By: Rose Arscott
There is nothing I love more than delving, neck crooked, into an Instagram hole. I invite you to join me as I take a look back at my Instagram history, and journey with me from the shame I once felt about my own body as I scrolled through my feed, to the way I feel now…. less shame.
There was a point in between my weight-loss obsession and my current body positive outlook, where I engaged whole-heartedly in the idea that “health” was going to save me from hating the body I was in. I would pour over #bikinibody transformation photos, trying to convince myself, that by ingesting these images I would eventually snap out of my self-hatred and magically transform. Eventually the images weren’t enough so I moved on to reading the captions. What I found below the “like” button got me thinking. Many of these women would post a picture of themselves that reflected current cultural standards of an idealized body and then use the caption space to talk about how disappointed they were by their own bodies or how they had come so far but still had so much to change before they could be happy. They would go on and on about their failures and physical shortcomings. They were picking themselves apart like vultures feasting on their own flesh. It was heartbreaking and I couldn’t look away. It brought to light the layers of negativity to which we are subjected: the “ideal” body coming up short under its own lens. Of course this wasn’t body positivity. This was another way to feel bad about myself thinly veiled as “health and fitness.” I had to get out. I agonized over the decision to leave behind my #transformationtuesdays for fear of staying fat forever if I left the shame whirlpool. Turns out I’m fine but at the time it felt like sawing off my own legs.
After making the bold choice to un-follow all the before-and-afters I moved on to following plus-sized models. These are the mainstream body positive women who still safely fit into the realm of acceptable female-ness. They have the pre-requisite hourglass shape, lots of workout pics to prove their health (something I strongly believe no one should have to prove but that’s a whole other barrel of cheese puffs), a ton of gorgeous voluminous hair, and plenty of pristine make-up. These women seemed so different at the time; they looked more like me and were successful models!!! That meant I could be a successful model! Wait, no, that’s not…. Oh no! I fell into another shame hole! I was so busy admiring these women I missed the fact that we have created another version of the beauty standard around them.
Why didn’t I just get off Instagram? Stop subjecting myself to shame potholes. Because I knew I could find what I needed, I just had to keep digging. I had to expand and look for the fat activists who were questioning all of it, truly engaging with beauty, not in a commercial way, but in whole-hearted acceptance and celebration of fatness, blackness, queerness and all of the -nesses erased from our prescribed media diets.
Lately, I’ve been preoccupied by the battles of intersectionality when we talk about body positivity. I have benefitted enormously from the body positive movement but I often think about the privilege I experience as a smaller, white, able-bodied, cis-gender woman. All of these things make my journey to a positive experience of my body a relatively simple one in comparison to the many women and men who are explicitly told by our society that they are worth less.
There is a flaw in the current body positive movement. It elevates those who are more digestible to the mainstream and shuns those who fall outside its ideas of acceptability. It’s exhilarating to be seeing larger bodies celebrated in magazines and brands advertising their plus lines, but the body positive work that allowed for that was done by real fat-positive activists who are still being told they are less than. This particular brand of body positivity continues to feed misguided notions of health being a determination of worth and hyper-sexualized femininity being the only acceptable way to be plus. We must celebrate our victories heartily but we cannot be complacent. It is still not ok that so many larger fats, people of color, trans people, people with disabilities, have little to no representation in the media and are often severely marginalized when they are included.
The book Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jess Baker gave me the final push I needed to change my media diet. After removing myself from every fitness guru’s list of followers, I followed just one new person, Jess Baker. I think that the extensive list (a portion of which I’m excited to share with you) of people I found through following Jess it is a testament to the ethos of support and consciousness raising at the core of the intersectional fat-positive community. By reposting and tagging one another, the community expands and finds its way to people who may not otherwise be able to access that type of radical commitment to equality.
Below is a list of people or organizations I follow that led me to great writing, fashion, art, or simply positive images of people living full, joyous lives and loving their bodies radically in the process.
This is why I love Instagram: because you can curate the experience. You can find a plethora of body positive activists who represent themselves the way they want to be seen. My crooked neck Instagram hole diving is no longer an exercise in self-criticism. Instead I am learning and engaging with a community of people using their voices and supporting one another. That’s how I found some real body positivity. It’s not just about believing that my body is worthy, it’s about knowing that all bodies are worthy.