Damaging Beauty Standards

So, we need to talk about the new Snow White movie. I was scrolling through Twitter the other day and came across a huge debate.

I learned that the marketing for the remake of Snow White includes the slogan: “What if Snow White was no longer beautiful and the 7 Dwarfs not so short?” Next to this slogan there are two pictures of Snow White, one of her being tall, skinny and wearing a lot of make up, next to another showing her as short, curvy and without make up. This image shows and sends out the message that being tall, skinny and made up is the same as beautiful. It says that being short, curvy and natural symbolises being ugly.

How can it possibly be okay, in 2017, to suggest that only certain kind of girls are beautiful? And how can it seriously be true that this message is sent out by a movie that will be seen mostly by children? Why is there even a focus on being beautiful at all? Isn’t it more important to teach and encourage girls to be brave enough to be themselves, no matter what?

In the trailer for the movie, we are shown two dwarfs hiding in Snow White’s house and watching her undress. She walks in wearing a tight red dress and high heels. She is tall, skinny and wearing lots of make up, and the dwarfs are totally amazed by her looks. She unzips her dress and takes it off. The dwarfs are about to explode from enthusiasm, until the second she drops the shoes and becomes short, curvy and natural. Then they become disgusted. Not only does is the video an example of body shaming, but it also sexualises the female body in an extreme way that nobody should be exposed to – especially not children.

In society today, girls and young women are taught that our outer-self is more important than our inner one. Not always, but in many cases, looking good in the eyes of others is central to how we are perceived, and how we perceive ourselves. Society teaches us that being skinny is equal with being pretty and achieving a ‘good body’ is central in most young women’s lives.

Studies show that a negative body image in the early years of a woman’s life results in an even worse self-image later on. Finding real and new perspectives and structures for improving the self-image within young women is essential. Another article presents the fact that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illness and that these diseases affect almost 30 million people – mostly women – in the United States alone. Knowing this information, how can it possibly be okay to market a movie like Snow White in this bizarre way?

We need to create new and sustainable guidelines in order to make a change. A message like the one Snow White is sending out takes us, in some ways, all the way back to the beginning. For me, it’s almost impossible to understand how in the world the movie industry can be allowed to send out such an awful message in a such an easy way – and to children. Not only could it affect thousands and thousands of girls around the world, but boys too. It will teach boys that a beautiful girl is one who is tall, skinny and wearing make up. It will teach boys that short and curvy girls are less worthy. It is just too easy for a company like this to have an effect on young men and women. But it’s okay. It is just a movie and just for fun, right?

I want to encourage all mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends to talk with kids about these issues. Every adult has to take responsibility for giving children today a wide-open mindset. For teaching kids that all people are valuable, no matter how they look, and that it is the inside that counts. For teaching them that being kind holds a far higher value than being pretty. And for teaching them that Snow White is probably still the nicest princess out there, no matter if she’s skinny or curvy.

The First Step to Body Positivity

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote publicly about my hidden body insecurity for the first time. Usually I can write posts and articles easily. With this subject I cannot; my hands shake every time I hit the keyboard and my eyes fill with tears when I touch on a delicate truth about myself that I would prefer to keep in the dark.

My name is Sofia, I am a 24-year-old lawyer and an active fashion blogger. While I may appear a strong and confident woman in my posts, I am the opposite. I have lived with a fear of gaining weight or looking ‘fat’ for almost 10 years now.

It all started when I was about to throw my fifteenth birthday party. I visited a nutritionist because I wanted to look spectacular. Little by little I started to obsess over food and exercise. I kept evolving in my diets – trying new nutritionists and methods to look slimmer. I learned to hate carbohydrates and love protein.

Today, I know exactly how many grams are in a carb portion. I am aware, without consciously counting, how many servings of protein I have eaten in a day. The recap of my nutrients is my daily nightmare. I do it in my mind every single night before going to sleep. I start feeling so bad and hating myself so much whenever I accept that I ate an extra almond or indulged myself with some light popcorn at the cinema. I’m still working on a strategy on how to calm myself when I have these thoughts.

The ugly truth is that for all these years, there has not been a day when I have felt good in my body. In my mind I always crave more. I look at pictures of me from two or five years ago and I want to have that exact body shape I had then. But I know that at the time the photo was taken I didn’t like my body.

Being involved in the fashion industry makes accepting myself a bit harder. I look at my Instagram feed and it is full of ‘perfect’ bodies walking down the runway or famous fashion bloggers in bikinis having a blast on a yacht at St. Tropez. Mistakenly, I have thought several times that my life would be so easy if I had a slim and fit body. Sad as it may sound, when I make a wish it is always to be able to eat without getting fat.

For me, the social pressures of having a certain type of body don’t just exist in the world of fashion. I constantly hear comments coming from both men and women, such as “she’s really pretty, but she could look better if she dropped a few pounds”. It makes me think that I will never be pretty or attractive if I am not thin.

So, why am I coming clean about my hidden fear? First, because I am exhausted of feeling this way every single day. Second, I am aware many women will identify with the way I feel. You are not alone. We will fight this and learn to love and take care of ourselves…TOGETHER. No person should be defined by their physical appearance. We must embrace the fact that what makes a person unique is their soul, not their six-pack.

Some of the things I have started doing to overcome my obsession is to stop avoiding the mirror and start staring at my bare body for at least one minute each day. I also give my legs the credit they deserve for running those long distances; tell my arms and shoulders that I am grateful for them for letting me complete so many burpees per day; I acknowledge my butt for resisting so many squats without complaining. I have not yet managed to appreciate my non-six-pack-stomach, but I am certain I will love it if I continue to embrace my self-doubts.

And I encourage you to do it too. Never go a day without thanking your body for letting you achieve your daily goals. Start to realize that your body is amazing and that you do not need a six pack to kick ass out there. Little by little you will love yourself just the way you are. Because the truth is, you are perfect.