If you use Instagram, you’ll be familiar with hashtags – they’re a great way to find community, categorise your photos and search for content that you want to see. And if you, like most people, share some degree of your health/fitness activities on social media (like workouts, delicious meals and photos of your body that make you feel good about yourself), then you’ll know the power that social media can hold over our self-esteem… particularly when the hashtags around body image are actually shaming others bodies.
Here are 6 body shaming hashtags to avoid:
Although #strongnotskinny is generally used by women recovering from disordered eating who are now finding empowerment in striving to be strong and healthy rather than a fixation on thinness, it unfortunately reinforces the cultural tropes of thinness being associated with weakness; that strength and thinness never cross paths.
Skinny doesn’t always mean unhealthy, nor does it always mean healthy, nor does it always mean weak, nor does it always mean strong. Every body is different, and when we position an athletic build as more desirable than a naturally thin build, we’re defeating the point of encouraging wellness.
You cannot compare a wellness/health goal (strength) to an aesthetic goal (thinness) without some negative consequences, and those consequences here are in the form of reinforcing the very notions of body shaming and fixation that the hashtag tries to discourage.
And, whilst I’m here – apply the same principles to #healthynotskinny, too. I’ve written more about that here.
I’ve written extensively before about this.
Short for fitness inspiration, countless women uses fitspo to motivate themselves to achieve their diet and exercise goals. Fitspo usually features imagery of a lean and healthy looking model, green juices and organic food with overlayed inspirational phrases. Fitspo is widely seen as acceptable and even healthy for people to be sharing – if people can motivate themselves to lead healthier lives, that’s ultimately a good thing… right?
Not necessarily. At a glance, fitspo may seem harmless and beneficial but at a deeper level, it can be quite damaging. It may promote healthier ideals, but it’s essentially a slightly better dressed up version of thinspo (which I’ve written about here). We’re replacing one kind of body-shaming with another, and that’s not okay in my book.
When we’re encouraging ourselves to compare our bodies to other people’s bodies, we’re discounting the fact that we’re entirely different people with different genetics, lifestyles and physiological variables at play. It’s not possible for everyone to look like a lean fitness model, nor is it possible to everyone to look like a curvy plus-sized model… and it’s not healthy to idealise a certain body type as inspiration for our own in favour of celebrating and nurturing the body that we have.
Don’t get me started on the demonisation of food. When we create this sense of holiness and morality around certain foods (such as kale and “superfoods” and green smoothies), we also set the foundation for other foods to be vilified and considered sinful (hellooooo pizza, chips and chocolate).
Here’s the thing though – although pizza, chips and chocolate are less nutrient-dense than other foods, that doesn’t make you a bad person for eating them, and nor does enjoying those foods as part of a balanced lifestyle mean that you need to repent from your food sins. By calling certain foods “clean” you’re enforcing that clean vs. dirty dynamic that can wreak havoc on your mental health.
And morality of food aside, the #cleaneating culture on Instagram can also pave the way for an unhealthy obsession with the aesthetics of food moreso than the taste/nutrients/practicality. Whilst the movement of clean eating can encourage a positive shift towards health and wellness, it can just as easily become an obsession for others; closely mirroring the symptoms of eating disorders where sufferers exhibit a moderate-high degree of food selectivity and feelings of guilt/shame after eating a food that isn’t clean or safe.
When a healthy lifestyle becomes a fixation with safe foods and restrictive tendencies emerge, there’s cause for concern.
#bikinibridge/#collarbonechallenge/#bellybuttonchallenge and other “body challenges”
These “body challenges” pop up all over Instagram all the time as a way to encourage competitiveness and help individuals feel a sense of validation, security and belonging that they fit an arbitrary ideal.
The problem is, if you’re finding such validation in being able to balance a row of coins in your collarbone or reach your hand backwards around your body to touch your bellybutton or being able to see daylight between your hip bones and bikini… the last thing you should be doing is taking to social media to have others “prove” that the arbitrary test does indeed confirm that you’re desirable. You should instead be doing some serious introspection and assessing your self-esteem, as there very likely may be issues around self-worth and body image lurking under the surface that you would benefit from delving into.
These challenges, at a surface level, may seem like just a bit of fun and obviously not intended as any real measurement of a person’s worth, attractiveness or health. But the problem is, that mentality assumes that everyone on social media who comes across these hashtags is in a secure place mentally speaking and won’t be adversely impacted.
Unfortunately, it’s those who are struggling the most with their self-esteem that usually propel these challenges.
#thinkingthin/#anabuddy/#promia and other eating disorder promotional hashtags
Obviously, these tags are insidious in that they’re used almost as recruitment materials for those new to the world of disordered eating to feed off the disorders of others and further their descent into sickness. A community wherein disordered people encourage each other to get progressively sicker is problematic on multiple levels…
but unfortunately, it’s not just ED sufferers who use these hashtags. Many weight loss accounts and dieters also use these hashtags to promote their quest to become smaller. Of course, not everyone striving to lose weight is suffering from disordered eating or behaviour, but by using these tags, ED’s are trivialised. This further reinforces the sense of stigma and shame, along with the misinformation that ED’s are a conscious choice or a phase.
They’re not. They’re life threatening mental illnesses.
This hashtag is often used as a compliment – for instance, you see a photo of someone, admire their body and comment “#bodygoals” and at a surface level, it’s a compliment… compliments are positive, right?
Errr… not always. The intention can be good but sometimes, the subtext of the message reinforces negative ideas, as is the case here.
The problem with #bodygoals, much like #fitspo, is that we don’t know what went into making someone’s body, their exact lifestyle or the situations that they’re contending with. And when we fixate on emulating their body by any means necessary, this creates room for destructive thoughts that can lead to destructive behaviours, in turn.
We can all play a part in being informed consumers (and participants) of social media. And, when we band together to boycott trends that make others feel shameful, guilty or unworthy of love and happiness, we can create real change.
Join me in making this change – look at your own social media accounts. Is there anything that you post that borders on body shaming? How can you remedy this?
Small steps can create significant change!