The curve model and fuller-figured icon questions empowerment via likes on social media.
Swiping through photo after photo in my Instagram feed. All body shots mostly toned hourglass goddesses, but sometimes rolls, lumps and perfect imperfections. Finally I see my body type reflected back at me in a form other than my bedroom mirror. I get an overwhelming sense of who I am.
The body positivity movement has snowballed in the last five years into a feed of empowering curvy images; a spectrum from eating disorder recoverers, dieting documenters, unconventional beauty disruptors, girls learning to love their little extra weight and some conventionally attractive girls who happen to have curves.
Many of these incredible women are pushing for change. But would our top curvy advocates – I’m talking those with millions of Instagram followers or even the ones featured on, for example, @dailyfitbabes – be as popular in more then bikinis and lingerie? Does our male audience see beyond the image’s intention, or just tap love hearts because here is a partially naked female body? My food flat lays don’t get a quarter of the likes of a holiday bikini selfie. And the less glamorous game changers, the girls constantly working to challenge government policy or who volunteer for charities, struggle to compete for airtime against the beach babes.
The #bodygoals or even the 52 million images under #bodybuilding are enough to make anyone want to put down the Ben & Jerry’s. We all know the majority of people are not super-muscular or boast perfectly proportioned hourglass figures, but those guys monopolise online media. I type in @bodyposipanda or @sonnyturner and feel at ease, reminded that the conventional idea of A Perfect Body isn’t aspirational; being happy is. I get a sense of unfiltered authenticity from these accounts. They don’t have millions of followers but are on the rise. Maybe because they haven’t been caught and commercialised by a big brand sponsor, they have the luxury to keep it real.
One of my first ever shoots I was put in a beige lingerie bodysuit. It complemented my figure but I was nervous. I’d never worn so little in front of a group of strangers in a professional environment before. After receiving the beautiful editorial images and sharing them online with my empowerment message, I felt inspired to demonstrate the power of change. Back then women did not pose in their underwear, only professional models. Now it feels like Instagram is a directory for every kind of body: gym fit, phat thick, curvy, body positive, fat, thin. Lingerie images online are the universal norm. A bedroom selfie promoting the new Victoria Secrets underwear set can be presented to the world in seconds and it’s… ok. I’m desensitised to it. Everyone seems to be doing it, either because these images are getting the most likes or Instagram is maximising the t+a in its algorithm. I’m not suggesting women should only post images fully clothed, but I wonder when it became normal to flaunt. I advocate mental health and self-esteem on my social channels but a holiday bikini pic with no inspirational message gets over 8,000 likes. Another shot of me, in front of a self-worth sign, gets only 1,000 likes.
When an overtly sexualised image is being justified as something wholesome, it’s a lie. Which is worrying when there are millions of followers watching. Cigarettes were once advertised as healthy, too. I notice an insta vid of a body positive model grinding suggestively to a rap song. Innocently having fun enjoying her body? Perhaps. Empowering and body positive? Perhaps not. This isn’t empowered. This is old-fashioned sexy. And that’s ok but call it out. Sexy works for some: model Kate Upton joined the big league via Terry Richardson after a video of her dancing the dougie, all bouncing boobs, went viral.
Social media became my tool for change and a huge part of my journey to becoming a model. I supported and frequently contributed to the body positive, self-love movement in sometimes nothing but lingerie. It gets hits. Once I started putting up lingerie pictures online I noticed the power a body had. I was always relatively confident, but the reassurance can become addictive: dopamine high. However, I constantly try to understand how to gain the same momentum without selling my body. Perhaps a picture-based app like Instagram isn’t the best platform for my less stimulating images: as volunteer in a meeting room, at a peaceful demonstration, or that cake I no longer feel bad about eating.
I’m proud the online world of Instagram can create an international discussion highlighting different body types. Punch in #curves and 5.5 million images pop up. Everywhere, women who look like me! We may not have reached our goal but I’m glad to be part of a growing body positivity conversation and becoming mindful of the mixed messages thrown at us every day.