There is a trend among fitness bloggers to post unedited photos of themselves on Instagram in the name of “body positivity” and “accepting your flaws.” These women are fearlessly proclaiming that angles, lighting, posture, and Photoshop are responsible for their physical perfection. Without all of that, they would look just like us.
Only they don’t.
Body positivity is an empowering movement, but the “flaws” many fitness experts and models expose — a roll of skin, a smattering of cellulite — don’t actually detract from their general flawlessness. For many women, these “flaws” are laughable, if not indiscernible. And these Photoshop-free, “unflattering” photos still display a level of physical perfection that the vast majority of women will never be able to attain.
I’m sure that many fitness superstars do see after-lunch stomach bloat or a ripple of cellulite as evidence of their imperfection. We all do, and even a sleekly muscled bikini babe is, of course, allowed to have reactions to her body’s fluctuations. I’m not judging, nor do I want to create an “us against them” scenario. We are together in a journey towards self-love. Everyone’s journey is their own, and I get that.
So imagine how a woman who is struggling to lose 50 pounds must feel when a swimsuit model shows off a food baby and cries out “Look at this shit! I’m fat, and I’m embracing it!” The parade of nearly indiscernible flaws in the name of body positivity can be difficult for an “average” woman to swallow.
The real issue here is that this approach tells us that there is an ideal way to be “flawed” and makes a mockery of women who truly struggle with being overweight. The pressure for women to look like airbrushed Instagram models is very real, and there’s strong evidence linking social media use to body image concerns and eating disorders. As many as 10% of teenage girls in the U.S. suffer from eating disorders, which can wreak havoc on young bodies — sometimes even leading to death. All over America, teenage girls are staring at perfect bodies on Instagram all day – and dying to be thin.
Women spend their entire lives bludgeoned with images of genetic lottery winners, cosmetically enhanced media stars, and self-obsessed exercise junkies. Perhaps it’s all a marketing conspiracy, designed to make us ache with an inadequacy that can only be filled with spending money on beauty and diet products. Buy this! Order that! You’ll be thin, and therefore happy, if only you spend money.
Personally, I spent the majority of my adult life obsessed with being thin and fit. I worked out compulsively, ate a diet devoid of anything fun or tasty, and was a chiseled, miserable size 0. A few years ago, I snapped and went to the other extreme. I stopped exercising for several years and devoted my time to tasting carbs in as many forms as possible. I gained 30 pounds, and frankly, looked great. The extra fat in my face was like taking a Black and Decker steam iron to my wrinkles. I had large, stripper-worthy breasts for the first time in my non-pregnant life. Yes, my stomach stuck out and my thighs were jiggly and covered in cellulite, but so what? I bought a new wardrobe, and I rocked it.
But even more importantly, I felt great. I felt sexy and empowered because feeling good about my body had nothing to do with outside validation and everything to do with internal acceptance.
Today, my body is somewhere between fit and unfit — and you know what, who cares? I am fucking tired of this tunnel-visioned focus on our appearance. Why don’t we just drop this utter obsession with our looks altogether, and celebrate ourselves differently? Maybe we would have room to care about things in our world beyond our thigh jiggle and muffin tops. Maybe it’s time to let the world know about our talents, our intelligence, our capacity for kindness and strength and generosity.
I’d much rather focus on my mind, my talents and passions, and most importantly, how I feel about myself. And that’s something that can never be captured in an Instagram photo — filtered or not.