You'd think that, between the filters and the #fitnessgoals and the celebrity-grams, Instagram would make an unfriendly place to talk body acceptance.
But as participants in the #RocktheCropTop trend found just last week, the opposite is actually true: Instagram has actually long played host to an enthusiastic movement for body positivity.
#RocktheCropTop began when writer and Instagrammer Tamar Anitai spotted what she thought was an offensive quote in Oprah Magazine. The advice from the magazine's fashion director - that crop tops should be worn by ladies with "flat stomachs," only - inspired her to 'gram it to her friend, Sarah Conley.
Surprised to see this level of #bodyshaming (????) in Oprah magazine. The feature is about women feeling healthy. Part of health is self-esteem and that's intrinsically connected to body image. Stop telling women what they CAN'T wear. We can wear and do and be ANYTHING that makes us feel strong, powerful, passionate and in charge of our own destinies. I hope young women and women of any age don't feel like they're restricted by editorially imposed fashion "rules." The only rules are there are no rules. Wear what you love, what makes you feel confident, and own it. Confidence is power, and it's contagious. ??????????????????????
Conley, a plus-sized fashion blogger, reposted the image with the hashtag #effyourbeautystandards; from there, the image spread throughout the style-blogging community, drawing national media attention and thousands of regrams, selfies and PicStitches with the infamous Oprah piece.
But that hashtag wasn't merely a one-time message to Oprah Magazine: It's also the key to Instagram's body-positive community. The hashtag, which was started by plus-size model and social media pioneer Tess Holliday, has been used on more than 890,000 posts. Clicking into it opens up a world of body-positive photos - photos shared and tagged by women of all sizes, wearing all kinds of fashions, Oprah Magazine advice be damned.
"People forget that social media is just what you want people to see, and it's very easy to be someone you're not," Holliday said. "I think the reason #effyourbeautystandards did so well on Instagram was because wanted something that was authentic. It always been real women, with bodies of all shapes and sizes genders and race sharing their stories. It is relatable and helps others feel like they aren't alone."
Instagram is, happily, full of those kinds of reminders these days. Another popular body positive tag, #honormycurves, was started by Holliday's friend Honorine; while #honormycurves celebrates health, #effyourbeautystandards celebrates fashion.
There's also #bodyconfidence (52,691 posts), #bodypositivity (104,596 posts), #bodylove (127, 128 posts) and even the more ridiculous #pizzasisterforlyfe (with 130,646 posts, it celebrates everyone's essential right to eat pizza guilt-free). By comparison, there are fewer than 10,000 photos on the body-negative tag #thinspiration - and if you search for it, Instagram steps in to ask if everything is okay.
All of this serves to make Instagram a pretty powerful counterweight to mainstream media messaging on beauty, fitness, and women's bodies. It's no secret, of course, that women are constantly bombarded with unrealistic, and frequently unhealthy, messages about how they should look and how much they should weigh. Bloggers like Holliday and Conley provide a sort of counter-programming: "you do not have to have a #thighgap to love your body."
This movement isn't without its critics, of course. Elsewhere on the internet, the so-called "fat acceptance movement" is often critiqued for condoning obesity or unhealthy habits. But advocates say that the mainstream health and beauty standards for women are so impossibly high that any kind of counter-current does good: particularly on social media, where weight and diet obsessions can, in the words of the National Eating Disorder Association, "take on a new life."
"These trends in body honesty display the body in a natural way and highlight how functional the body can be," behavioral psychologist Ivanka Prichard told Women's Health recently. "The female body is amazing and should be valued for so much more than just its appearance. Aiming to promote positive body image through these trends could help women around the world appreciate their bodies more."
Unfortunately, Holliday says, the more high-profile body-positivity becomes, the more vulnerable the community is to trolling. When fitness blogger Cassy Ho Instagrammed a Photoshopped "perfect" version of her body in April, she noticed even more abuse in the comments. "Still too fat," one user commented.
"There was a weird phenomenon that happened when I posted this Photoshopped picture," she wrote in a later Instagram post. "On the very same photo, I got some people praising me and others degrading me. What worries me is this: 1. That some people think this is real and that it should be 'goals.' 2. That some people still think it's not good enough."
"Instagram used to be a safe space but it isn't anymore," Holliday explained to The Washington Post. "Nowhere is. Every site has trolling, that's just how it is now."
And yet: There's strength in numbers. Members of the body-positive set follow each other's Instagrams' closely; they're equally quick with compliments for the poster and hate for her trolls.
"We just have to be vigilant with reporting the hate comments and troll accounts and living our lives," Holliday said. "That's what (annoys them) the most, that we are happy regardless of their nonsense."
Five body-positive Instagram accounts you should know about:
@ladyfigure: Plus-sized fashion blogger Thamarr Guerrier 'grams her adorable - often neon! - outfits in between party pics from her hometown of Jacksonville. Cosmo named her one of the "body-confidence queens you need to follow."
Enjoying a @modcloth summer and living my #FashionTruth on the daily. This means wearing all the horizontal stripes I can get my hands on! What's your #FashionTruth? Snap a pic using the hashtag #FashionTruth for a chance to win a $100 gift card from @modcloth. There's a winner every month!!! #MusingsofaCurvyLady #fashionblogger #modsummer #ModCloth #theeverydaygirl #thatsdarling #servingchocolate #StyleHunter #yougotitright #realoutfitgram #PlusSizeFashion
@honorcurves: The Alberta, Canada-based Honorine describes herself as a "6'1? self love advocate;" her Instagram is equal parts fashion selfies and body-positive memes.
@bodyposipanda: Expect adorable selfies and real talk from this self-described "BODY POSITIVE FEMINIST ED WARRIOR," who has chronicled her recovery from anorexia on Instagram.
Dear @oprahmagazine, Somewhere in the world there is a young girl. She is full of light, full of potential, she is not yet torn down by the world. She likes to read her mother's magazines and imagine how glamorous womanhood will be. Flicking through the pages she regularly finds adverts for diet pills and cosmetic surgery, and with each flick it trickles into her consciousness that women should only look one way. That women only exist so that they can look that one way. That women only exist so that they can be looked at by others. She breaks. She shrinks. She diminishes herself until she fits into those magazine pages, or dies trying. Years later, years of pain and torture and struggle later, she finds her freedom. She realises that she can wear what she wants, live how she wants, be who she wants. That she doesn't exist to emulate the impossible beauty standards that poisoned her mind so long ago. @oprahmagazine, you are selling poison. And we expect more from you. Yours, A grown woman no longer taking this shit. ??
@themilitantbaker: The Instagram account of Jess Baker, the best-selling author of Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls and the organiser of The Body Love Conference. (There is not, alas, very much baking.)
@virgietovar: Tovar, an authority on fat discrimination and body image, 'grams regular updates from her life and her travels on the lecture circuit.