3 years ago I was style-obsessed. I followed the couture brands, the Brooklyn street stylists, the LA influencers, the up-and-coming labels and the models that graced their catwalks.
Instagram was (and still is) my daily source of visual inspiration, but my appetite for style was having an odd side effect: it was encouraging me to hate on my body. Flicking through my feed was an exercise in scrutiny. Look at her thigh gap.. those legs though…I could never pull off that little dress. In comparison, I felt short, soft and cellulite-ridden.
Intellectually you know what the brands are feeding you isn’t reality. But that doesn’t stop you from wanting it. Once I woman’d up and acknowledged the icky thoughts I was having, I started wanting something else. Every day I’d prune my Instagram of a few people that triggered the bad bod vibes. I wanted to be more fit, so I started following really strong, fit women. Eventually I replaced almost all of the people who’d trigger my body negativity.
A few months later, I happened to wonder what a favorite street style celeb was up to, and searched for her. Looking at her feed, I found myself focused on her bad model posture and how that thigh gap would look better with some quads. And woah. This wasn’t my kind of beauty anymore.
But there might be a scientific reason for that.
What We See Is What We Like
According to the proudly fat burlesque dancer Lillian Bustle in her TEDx talk on body positivity, “The more we’re exposed to body diversity, the more we tolerate, accept and even prefer different body types.”
Is that what happened to me in my accidental Instagram experiment? My visual inspiration was much more diverse now. Did seeing different bodies condition me to accept a new beauty standard? The 2012 study Bustle references says maybe yes. The research shows that when we’re routinely given a visual diet comprised of aspirational, attractive models in high status clothes, we’ll call that body type our favorite. But when participants were exposed to more diverse array of bodies, preferences also became more open. In fact, larger bodies actually became more preferred for women.
Let’s get something straight: skinny is a natural body type too and no one should be shamed for having a slim physique. But when it’s constantly positioned as cool shit by brands you admire, your brain is more likely to stigmatize bodies that don’t fit the prescription.
Brands will keep pumping out the same old impossible standards, but you can control what you let in. If you struggle with your body image, let’s see if we can help start the process of healing with this 30-Day Visual Diet.
How To Go On A Visual Diet (and #LoveThisBod)
2) Follow women who project the confidence you admire, from a range of body types and abilities. A few of my faves are Rebel Wilson, Chuckie Welch, Steph Hammerman, Follow The Lita, and Elisabeth Akinwale.
3) Give it one month. Visit your Instagram daily and really see your new feed.
4) After 30 days, check back in with your roster of Unfollowed. Do their bods look as appealing as they did before? Do the diverse body types you added feel like your new, preferred normal?
5) Post about your experience using the hashtags #VisualDiet and #LoveThisBod
The best thing we can do to promote body diversity? Proudly post photos of our real bods to begin chipping away at the media noise, and support the brands that feature a variety of body types (looking at you, ModCloth.)
Photo Credit: CC BY 2.0 / Jake Stimpson