Scrolling for body goals

The new body-pos­i­tive role models tak­ing over In­sta­gram

ELLE (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS -

On June 6th 2017, Michelle El­man posted an im­age of her­self on In­sta­gram. She’s wear­ing a sports bra, strik­ing a pose in box­ing gloves on a sunny rooftop. Rolls of fat pro­trude from her dim­pled belly, scars from a se­ries of med­i­cal con­di­tions and the 15 surg­eries it took to get bet­ter. They are her re­minders of bat­tles with a brain tu­mour, a punc­tured in­tes­tine, an ob­structed bowel, a cyst in the brain. In her cap­tion, the body con­fi­dence coach talks about ap­pre­ci­at­ing her phys­i­cal­ity and seiz­ing ev­ery chance to use her body, for “box­ing, danc­ing, pad­dle board­ing, walk­ing, and any other op­por­tu­nity I can find to just move.”

“Gross,” @salt­ed­king typed in the com­ments. “Why you got 3 belly­but­tons.”

Michelle’s In­sta­gram han­dle is @scarred­notscared. She cre­ated it to raise the vis­i­bil­ity of scarred bod­ies, to fight shame and pro­mote self-love. While com­ments like the ones above are ev­ery­where, both on­line and IRL, Michelle isn’t out to bat­tle those in par­tic­u­lar, but the at­ti­tudes be­hind them, the in­ter­nal voices that eat away at self con­fi­dence.

The rest of the com­ment sec­tion is a bet­ter place. @lu­nar­char_ says, “You in­spire me ev­ery day. Thank you for al­ways be­ing a healthy voice when I can’t find my own. Thank you for giv­ing me

new per­spec­tives. You’re awe­some.” “OMG! @scarred­notscared , you are my hero­ine!!!! It’s so im­por­tant to bring grat­i­tude into each day! Keep be­ing you! Xxxx”, said @lucy­d­dreamer.

On In­sta­gram, the con­ver­sa­tion around chal­leng­ing the beauty sta­tus quo has reached a thun­der­ous roar. Women have seized ev­ery plat­form avail­able to cel­e­brate their unique bod­ies and of­fer sup­port to oth­ers, but as the most ex­clu­sively vis­ual plat­form, In­sta­gram has struck a cer­tain nerve. What was once just a group of teenage girls in the ‘90s seek­ing more af­firm­ing at­ti­tudes to­wards body im­age has since grown into a phe­nom­e­non, driven by so­cial me­dia. Two of the cause’s most fa­mous ad­vo­cates, plus-size models Tess Hol­l­i­day and Ash­ley Gra­ham, are reg­u­larly fea­tured on mag­a­zine cov­ers and in ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns. While they’re still vastly out­num­bered by their skinny coun­ter­parts, th­ese women have an over­whelm­ing pres­ence on so­cial me­dia, where they speak about free­dom and choice along­side well­be­ing and self-com­pas­sion. And as body pos­i­tiv­ity con­tin­ues to flour­ish, women on the in­ter­net are feel­ing em­pow­ered to con­sol­i­date their re­sis­tance against all the ways they feel ‘less than’. It’s not just about size. From dis­abil­ity to body hair to cys­tic acne, women are stand­ing up and count­ing them­selves beau­ti­ful to tens of thou­sands of fol­low­ers.

“I think that highly vis­i­ble role models are a good thing in gen­eral,” says Dr. Chua Sook Ning, a Malaysian aca­demic and clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist at Na­tional In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tion un­der the Nanyang Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity in Sin­ga­pore. “This move­ment is pos­i­tive in the sense that it cre­ates a space for ev­ery­one to find their in­di­vid­u­al­ity.” But that vis­i­bil­ity is ac­com­pa­nied by ef­fects that aren’t so clear cut. “I un­der­stand that all of [th­ese In­sta­gram ad­vo­cates] have an in­ten­tion to be help­ful and to in­spire oth­ers. But be­cause of the ease and vis­i­bil­ity of the in­ter­net, con­flict­ing mes­sages are es­poused, mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult for the con­sumer to find ben­e­fi­cial, sound mes­sages.”

For many women in Malaysia, nav­i­gat­ing body in­se­cu­ri­ties within the maze of real life so­cial ex­pec­ta­tions can be daunt­ing, es­pe­cially as fam­ily mem­bers are of­ten the first to say hurt­ful things. “My mother al­ways com­ments on my size,” says Alice, a jour­nal­ist. “I also used to have ter­ri­ble skin when I was younger, and she would make lessthan-nice re­marks even though we were ac­tively try­ing to fix it.”

Un­for­tu­nately, this is ex­tremely com­mon. “How do you ed­u­cate your friends and fam­ily about body di­ver­sity with­out com­ing across as overly sen­si­tive? I fre­quently hear this con­cern,” says Dr Chua. For th­ese women, In­sta­gram may be one of the few places where sup­port­ive, di­verse role models ex­ist. And even there, while the clus­ter com­mu­ni­ties of body ac­cep­tance are grow­ing in size and in­flu­ence, main­stream ideas are still very much in­tact, vis­i­ble and lauded on the plat­form. Add to that the ev­i­dence link­ing body im­age is­sues and so­cial me­dia, like the 2016 study from the Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh School of Medicine that re­ported that so­cial me­dia users who spend the most time scrolling through their feeds are twice as likely to suf­fer from body im­age is­sues, and that the most fre­quent users are over twoand-a-half times as likely to re­port eat­ing and body im­age con­cerns. Scot­tish char­ity The Royal So­ci­ety for Pub­lic Health’s re­port on so­cial me­dia found that In­sta­gram is the worst plat­form for men­tal health among young peo­ple. The 2017 sur­vey had 1,500 peo­ple rate how each of the so­cial me­dia plat­forms they use im­pact health and well­be­ing-re­lated is­sues, among them de­pres­sion, self-iden­tity and body im­age. In­sta­gram had the low­est score over Face­book, YouTube, Snapchat and Twit­ter.

So how do we use so­cial me­dia in ways that boost our con­fi­dence in­stead of drain­ing it? Here’s one: in­stead of a con­stant ex­pec­ta­tion of self love, “body neu­tral­ity” means recog­nis­ing that your body is the way it is, with­out the need to feel 100 per cent se­cure in your own skin. Af­ter all, it’s im­pos­si­ble to ra­di­ate con­fi­dence at all times, and this way, your mind is al­lowed to fo­cus on other as­pects of life. Ex­perts are on the fence about this ap­proach, but ex­po­nents say it’s a step­ping stone to­wards full body pos­i­tiv­ity.

“A healthy body goal must in­clude phys­i­cal and men­tal health,” Dr Chua says. “So we can ex­pose our­selves to as many di­verse pos­i­tive role models as pos­si­ble and not just phys­i­cal beauty, but see­ing beauty in ac­tions, in be­hav­iours and in thought.” Look­ing in­wards is key. “Putting some­one on a pedestal never works out in the long run. But if we pick out traits like con­fi­dence, com­pas­sion, com­mit­ment and open­ness, we can shape our­selves to have those traits and be au­then­ti­cally and uniquely us.”

Women are stand­ing up and count­ing them­selves beau­ti­ful to tens of thou­sands of fol­low­ers.

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