IS INSTAGRAM HELPING OR HURTING BODY DIVERSITY?
In many ways, Instagram has taken over everyday lives. Simple moments like a meal, a sunrise, or a new pair of shoes have become images worth cropping, filtering, and sharing with the world. The fashion industry has fully embraced the app, but unfortunately, a lot of fashion imagery on Instagram continues to perpetuate traditional industry standards about 'acceptable' body image. Thankfully, it is also giving a voice to body activists who are gradually gaining attention and achieving change, watched by their millions of adoring followers - but they still have an uphill battle. Social media is global in its scale and infinite in its sharing potential, opening up another avenue for anyone to share their comments - oftentimes hurtful and uninformed - related to body image. When a woman who is not the rail-thin industry ideal shares a photo, she is regularly the target of comments bashing her size. This fuels a cycle of body shaming when both the original poster and those who identify with their body type consume the message that they are not beautiful. Moreover, while this year more designers and editors have opened up to feature models beyond the prevalent norms of thin, white, and cisgendered in their runway shows and ad campaigns, most did not. Accordingly, when a brand posts shots from their latest fashion show or campaign, the "raw" and "untouched" laws of Instagram no longer apply and photoshopped, airbrushed images reign supreme. Once again, this creates a saturation of one, frankly uncommon, body type as not only the norm, but the only acceptable ideal of beauty. Chanel has 7 Million followers; the damage of such imagery is reaching more people than ever before, many of whom are young and already being exposed to harmful body shaming through magazines and advertisements. All of this is not to say that Instagram has not had a positive impact on body image. For every image with #thinspo, there are photos with body positive hashtags such as #DareToWear, #CelebrateMySize, and #DropthePlus. Also, Instagram has allowed models who might not otherwise be in national ad campaigns to gain recognition and subvert body shaming standards. These women might not initially have had the support of the top names in fashion, but their self-celebratory accounts gain large followings that both drown out the negative comments and attract the attention of the fashion world. Models like Ashley Graham, who has been featured in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Forbes, and Justine LeGault, who graced ELLEQuebec’s May 2013 cover, are just some examples of models with unapologetic Instagram accounts and high exposure. Gigi Hadid, one of the most in-demand models at the moment, also shared an open letter on Instagram in which she dismissed those who criticize her athletic figure in favour of being petite. She also commented that the support she has received from so many editors and designers demonstrates that many in the fashion industry is ready to embrace different body sizes. While both the larger world and the fashion industry still have miles to go in terms of celebrating all body types, body positive Instagram accounts, campaigns, and hashtags are helping to turn the tide. Instagram has given so many open-minded individuals the opportunity to spread body positivity and this grassroots wave of acceptance counteracts what online activity sticks to a skinny-only standard. Now it’s on us to give more body positive Instagram movements the attention they deserve so we can get the message to designers that diverse body image is long overdue.
Main Image via @bae.doe