The American culture we are apart of, specifically in the fashion industry, has created a society that values thin, caucasian, Photoshopped models much more than a more accurate and realistic portrayal of the human body. The physical and psychological effects of such a society are tremendous. As a result, many body positive social media campaigns have sprung up in recent years attempting to widen the image of beauty and redefine its standards for both men and women.
So how much have these campaigns succeeded? Are they enough? In some ways, we really have begun to see major changes. In order to understand how these campaigns are designed, it is important to first understand what they are up against. Here is a look at some of the popular “body trends” that have recently been popularized by platforms such as Instagram and Twitter:
- This summer the #BellyButtonChallenge began in China. Thousands of social media users began uploading pictures of themselves attempting to complete this ridiculous challenge. The goal is to “reach your belly button from behind to show a good figure”.
- Thigh Gap
- One of the most well known trends, the “Thigh Gap” is promoted as being a desirable trait for women to possess. It is defined as how much space (if any) exists between your upper legs when you stand with your feet together. Although this is physically not attainable for many due to their pelvic and bone structures, people have become obsessed with trying to achieve skinny, “model-like” thighs.
- Bikini Bridge
- A “bikini bridge” is the space between a woman’s swimsuit and her stomach when she is lying down. Photos of women with flat stomachs, skinny thighs and bony hips have taken sites like Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest by storm.
With such unhealthy trends in mind, it comes as no surprise that many social media campaigns have been created in an effort to mitigate the damage they cause. Here is a look at some of the most prominent campaigns, as well as some of the tangible effects these campaigns have successfully had:
- Jen Sinkler, a fitness magazine editor and writer, is especially passionate about this hashtag. The movement is designed to bring awareness to the dangers of the thigh gap trend, even using anatomical examples to prove the trend’s impossibility for many people. On her blog, Sinkler presents three different body types (mesomorph, endomorph, ectomorph) and explains how your body type coupled with the four pelvic types (gynecoid, android, anthropoid, platypelloid) all play a role in whether a thigh gap is even an achievable goal. Sinker’s blog post on #CloseTheGap also features screenshots of conversations on social media that poke fun at the ridiculous nature of body trends. For example, she posted this picture from her Facebook feed: In providing this picture (along with other similar ones), Sinkler encourages people to realize the absurdity of body trends, hoping to use humor as a way to both raise awareness and change cultural standards and norms.
- Starting back in 2012, the #Fatkini movement has gone viral. The hashtag is linked to posts featuring women of size taking selfies in their bathing suits. Instead of fat shaming these women, their pictures are celebrated all over Twitter and Instagram. The movement was started by Gabi Gregg of GabiFresh. GabiFresh is a personal style blog that aims to show women how it is possible to be stylish no matter your size. Gregg’s hashtag generated so much buzz that she has now designed three collections of fatkinis for Swimsuits for All.
- A hashtag and social media campaign started by plus size company Lane Bryant, the goal of #ImNoAngel is to redefine what society considers to be sexy by having women of all sizes submit photos of themselves using a “personal statement of confidence” with the hashtag. Through Lane Bryant’s Tumblr page, people are able to view all of the submitted photos. On the site, people are also able to click on the individual profiles of each model used in the formal shoot and learn more about their personal background and story.
- The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty
- Probably the most well known on this list, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty is one of the most widely talked about social media campaigns that has ever been created. Not only does Dove create positive body image commercials and social media posts, but they also do groundbreaking research on body image. Using the data collected from this research, Dove is able to build successful self-esteem and inner beauty campaigns which have made an enormous impact on our culture. One of the most recent examples of Dove’s activism is #SpeakBeautiful. According to Dove’s research, 8 out of 10 women have seen negative comments about other women’s looks on social media. 4 out of every 5 negative tweets about beauty and body image are written by women critiquing themselves. With this in mind, in collaboration with Twitter, Dove launched #SpeakBeautiful to encourage women to be more positive when tweeting about beauty and body image. Specifically, launching during the 2015 Oscars, technology from Twitter began to identify negative tweets about the body and respond in real-time to encourage users to think more positively. Jennifer Bremner, Dove’s Director of Marketing explained, “Ideas and opinions about body image are now fluidly shared every second through social feeds, and sometimes we do not fully realize the resounding impact of the words in even one post…We can positively change the way future generations express themselves online.”
- Lose Hate, Not Weight
- Spearheaded by lecturer, activist and author Virgie Tovar, Lose Hate, Not Weight (LHNW) seeks to de-center self-hatred and the “I am never good enough” mindset in order to recenter people around ideas of self-care and self-love. In support of Tovar’s message, women have taken to Instagram, posting pictures of themselves in order to reflect the powerful message and take proud ownership over their bodies.
- Eating disorder survivor Erin Treloar started this hashtag as part of a petition to expose the fashion industry’s heavy reliance on Photoshop to create “perfect” images that are physically impossible. Treoloar also founded RAW Beauty Talks, an initiative to encourage girls to find confidence in their bodies.
- The What’s Underneath Project
- Started by Style Like U, this project consists of videos of subjects talking about themselves and their relationship with their bodies, as they slowly undress themselves. The goal is to redefine the ways in which we see other people’s bodies, going below the surface (both literally and symbolically).
I could continue my list of campaigns like these for pages and pages. The point is that these campaigns exist and they do actually work. With this in mind, perhaps a solution to the “social media problem” can actually be found within social media itself. If platforms like Instagram and Twitter have the power to completely change young women’s behavior and self-esteem, I think we should use these tools to reverse the same effects and empower women to feel comfortable in their own skin, no matter what color, size or shape it is.
Recently, many news stories have come out that substantiate this argument and prove that social media can be an effective means of eradicating negative body image for women. For example, this past summer Laura Berry, a consumer shopping in Topshop, a multinational retailer of clothing, shoes, makeup and accessories, took to Facebook after being outraged at the mannequins she saw in Topshop’s store. She wrote, “Every day I am surrounded by strong women and men who struggle with the daily battle of body image… Young women aspire to the somewhat cult image your store offers… Yet not one mannequin in your store showed anything bigger than a size 6.” After this one post was made, it wasn’t long before tons of people on the Internet supported Berry and created hashtags that sparked a Twitter revolution. Opinions on the issue began pouring in protesting the ridiculously thin looking and disproportional mannequins.
The activism did not stop there. The original Facebook post, which received over 470 shares and 830 comments forced Topshop to acknowledge that as a global fashion powerhouse they have a responsibility to their consumers and that the mannequins needed to be replaced. Topshop responded to the post saying, “We have taken yours and other customers’ opinions and feedback on board and going forward we are not placing any further orders on this style of mannequin.” This is a prime example of just how powerful social media campaigns can be. In this case, Berry’s one Facebook post did not just draw attention to the issue, but actually made a concrete change in a company that directly impacts women’s self-image.
Stitcher, an on-demand Internet radio service that focuses on news and information radio and podcasts, features an “Everyday Feminism” Podcast that has different episodes on different topics. I listened to Episode 37 entitled, “Evolving the Body-Positive Movement” which included Everyday Feminism editor and body image activist Melissa Fabello speaking to her guest Sandra Kim about the body-positive movement’s growth and the power of social media in facilitating change. One of the main points that Kim brings up relates specifically to how the accessibility and prevalence of social media plays a huge role in how effective it is. That is, because we are already checking and using social media constantly, it makes sense that these same platforms are the best place for people, especially adolescents, to educate themselves and empower others to do the same.
Before social media, outlets like magazines, television shows, movies, etc. were our only chance to see widespread action for body positivity. This did not work to our advantage, however, as most of the images we saw on our screen featured the thin, white Photoshopped models I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Therefore, it was really when social media began to gain popularity that we were able to talk back and have more meaningful conversations both on and offline about the types of bodies that we were placing so much value on. It became so much easier for women to rebel against or challenge beauty ideals. No longer did people have to feel alone when challenging certain beauty norms because there were entire communities online dedicated to the same causes they felt passionate about.
With all of this in mind and thinking back to the question I asked in the title of my post- “Have Social Media Campaigns Succeeded in Redefining Beauty?” I definitely would say that the answer is “yes”. Thanks to campaigns like the ones I described above, in addition to others inspired by celebrities, social media has created a world that allows for meaningful conversation. The important thing is that often it doesn’t just stay conversation. It has the ability to have a powerful influence and make impactful changes in both the way our society functions and behaves towards others.