Can Selfies Be Empowering?
by Katie Hoeger
Selfies have become a part of our culture, and many people have taken to posting them on Instagram or other social media sites to express body positivity. But, some are asking if this trend is helpful or harmful. Celebrities and supermodels, like Gigi Hadid, have posted makeup-free selfies. People around the world have also participated in this trend, and body positive bloggers have used selfies as a way to share their body confidence journey with the world.
A photo posted by Gigi Hadid (@gigihadid) on Oct 28, 2015 at 4:22pm PDT
Many people see these body positive selfies as counteracting images posted with hashtags like #fitnessgoals that often perpetuate unrealistic and potentially unhealthy goals for weight loss. Some consider seflie posting to be vain and narcissistic, but proponent see their potential to be empowering. Body positive selfies show people embracing the “flaws” that they see in themselves or those that others have criticized them for. These individuals often bring attention to an insecurity that used to be an aspect of their negative body image. Advocates view selfies as giving women control over their own image and the power to work against unrealistic ideals of beauty.
Danielle Brooks posted a great example of a selfie promoting body positivity this past summer:
A photo posted by Danielle Brooks (@daniebb3) on Jul 28, 2015 at 9:21am PDT
Danielle, who plays Taystee on Orange is the New Black, shared a photo of herself at the gym in a sports bra. In the caption she writes about how she was afraid to post a photo like this until her body was “perfect,” but she chose to embrace self-love and face her fear by sharing this photo with the world. She writes, “I’m a confident woman! That doesn’t stop once I take off my Spanx….Sometimes I don’t like what I see, but I have the power to change the way in which I relate to my body both physically and mentally.” She encourages people to embrace their own confidence in any way they feel comfortable. Danielle’s post talks about something that many people struggle with: acceptance of one’s body in transition. She also continues to advocate for the representation of women of “all shapes, all sizes, all skin tones” in the media. Her body positive message of self-love was honest, real, and served as inspiration for people working to develop a healthy body image.
An interesting website that has been discussed in relationship to the body positive movement is MyBodyGallery.com, whose slogan is “What Real Women Look Like.” The site was created so that women could post photos of themselves to show that even people of the same age, weight, height, and clothing size don’t all look the same. On the site they write that,
“This is a place for women to post their true and accurate pictures. And for other women to see that the world is not a place of cookie cutters. We are all different in our body shape and size as well as our place in our journey to loving our bodies exactly as they are, not as we (or others) think they should be.”
However, some of the women we have spoken to that have utilized this website found themselves looking through the photos and focusing on the women that they think look the best and comparing themselves to that standard. This was not the aim of the website, but speaks to how difficult it is to break down a negative body image. There has been some research on the selfie trend, which suggests that spending a large amount of time on social media could also increase negative comparisons of one’s body to others.
This week, Essena O’Neil, an Australian Instagram star, shared her reasons for quitting social media. She spoke out about her unhealthy obsession with social media. Essena said she was “living a fake life” in which she associated her physical appearance with social status and approval. Not only did she delete over 2,000 photos and share her message on YouTube, but she also captioned some of her photos with the stories behind them. An example of the captions she included was: “NOT REAL LIFE - took over 100 in similar poses trying to make my stomach look good. Would have hardly eaten that day. Would have yelled at my little sister to keep taking them until I was somewhat proud of this.”
So, should we all quit social media?
It may be useful to limit social media use, but there are positive messages that can be spread through social media platforms. Including images that promote body positivity to fight against unrealistic beauty norms may not eliminate the problems that remain in terms of negative body image development. However, it is a step forward to include images with a positive message that empower individuals and might even inspire others to begin a journey towards body confidence as well. Since images that promote unhealthy ideals will continue to be present on social media, people spreading positive messages and posting more realistic images can still have a positive effect.
Let us know what you think. Be a part of the conversation.