Arielle Tschinkel
February 06, 2018 6:30 pm

In recent years, social media has emerged as an unlikely — but powerful — force in the quest to shatter impossibly narrow beauty ideals, helping women with bodies of all shapes and sizes to accept themselves as they are. It’s a daunting task, to be sure, given that both traditional media and advertising (and now social media) continue to sell unrelenting and often impossible standards of beauty that we’re somehow expected to measure up to. It’s no wonder why the body positivity movement on Instagram feels like the perfect antidote to decades and decades of print, TV, and other mass media advertising telling us that changing our bodies is the only way we’ll ever achieve happiness.

A powerful group of body-positive Instagrammers are celebrating their bodies exactly as they are, without airbrushing, filters, or strategic enhancements to fit societal ideals of perfection — and they’re doing it by sharing their photos, thoughts, and ideas on the ‘gram, and using body-positive Instagram hashtags to spread their message as far and wide as possible.

It’s a refreshing (and much-needed) change to see bodies on our feeds that are typically ignored in mainstream advertising that remind us that all bodies are beautiful.

More people are joining the body positivity movement on Instagram, reclaiming their bodies, shunning the all-too-common headlines and products marketed toward weight loss or somehow bettering your appearance, and showing their followers that being thin or traditionally beautiful is not a surefire way to inner happiness. As that’s happening, an alarming trend has emerged in its place, and it’s impossible to deny when you see it in your feed.

Searching though hashtags like #bodypositive, #bodypositivity, or #bopo leads to thousands of images of marginalized bodies finally being given the space to express their individual beauty, which is amazing.

But these hashtags also lead to plenty of images of mostly thin, white women using those same hashtags to promote their brand of #fitspo, which is the exact opposite of what the body positivity movement is about.

But isn’t body positivity supposed to be welcoming and inclusive of all bodies, even culturally accepted ones? Yes, but there’s an important distinction to make.

Body positive activist and mental health advocate Lexie Manion recently explained the difference in an interview with Livestrong. She says, “Body positivity is a movement focused on shining the spotlight onto marginalized bodies — people of color, LGBT, disabled, fat, etc. — because they are not well represented in the media.” Marginalized bodies, including “fat bodies, bodies of color, queer bodies, disabled bodies and bodies that bear the battle scars of diseases,” are the ones spearheading this movement as a way to shine light on those who have been dimmed. Weight loss before-and-after pics, #fitspo transformations, and traditionally thin, able bodies simply aren’t promoting the same ideals.

For plus size print modeling, like the photo on the left, models are usually sizes 12 to 18. My question is, “Why?” Why is my size 24 frowned upon, even by the part of the industry that was created for bodies like mine? Why are we pretending that sizes 12-18 cover everyone, when many plus size clothing stores carry sizes 10-32? Why are there plus size model searches open to any and every size, yet when the competition concludes, many companies opt for the “brand safe” choice of a size 12-18 woman? Why are we always shining the spotlight on stories that have already been told, while simultaneously casting shadows on stories that need to be told? I yearn for the day we see plus size models who don’t have the ideal flat stomach and hourglass figure, who are bigger than a size 18, who identify as LGBT, who aren’t just white, who aren’t just able-bodied, who don’t fit the mold. And I yearn for the day we see such plus size models who are given opportunities because they are good at their job, and not just because they are a brand’s “token diversity”. The point of this conversation isn’t to say sizes 12-18 are “bad” or “irrelevant”. Those sizes are worthy too; the point is the lack of diversity in the media. If we were able to make strides with finally recognizing plus size models these past few years, we can progress in representing all sorts of different body types one day, too. We may be making some progress, but the fight for all different body types to be represented in the media is far from over. I may not see huge change happen in my lifetime, as these systems that have been put in place take time to undo, but I enjoy thinking about what this world could become. I hope any future children I may have grow up in a world where they can look at a well-known magazine, tv show or movie and see size diversity — size diversity that is displayed naturally, is respected, and is taken seriously. Until then, we must continue bravely and unapologetically raging against the machine.

A post shared by Lexie (@lexiemanion) on

Gia Narvaez, a transgender body positive Instagram influencer, adds that it “represents a radical movement of individuals who are loving themselves unconditionally, breaking free from oppressive structures that tell us we have to look, eat and be a certain type of way to live a happy and fulfilled life.” So seeing a barrage of images of thin or muscular fitness bloggers or influencers showing off their kale smoothies, latest workout routines, or weight loss before-and-after photos goes against everything that body positive voices are aiming to achieve.

“It’s not like they aren’t allowed to partake in the movement,” Manion explains. “It becomes a problem, however, when it’s 50 photos in a row of more privileged bodies and then one or two photos of more marginalized bodies under a hashtag.”

For women that fall within those parameters, simply acknowledging the difference between body positivity and “self-love” helps for marginalized bodies to claim the spaces they’ve long been shut out of.

But what is the difference between the two? Sophia Carter-Kahn, co-host of the She’s All Fat podcast, explains, saying, “Body positivity to me is facing outward, and self-love is facing inward. Both of these things are intersectional and can mean the same thing,” citing hashtags like #melaninpoppin and #darkgirlsarebeautiful.

Being aware of the full context is key here, noting that using hashtags like #selflove makes all the difference. According to Manion, “Once they realize that body positivity is meant to be a space for marginalized bodies, they don’t want to take up space in the hashtags or have their stories covered by news outlets. Their story has already been told.”

The ultimate end goal here is to make space for all bodies, but especially the ones that have been forced to hide or sent messages that they’re less important. Representation seriously matters. These brave social media warriors are leading the movement one hashtag at a time, making them the true definition of #bodygoals, no matter what our current cultural ideals might suggest to the contrary.

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