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.

Self care is Not a Buzzword, It’s a Necessity

I wanted to write a post to end this year on a positive note. There are changemakers worthy to be named and revolutions we must remember. Yet, one thing keeps coming to mind – the ever so important practice of self care. As we fight the good fight and tackle human rights abuses in conflict zones, gender based violence or the climate crisis – we need to be our best selves. That’s why “self care” is not a buzzword – it’s a necessity.

This year has been a tricky year for me. Personally, I have battled my inner demands on myself as a mother and entrepreneur – and just as a woman of my generation. I’ve struggled with my hopes and dreams. I’ve faced setbacks and disappointments. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Here are some of the most important lessons I’ve learnt this year.

Results vs. Capacity

In the #livingthebestlife world of millennials today, it’s difficult to not compare yourself with others. Other women have achieved so many great things. Everyone else seems to be managing so much more. Other people seem to have it all together.

That in combination with the #changetheworld mentality that many of us have – it is difficult to not feel overwhelmed. I’ve heard that my generation believe in the power they hold. That’s amazing. If so, we will take more responsibility for our planet and our fellow inhabitants of this world. Millennials seem to believe that they really can make a difference. If only they recycle more, eat less meat, fly less planes – they’ll literally help save the planet.

Yet things aren’t always so simple. One person alone can make a huge difference but she can’t save the world. We need each other. The pressures we put on ourselves can build and build and build until they’re too much to handle.

Self care lesson 1: I can’t achieve my desired results if they don’t match the capacity I have to get things done.

If my toddler is keeping me up at night I won’t be able to achieve what I would have if I’d slept well. The same can be applied to almost anything. If I keep staring at my goals, ambitions and desired outcomes, rather understanding my capacity – it’s constraints and possibilities – I know I will not get to where I want to be. That means I need to evaluate all aspects of my life. I need to understand how I can be more at peace and have the energy, tools and support I need to move in the right direction.

Sometimes you may need to reevaluate what it is you’re trying to achieve. And sometimes you just have to limit your expectations for a while.

There’s strength in your every breath

This year I’ve experienced enhanced stress and anxiety. My symptoms have been both physical and mental. It escalated in September with my heart skipping beats. quickness of breath, and a pressure over my chest. I had a very low mood and it affected all parts of my life. I knew that it was not sustainable to think I could manage everything on my own – so I asked for help.

Now, I don’t tear up as soon as someone asks me how I’m doing. Instead, I’ve understood that I had way too much on my plate and I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. I’ve also understood that as I delight in dreaming, planning and scheming for the future, I also anticipate negative future outcomes more than I need to. This is a fierce driver of stress.

Self care lesson 2: I need to tame my monkey mind and live here and now.

Although I’ve often heard (and said it myself) that it’s important to live in the present – it’s harder said than done. It takes practice. That’s why I’ve taken on mindfulness meditation. There’s a great little series on Netflix on the mind right now, which was an eye-opener for me. It’s amazing how calm I feel after 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation. It is a self care practice to be done on a regular basis to reap the short and long-term benefits of living in the now.

We’re stronger together

We continuously need this reminder. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. I truly believe that humans are meant to live in relationships with one another. That’s why loneliness is one of our biggest threats and killers today. Isolation and polarization are both demons in our society and something we must actively work against.

Self care lesson 3: There is strength in asking for help

As soon as I picked up the phone to ask for real help, a big weight was removed from my shoulders. If you’re in a bad place – ask for help. Sometimes that is finding a healthcare professional and sometimes it is a friend or a family member. We all need help and that’s part of the beauty of life.

A fresh start here and now

For me, self care is not about taking baths and painting my nails. It’s about an awareness of my mind and body and making nurturing decisions every day.

Now as the new year approaches, I’m quite happy for this year to be over. I’m a sucker for fresh starts and new beginnings. The best part is that I’ve realized that it applies not only to a new year, but to every moment, every encounter, and every breath I take. I can (and must) choose how I want to live my life over and over and over again. That includes choosing self care as a necessity to not only survive, but to live fully.

Self Care by Laiza Onofre

Illustration for Girls’ Globe by Laiza Onofre.

Tariro Mantsebo: Being Enough by Existence

Tariro Mantsebo is a medical doctor and feminist from Zimbabwe, currently working in a remote part of South Africa. In this episode of The Power of Your Story Podcast, you will hear about her journey to confidence. She speaks to Julia Wiklander, founder of Girls’ Globe about reaching her goals despite other people’s doubts, her recent struggles with stress and working in a male dominated field. Tariro’s heartfelt insights gives us so much inspiration to be true to ourselves and to know that we are enough, purely by existing.

“Girls and young women, take the time to know who you are. When you are clear with who you are, what people say and what people do won’t have so much of an impact and influence on you.”

In high-school, Tariro’s teachers had doubts about her ability to study medicine. As a practicing medical doctor, she still encounters sexist comments and disbelief. Yet, Tariro has coped with the help of friends and family, and moments of solitude. Tariro shares her path of figuring out who she is, despite governing gender norms, and stressful situations in her life.

“Sharing my story meant I could start to heal. I could share and pour out all those parts of me that were really eating at me, all those emotions – and just release them. I was able to create a space in myself to grow and put myself together again.”

The Power of Your Story Podcast is a production in partnership with SayItForward.org. We are so inspired by the many stories that women and girls share on the Say It Forward platform. Personal stories of overcoming fears, doubts, or circumstances that have held women and girls back. Sayitforward.org welcomes any woman, any girl from anywhere in the world to share her unique story and inspire others. We hope you are inspired to share your story too.

Alaa Al-Eryani: Courageous Self Love

“I started to believe that everything I was ever taught and told was wrong, and that my value as a woman is not less than a man. We are all human beings, we are all equals.” says Alaa Al-Eryani in this episode of The Power of Your Story Podcast. Alaa is a Yemeni Gender Equality advocate, a Women Deliver Young Leader, and the founder of The Yemeni Feminist Movement online platform. She shares her story of overcoming discriminatory gender norms, leaving an abusive marriage and her path to self love.

“I found confidence when I started to love myself. And when I started to love myself, that’s when I truly believed that everything I had thought about myself was not true.” 

Alaa Al-Eryani inspires us with her positive outlook on change. She shows tremendous courage and stands up for what she truly believes in. She tells us about how sharing her own story and talking to others has helped her to take steps towards healing and recovery.

“I think a lot of us underestimate what the support of others can do.”

The Power of Your Story Podcast is a production in partnership with SayItForward.org. We are so inspired by the many stories that women and girls share on the Say It Forward platform. Personal stories of overcoming fears, limiting beliefs, or circumstances that have held women and girls back. Sayitforward.org welcomes any woman, any girl from anywhere in the world to share her unique story and inspire others. We hope you are inspired to share your story too.

In this episode Alaa says, “It really helped me in my healing and recovery process when I shared my story. ” 

This is the 6th episode of The Power of Your Story Podcast. We hope you have enjoyed this new podcast series as much as we have! We still have several inspiring episodes left. Please consider leaving a rating in your podcast app and sharing this podcast with a friend. Thank you.

Taking Care of my Gynecological Health Is a Feminist Act

Embarrassing. Gross. Painful. Uncomfortable.

These are just some of the words that come to mind when I think of all the things I’ve heard and read throughout my life about the experience of going to the gynecologist.

Since I’ve started taking charge of my own gynecological health, I’ve been thinking more about what these words. What do they mean in broader context of the female experience, the female body, and feminism in general?

My experience with feminism comes through academic and scholarly research, and through conversations with women from around the world about feminist issues. Through both, I’ve come to learn how important it is for women to be able to own their bodies.

The culture and religion around me have always told me that my body is bad, sinful and dangerous, and that I should somehow separate myself from it.

This message has had a particularly negative consequence in my life in relation to an anxiety disorder that began in childhood. Anxiety makes me feel out of control – and particularly out of control of how my body is reacting.

I’ve also been told by religion and culture that I should separate my body and my mind from my soul. Through my work in therapy and research however, I’ve been learning that I don’t have to separate these parts of me. They all work together to make me the person I really am. I cannot fully inhabit myself or fully be in the world if my mind, body and soul are disconnected.

And so, I’ve been learning how to inhabit my own body. Most importantly, I’ve been learning how to care for it – including for my gynecological health.

Uterus, cervix, vagina and vulva are not dirty or embarrassing words.

They are part of my body and of who I am, and to care for my overall health and well-being I must take care of them.

During my latest Pap test (also called a Pap smear or smear test), I experienced quite a lot of discomfort and even pain. (Most people don’t experience pain during these tests. However, there are some reasons why pain might occur, so it’s vital to be open and honest with your health provider.)

I spoke up as soon as I began to feel pain. I said it loud and clear and my provider heard me. She kindly apologized for the discomfort and pain I was experiencing and moved slowly while walking me through the whole process. She kept checking in on me – “How are you doing now? Are you hanging in there?” – and I kept speaking up whenever something hurt or became uncomfortable. In just a few minutes, the exam was over. The relief of knowing I had done something so important for my health was worth the temporary pain and discomfort.

At the end of the appointment, I felt proud of myself and empowered because I spoke up instead of keeping quiet when things didn’t feel right in my body.

Saying “That hurts!” was not just a good way for my provider to better care for me, but also for me to take some control of my body in a situation where I didn’t have full control of it.

Despite the discomfort, I felt connected with all parts of myself during the experience of my gynecological exam. Because of my anxiety, I had been doing a lot of grounding and breathing exercises to prepare. I made sure I was fully engaged in the conversation with my provider, listening to her advice and tips and answering her questions honestly and openly.

By taking time out of my day to focus entirely on myself and my body, I felt like I was finally validating my body’s existence and needs in all its complexities. The female reproductive system is a marvellously complex world of its own. I was speaking up against the voices that have told me that my body is dirty and shameful, and saying loud and clear, “No! My body is good and an essential part of me that deserves care and love.”

Taking control and care of my body are concepts that are becoming increasingly vital to how I live my life.

I wholeheartedly believe that doing so – even through something as routine as attending a gynecological exam – is a feminist act.

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.