Jan 30, 2020
Beauty & Fashion | Ella Glover
While scrolling through the Instagram of ex-powerlifter turned body-posi influencer, Mik Zazon I came across something interesting.
#NormalizeNormalBodies is a relatively new hashtag on Instagram, with less than 5000 posts currently, that features pictures of people of a variety of ages – mainly women – going about their everyday life. Some people are working out, some are sat behind a table in a restaurant, others are modelling and some are mothers pictured with their children. These pictures represent the average.
This hashtag is important as it doesn’t promote one lifestyle over another, or even one body type over another. The body positive movement is often criticised for normalising obesity and encouraging people to engage in unhealthy activities in the name of self-love. Don’t get me wrong, I do think that the body positivity movement is a good thing – especially as someone who used to buy into fad diets and also got sucked in by “pro-anorexia” websites as a teenager – but I do see where these criticisms are coming from. Both communities can be seen to showcase unattainable lifestyles and mindsets, causing followers to feel disheartened when their efforts appear to be wasted in comparison to their heroes.
Although on seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum, the fitspo community and the body positivity community do share common values – they want to lift women up; they spread mantras of self-love and self-worth and they often acknowledge that everybody’s body is different and that this is a good thing.
They both strive to dismantle diet culture and call for excess rather than restriction. However, both communities, like all communities, have some “extremists” – quotes dotted around the web like “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” and pictures of girls (whose job it is to work out) with washboard abs and Kardashian-esque curves. Or pictures of overweight individuals with captions preaching at us to love our bodies no matter what, in a climate that champions fatphobia. There are problems on both sides of the coin – not only are the physical attributes we see often unattainable to the average person, but the mindsets are, too. You can’t reverse 10 years of self-hatred with 3 juicy Insta captions; it doesn’t work.
Another problem with Instagram movements like these is that, as a visual platform, Instagram shows only miniscule portions of our days, months, even years (cue the Friends theme song). Constantly comparing your own life and self to the rose-tinted images you scroll past on Instagram is not good for your self-worth. Realising that these pictures don’t represent hard truths is vital to consuming this app in a healthy way. Think about when you have your picture taken (or take a selfie) – what do you consider? Is the lighting right? Are you tilting your head to your good side? Do your legs look long enough? Waist small enough? Arms back, no stray strands of hair? Of course you do – we all do. It’s perfectly normal to pose for a picture and it’s fine to want to look your best – as long as you acknowledge that this is your best, not your always. Plus, if you do it, how many of your favourite influencers do it, too? (A: all of them). How often do you catch a glimpse of cellulite, stretch marks, acne, fat, scars, eczema/ psoriasis, loose skin on your timeline?
How often do you criticize yourself for having these things? How often do you hide these things in pictures? Guess what? They’re normal.
Most of us have, or do, experience these traits and others that we’re ashamed to show to the world because we don’t think it’s normal. Pictures of these very normal “flaws” are not accessible to us, whether it’s due to angles and lighting, surgery, Facetune or professionally edited photoshoots. Even basic filters can hide your insecurities.
I, for instance, have stretchmarks and cellulite – my legs are where I hold most of my fat and they have dimples and stretch marks galore. It was easier to accept my stretch marks than my cellulite – they came from weight gain, weight loss and a little bit of muscle building, so they give me a positive outlook. My cellulite, though? I honestly hated it until recently, I’m still slightly embarrassed about it. I’ve been working out consistently for 2 years now, and I’ve never gotten rid of it. Sometimes I can reduce the visibility of it if I’m at a lighter weight, but let me tell you – that is difficult to maintain – you know, because my job isn’t filming workout videos, training clients and posting “What I Eat In A Day” vlogs on Youtube. Though it’s still one of my biggest insecurities, I instantly felt better when I saw a very popular vegan fitspo, Katya Henry, post a picture of her cellulite. This made me a realise that visibility is key.
That’s why I love the #NormalizeNormalBodies movement: It shows unedited, real-life pictures of women – insecurities and all. After growing up in a world where photoshopped magazine images and celebrities with plastic surgery was the norm, it was hard to see my body as acceptable rather than lesser-than. But with movements like this, and statements like Alicia Keys going makeup free a few years back, or celebrities rejecting re-worked photos and brands like Tala who are inclusive of all body types and refuse to edit any of their photos, I have hope. My hope is that girls younger than me will grow up seeing these images of unfiltered beauty and criticise themselves less for having what everybody has.
I personally believe we should all strive towards “body-neutrality”. It isn’t possible to love every single part of your body, every single day – and to be honest, it would be a bit weird if we did – but we shouldn’t hate them either. We need to abandon the concept of women’s bodies as capital, or anything other than bone, tissue and organs that keep us alive and carry us through our daily lives. We should be grateful for what our bodies do for us and nourish and respect them accordingly. I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with wanting to change our bodies – whether for health, a fitness goal or simply aesthetic purposes, as long as we understand that our happiness and value don’t lie in our appearance. We should find attributes outside of the physical to find self-worth.
Obviously, this is easier said than done, but I think that normalising normal bodies will be a vital step in changing the way women’s bodies are perceived, which will decrease negative body-image issues in turn. Give it a go – post a picture of your normal body, you might even find it liberating.
Thanks for reading!