I’ve been writing about body positivity for nearly a year. And I love it! But recently I’ve noticed that my own body confidence has started to drop off again. At first I couldn’t quite work out what was going on. I thought I’d overcome all of my body issues so to have them resurface was a little disconcerting. But slowly I came to realise that some of the things I used to ‘inspire’ me for my business were actually making me feel, well, really shit. In fact, the biggest thing I had to recognise was that Instagram is having a really negative impact on my body confidence.
I’ve been on Instagram for around 6 months. And in some ways it’s been really inspirational. I’ve found lots of body positive influencers to follow. Lots of accounts that celebrate the bodies of real mothers.
But in other ways though it’s been really soul destroying. There are a few things about Instagram that I find really toxic and damaging so I thought I’d write it down to help you decide if Instagram is having an impact on your body confidence too (and you can read my post about 5 things that pressure mums to hate their post-baby body too).
The #bodypositive hashtag
The ability to follow hashtags is a great feature of Instagram. It allows you to discover new people and to see photos that you wouldn’t have come across otherwise. But anyone can use a hashtag on any photo. So here’s what I’ve seen happen to the #bodypositive hashtag. It started as a way of celebrating diversity. Bigger bodies. Less able bodies. Different bodies. Which is fab and I’m all for that.
But my feed doesn’t really show pictures of diverse bodies under the #bodypositive hashtag. Instead I seem to be seeing pictures of slim, young and usually white women posing in minimal clothing, generally in sexually provocative pose.
Whilst I get that these women probably do feel very positively about their bodies this is not what the movement was about. There’s not much diversity and it definitely doesn’t go anyway to dispelling the myth that you should be thin, toned and sexy in order for your body to be a positive thing.
The ‘let’s normalise a post-partum body’ movement
I had such high hopes for this. I wanted to see photos of real mum bodies rather than the airbrushed, slim versions we see in magazines. And there are some. But more often than not #postbabybody seems to be a celebration of how much baby weight women have lost or how thin they look after a baby.
Worse than this though is the fact that these photos are sometimes captioned with a message that talks about needing to normalise women’s bodies after a baby. Again, there is a definite need for this but you can’t do that by showing photo after photo of women that have probably never been more than a UK size 10.
Women who don’t look like they’ve been pregnant at 1 week postpartum will say that they want to show mums it’s OK to still have a baby bump. Except there’s not really one there! And these photos are usually a before (i.e. 1 week pp) and after shot showing just how much weight they’ve lost in a few months or how toned they are even though they’ve had a baby.
It’s a very toxic message as these bodies are in the minority but sadly, they make up the majority of what you see on Instagram.
The ‘let’s post only the most attractive photos’ culture
You rarely see a really rough photo of someone on Instagram. And I get that. I do. I don’t post photos of myself looking really shit so why would anyone else? I’ve got several issues with this though. The first is that it often strikes me that there is an element of showing off on Instagram. We show off how good we look. How much weight we’ve lost. Stylish clothes. Glossy hair.
And yes, we sometimes caption these with messages about how we’re having a rough day or a tough time. But still, our photos show us in the best possible light even though this is not how we look in real life.
The other issue I have with this is that it gives a false impression of how other people look. It feeds the ‘compare and despair’ monster in the worst possible way. And even though we know that Instagram is someone’s highlight reel, we can and do forget that what we are seeing isn’t real or normal. Which tends to make us feel miserable or ashamed if we don’t look like that too.
The ‘supply and demand’ element
This is the thing that gets me down the most about Instagram. It’s a supply and demand thing. The reason there are so many photos of women who’ve lost the baby weight? Because we want to see them. Or why so many photos with the #bodypostive hashtag are of women striking a sexual post in their underwear? Because they are what’s popular. They get the likes, the comments and the followers.
We are a society obsessed with weight, body image and appearance. We all want to believe we can look sexy, young and slim so we want to see photos of others who have done it too.
Yes, I know that body positive accounts get follows, likes and comments too. But it seems to me that there are more than a few pics of underwear shots, provocative posing and generally trying to ooze sex appeal that goes on in those accounts too. So (after a very quick and dirty look at this) it’s not surprising that the followers on some of the accounts seem to be split fairly evenly between men and women.
This to me suggests that the appeal of these accounts is less body positivity and more about celebrating attractiveness. And again, this is supply and demand at work. Plus, just consider the fact that the big names in body positivity are young, incredibly attractive and still mostly fit with western standards of beauty. Yes, they might not be that slim but they are also not obese. They’re all very pretty and mostly, they’re western and able bodied.
I’ve yet to come across a popular body positive account run by someone who is 65, massively overweight and ugly. Because it’s supply and demand. That’s not what society wants to see so they would never get the likes or followers that other accounts do.
So here’s what I’m going to do about Instagram…
After realising how much it was affecting me I’ve decided to take some time off Instagram. I’m giving it two weeks to see how I feel and to see if my feelings about my body change. By not immersing myself in such a shallow, superficial culture I’m really hoping that I can shift the belief that thin is sexy, toned is important and pretty is expected. Which will make it so much easier to just be me!