If I may be totally honest, I’ve been feeling burnt out with the way that Body Positivity™ is handled on social media.
Including on my own social media platforms.
It’s not because I’m ‘sick’ of the concept or because it’s no longer applicable (it’s ALWAYS applicable)… but because of the way the discussion is framed.
2016 saw the notion of body positivity pick up traction and even become a trending topic…and don’t get me wrong, that’s awesome. Introducing the idea to new people and helping them discover how they might wish to live their life is a great thing. However in doing so, the conversation has changed.
I’ve felt it. Some of you that I’ve spoken with have, too.
Conversations that started as thoughtful, community-based spaces to share reflection, encouragement and find diversity seemed to quickly become shouting matches. Competition. Who can build the biggest following the fastest. Previously self-professed body positive activists suddenly started using their newfound fame to sell ‘teatoxes’ and tooth whiteners (hellooooo, arbitrary beauty standards that the whole movement tries to get away from suddenly infiltrating safe spaces!). Many coaches and therapists and professionals such as myself started to feel like we had to dumb ourselves down, be more ‘competitive’ and garner the most media recognition. The Instagram algorithm changed and changed (and changed again) and we started to quickly learn that we can reach more people with our message when we justify our self-love with a bite-sized section of our story that’s raw and real enough to capture the attention of Hello Giggles for being inspiring, but not so raw that strangers will feel confronted; that a photo of our bodies boosts us even further (so long as we’re “acceptably” diverse… white, able bodied and ‘curvy’).
In short, it all started to feel a little watered down.
Major bummer. Total buzzkill. And sadly, so many of you that I’ve spoken to started to feel this and in turn, became almost entirely turned off by the concept of self-love (based solely on the way it was being discussed in the community). So many people told me that they had become disenchanted with doing the work because they felt like if they weren’t engaging in the body positive spaces on social media in a particular way, they weren’t ‘doing it right’.
That breaks my heart. Not just because I hate the ‘watered down’ version of body positivity, but also because:
a. Like it or not, my own social media platform is a part of that discussion and contributes that discussion; and
b. It’s exhausting to feel like I ‘have to’ focus on being competitive and having the greatest visibility if I want to make a difference. Similarly to how many of you have felt that there’s a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to be a good student of body positivity, I’ve felt that there’s a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to craft a social media strategy… and that’s not why I’m in this. I’m in this to create CHANGE and HELP people like you. I’m in this for authenticity, not algorithms; and
c. Just because an individual chooses not to engage on social media in a particular way (or at all) doesn’t mean that they’re not fully embracing what self-love means to them in that particular moment… and I worry that by almost forcing engagement to be part of the conversation, we wind up excluding folks who choose not to/cannot engage online. And that ain’t cool.
I’ve had these words in the back of my throat for some time now. I’ve ruminated on whether I should speak them here (and on social media) or keep them as private thoughts and guiding directions. I’ve spoken with fellow activists and fellow coaches alike who have felt similar things. I’ve taken a lot of time to reflect on my social media contribution to the community, its impacts on my own mental health and how I want the conversation to change for the better.
My plan was to quietly adjust the direction of how I engage and attempt to shape the conversation on social media. I didn’t want to make a fuss about it. But the more I mull it over, the more I want to share this here. It deserves a fuss made about it.
Our safe spaces are important. Growing our community in a way that challenges us and helps us grow is important.
So much of what I do relies on radical honesty, truth sharing and vulnerability. And if I want the movement and my online spaces to reflect that, I need to walk the talk. I can’t censor what I know to be true out of fear that the Instagram gods will punish me and favour the safer musings of someone more conventionally “it” instead.
That doesn’t matter. I’m not here to perpetuate the norm or pander to clickbait bullshit. I’m not willing to sacrifice greater understanding for greater visibility.
So with that being said…
10 important thoughts on body positivity x social media in 2017 (and how the conversation needs to change, including on my own platform):
Whilst I’m grateful as anything to have a space to share myself with you all on social media (seriously, love you all!), this can’t be about me. It isn’t about me. It’s not about any ONE person.
Yes, I love being able to share (parts of) myself on social media and give similar body types license to feel good about themselves too. But it’s not about me.
Yes, I see value in sharing and normalising our bodies through exposure and in the process, diversifying what we can allow ourselves to find beauty and acceptance in. But it’s not just about curvy, able bodied white women in bikinis.
I don’t want it to be about my body, or any one body shape/type. I don’t want to be ‘insta famous’ or be offered modelling deals (fabulous for those who want to model, but it’s not for me).
I don’t want to be recognised for sheer visibility or heralded as brave every time I share a selfie that embraces ‘flaws’, or that the community can only celebrate, encourage and learn from each other from a specific type of post.
Which leads me to…
It’s not really all that brave of me to post a photo of my size 14AU ass at the beach in a bikini.
I talk a bit about bravery and how it doesn’t always look like a soldier going into war. We all fight personal battles, and we’re allowed to define bravery for ourselves… so it might seem odd to hear me say that fighting my own body image demons and winning them isn’t something that I consider brave. But, hear me out.
Is it revolutionary for me, based on my past experiences? Yes.
Do I feel a sense of personal courage and conviction when I shatter my previous beliefs and allow myself to feel comfortable and confident with wearing whatever I please? Yes.
But, those are things for me to celebrate on an individual level, not actions that require worldwide heralding. And with the way that the global conversation around body positivity has shifted in 2016, it’s all started to feel a little self-indulgent. How do we draw the line between publicly celebrating our wins vs. becoming a little bit overwhelmed with the desire for likes and follows? Is there a part of us that starts to trade our own validation for public validation of our wins?
And let’s be real, when I share a photo of my body (in terms of body diversity)… I BENEFIT SO MUCH PRIVILEGE. I’m able bodied. I’m white. In terms of conventional standards, those who take a narrow minded view to what a healthy body looks like (even though it’s not – and shouldn’t be – about that) are able to look at my body and focus on the positives because I’m curvy/voluptuous/’good’ fat. I’ve never been denied healthcare of insurance based on my body.
It feels GOOD to see my body and bodies like mine on social media. It feels GOOD to see figures like Ashley Graham embracing imperfections and booking modelling jobs and starting to break the norm around what we see as commonplace. But my body type is hardly under-represented. And I’m not brave for slapping on a bikini.
I’m just living my damn life.
Every time a selfie or flaw embracing photo is posted with a novel-length caption about acceptance and self-care… whilst that’s awesome, it can’t stop there. It just can’t.
If we set up base camp and stay in that place, after a while it starts to feel like justification. Who are we REALLY writing the captions for… other people? Or to justify to ourselves why it’s okay for us to now post that photo because we love ourselves?
I don’t want to post a fucking novel every time I post a photo of my body in any stage of undress. It’s not required.
I don’t want YOU to feel like you have to either, in order to do self-love ‘right’. Selfies for self-love are awesome, but they don’t have to be part of your own personal narrative. I don’t want to contribute to a culture that shows women that they should be consistently performing their identities in order for those identities/struggles/acts of care to be valid.
We need to find PEACE with our imperfections, not trade obsession with diet culture for obsession with over-justifying why we’re ALLOWED to be okay with our imperfections. Sharing online is wonderful, but we also need to be acutely aware of our own boundaries and when the sharing turns from letting others see a piece of ourselves to giving away our whole selves as a performance act. Self-love in the social media space shouldn’t have to be (and doesn’t have to be) a shouting match for who can profess their love of their rolls and cellulite the loudest.
 ECHO CHAMBER
I love sharing my story and the lessons I’ve learned and being radically honest about my ups, downs and crippling lows.
BUT… this needs to be about MORE than just unpacking my own shit continuously for the same people who I KNOW are already going to agree with it. We need to challenge it more. I don’t want to keep baring my soul to the point where it starts to wear me down for the idea of benefiting others. That’s counterproductive, and serves no one.
My story and my past is important, but it doesn’t stop there. I’m just one. As a community, we need to do MORE to bring in those who need it, rather than simply safeguard and encourage those who are already within it.
It can’t just be about shouting ‘YASSSS KWEEEEEN!” at each other as we point at our cellulite with enthusiasm for the first time. That’s awesome and important, but we need to recognise the greater role body positivity plays in the world.
 SKIN DEEP
Body acceptance and normalising un-retouched images and seeing diversity and finding beauty in all sorts of bodies… SO FUCKING IMPORTANT. But it’s about more than that.
And again, we can’t just set up camp and rest there. We need to do BETTER for newcomers to the concept of body acceptance.
We need to SHOW them that it’s about more than just accepting bodies. It’s also about doing the damn work, introspection and living unfiltered moments that don’t always have to be shared. Selfies for self-love are damn wonderful, but that can’t be the whole story.
As a collective and as a society, can we PLEASE for the love of all that’s good in the world be more picky about which brands and companies and celebrities we slap a big ‘Body Positive! Woohoo!’ sticker on?
For real. We need to STOP blowing smoke up the ass of any brand who uses SLIGHTLY LESS Photoshop than they normally do. Is it a good (and important) step forward? Yep. But we need to be WAY MORE selective with who we award the title of ‘body positive brand’. If it’s not size/ability/race/sexuality/gender identity inclusive, it’s not body positive. We can’t allow the theory of body positivity to be diluted because we fear what will happen if we don’t over-praise the baby steps of corporations that are still funded by parent companies that profit from the $64b/year diet industry.
 DOING THE DAMN WORK
Self-love is hard. I get it.
What do I mean by that? Well, for a start, we need to ditch the idea that professing that we’re accepting of ourselves is the end of the story. We need to forego the notion that joining a body positive support group is the equivalent of doing therapy/coaching/counselling/self-help work on actually digging deep into the stories we tell ourselves, lessons that we’ve learned and bias that we carry. Sharing experiences is just ONE part of the puzzle. And a lot of the work that needs to be done takes place OFFLINE. In your mind. In counselling spaces. With trusted friends and family. In solitude.
Sometimes it’s gritty. Messy. Raw. Terrifying.
It’s not always selfie-worthy. It can’t always be condensed into a shareable quote, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s GOOD.
 TUNNEL VISION
So many of us stop challenging ourselves in the body positivity space once we feel that we’re “there”.
We fill our feeds with what we consider to be diverse bodies and we feel good that we can accept and find beauty in them. But when we look closer at what we consider diverse, many of us often find that we’re using such a narrow framework for what constitutes that diversity.
Are we still applying traces of a personal lens about what looks ‘healthy’? Or do we only choose to look at similar bodies to ours? Do we still feel twangs of discomfort when we see bodies being embraced when those bodies are miles away from what we would personally be able to accept on ourselves?
We need to keep pushing. We can’t just stop because we’ve reached a level of acceptance that we find safe or easy.
 HISTORY MATTERS
And not just our own history or what we’ve learned from our past.
The history of body positivity as a movement. We can’t forget the bigger picture or choose to stay ignorant on matters that impact the greater movement without applying to us as individuals.
Yes… it’s about us all as individuals. But what about ‘us’ as a whole?
What does it mean to be ‘us’? Who gets to be included, and who decides that? Are we inadvertently leaving anyone behind, and how do we remedy that?
The answer to all of those questions (again) lies in digging deeper, challenging ourselves and doing the damn work. Even when it’s not comfortable or easy.
 CALLING IN
Many of us are angry at the way the female bodies are commodified, passed around and discussed as if there aren’t people actually living in them. And I get it… we have SO MUCH to be pissed off about. I’m angry too. That anger can be harnessed and used for great benefit in achieving change. It feels GOOD to be pissed off at the culture, and not our bodies. That shift is a huge milestone. But again… it can’t stop there.
We can’t just allow ourselves to comfortably sit in the trigger-happy, hyper reactive position of calling out companies/brands who slip up. It’s IMPORTANT to recognise mistakes and serial offenders absolutely need to be made aware that their consumers and the public at large demand better. But let’s look at the methods in which we go about calling out the culture.
How much are we really achieving with it? Is our first thought, “How will this create change?” or is it, “How will this catapult me on social media?”… and how does this impact us as individuals, and the perception of the movement as a collective? Are we walking our talk? Are we truly wanting to achieve a specific change or add to our own identity/image curation of how we want others to see us going about achieving change?
Greater exposure for the movement DOES expose more newcomers to the idea that hating their bodies isn’t their lifelong destiny. But, what happens with the social media buzz dies down; when the Buzzfeed post is no longer in the social sharing queue?
What if instead, we decide to be more selective with how we acknowledge necessity for the culture to change, and learn to recognise when a situation requires calling in with compassion vs. calling out with vitriol?
I don’t know what 2017 will hold in store for the community ‘trends’ around body positivity, and I can’t predict how the discussion will be shaped. Nor is the conversation up to me to dictate.
But I DO know that we can all contribute to the discussion.
I DO know that it’s about a helluva lot more than a trending topic and a cheeky selfie in a midriff baring shirt.
I DO know that it needs to do better, be more kind, show more compassion and be more inclusive.
My promise to you:
I will not (not now, not ever!) water down what I believe and KNOW to be true about self-love, body positivity and mental health. Not for the sake of being ‘competitive’ (fuck that shit). Not for the sake of social media algorithms. I will be unapologetic in my pushing forward with my message… not just because it feels good to me, but because I know that it’s the RIGHT thing to do by YOU. You deserve that. I will CONTINUE to speak my truth, I will push myself to do better, do bigger, be more inclusive, more challenging of my own beliefs and what I can offer, more helpful wherever possible. I will not unpack and stay where it’s comfortable, because you deserve better. I deserve better. WE ALL deserve better. I’ll continue to commit myself to helping you even it’s not ‘clickbait friendly’. ESPECIALLY when it’s not clickbait friendly. Because I’m not here for the applause. I’m here for YOU.
Here’s how I intend to hold true to that:
+ I’ll make a dedicated effort to show you MORE bodies than just my own. MORE bodies than just the ones that it’s socially ‘acceptable’ to applaud. I’ll take it SO MUCH further than we did in 2016.
+ I’ll talk about the hard stuff, as always. It won’t always have a positive message at the end. Sometimes it’ll leave you with a feeling of discomfort because sometimes, we need that.
+ I’ll continue to share my story where needed, but I want YOUR stories (if you’re comfortable sharing them). Because all stories deserve to be heard. And because I have more to offer than my past, and because so do you.
+ I’ll provide STRUCTURE to the discussion for those who don’t know where to start. I’ll continue to provide some entry level guidance, because we all start somewhere and we can’t run before we learn to walk. That’s important. But that’s not where it all lies. I’m going to continue to provide opportunities to dive deeper (stay tuned for that one, because I have something for those who want to dive waaaay deeper in the coming months).
+ I’ll ask myself at every turn how I can do better – for you, for the community, for myself.
I’ve got a lot of big plans for 2017 and how I plan to serve you, and I can’t wait to show you all about them. And whilst the tail end of 2016 left me with some icky feelings around the online space, ultimately I’m grateful for those emotions. That discomfort is what allows us to learn – lean into that discomfort, dig into where it stems from and ask yourself how the situation can be improved.
If I can suggest a guiding word to us all this year…
B O L D E R
But don’t stop there, either. Go bigger, better, bolder, deeper, stronger. Lean into the weirdness. Unpack your shit everywhere and let it be messy. Don’t tidy it up for others. Don’t care if anyone else even finds it interesting. Create space for those that need to feel welcome. Be curious instead of defensive. Revel in your lost-ness and let yourself find whatever direction takes shape, not the direction you think you should be taking.
And never stop learning, ever.
Yours in service with the sole purpose of helping YOU kick ass at your self-love practice, forever,