A Conversation on Body Positivity

On a recent morning commute I tapped the frequented Instagram icon on my phone and began scrolling through the app’s “Explore” page. What I saw would shift the entire course of my day: A slim and stunning brunette completing a perfectly staged dancers pose in her plant-filled home yoga studio. A canadian travel blogger lounging poolside in a flattering red bikini, Turkish ruins splayed in the background. A sun kissed beauty writer showing off her favorite new shade of Glossier blush backstage at a fashion show. 

First, I ran to the bathroom when I arrived at work, concerned the humidity had created a halo of frizz around my head (it had). Next, I only ate half of my sandwich at lunch, aware that my favorite black jeans were getting tighter by the day. And finally, I worked twice as hard in my yoga class that evening, convinced it would burn off the mid-week happy hour calories. Whether I realized it or not, the thought of these “perfect” women were influencing my thoughts and actions the entire day. By the time I went to bed two things were clear: I was exhausted from criticizing and shaming myself, and I couldn’t keep using social media if this is the damage it would cause. 

In a culture where 80% of women don’t like the way they look, and over 80% of ten year olds are afraid of gaining weight, social media can be a dangerous tool. Studies have repeatedly linked body image issues among teens to prolonged exposure of social media platforms. They’ve proved eating disorders can be triggered and supported by Instagram and Facebook. But it’s not all bad— social media can be an incredible tool for networking, relationship building, and knowledge when used correctly. So how do we get past the superficiality of it? How do we use it, without hating ourselves in the process?

To start, we can follow inspired and inspiring people, people like Emily from the Thrifty Fatty blog, Minneapolis curve model Paige, and intuitive eating coach Allison. These Twin Cities Instagrammers are doing more than snapping and sharing photos, they’re empowering women of all sizes while challenging and redefining social media’s beauty standards.

Emily, Thrifty Fatty Fashion & Travel Blog 

Photo by  Mycah Burns .

Photo by Mycah Burns.

Plus size fashion and travel blogger Emily, aka Thrifty Fatty, is a driving force in the Twin Cities’ body positivity movement— but it was in Los Angeles that she developed her love for fashion. “When I lived out there I did styling for shoots and music videos and things like that and I just really loved it… I found a lot of joy in taking a production budget to a Goodwill and using a quarter of it to style everybody.” Emily missed this creative outlet and recognized that there weren’t many plus size stylists or bloggers involved in the industry, so she started Thrifty Fatty, an Instagram account documenting “outfit of the days” and styles she was wearing.

“I was terrified of anyone in my real life finding out about it... it was hidden for a really long time,” Emily tells me. “I think it was the stigma of being a blogger and being plus size and sharing your fashion and your body and your life with the world.” While strangers followed along with her fashion journey, friends and loved ones were oblivious to the content she was creating… until they weren’t. “All of a sudden I got a notification that one of my closest friends followed me, then it was kind of just full steam ahead, everybody found out after that. It was fine, it was totally fine. Obviously my friends are people who love me so I shouldn’t have been concerned about them judging me— but you know, I think we all worry more about the opinions of people we love.” 

When I talk with Emily on the phone, I ask her why it’s important for us to speak openly and truthfully about body positivity on social media. She tells me: “I think it’s something we all go through. You can’t find a person who hasn’t felt self conscious about things, you just can’t.” She continues with: “I say it all the time, whether I’m talking about body positivity or mental health or anything in between; I think it’s really important to be open and honest and have these conversations because the more we realize we have in common, the less our differences matter.”

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Emily’s mentality isn’t solely related to body positivity and mental health, it’s related to the world today. “One of the reasons the world is so divided right now is because we focus so much on what’s different about us and not the millions of things that make us similar,” she states. “You can’t love other people if you don’t A) love yourself or B) know anything about them. So we need to talk more about it so we stop feeling so isolated and like we’re one of one when really, that’s not the case.”

What’s one way we can break free from this isolation? Forget the competition. “I think there’s a level of competition, especially among women,” Emily mentions. She continues to tell me that nobody's perfect, even she has caught herself feeling envy around the small wins of women in her community (haven’t we all?)— but it’s necessary to check in with ourselves, to question where those feelings are coming from and the validity of them. “I think as long as we are each individually doing our part and staying self aware and making sure we are genuinely caring about other people, it’s kind of infectious... right now it’s trendy to be a woman who supports women, but if it’s not coming from a genuine place, if it’s just because that’s what you’re supposed to do or you know that if you share this beautiful caption about how you support people you’ll get a ton of engagement, that’s obvious. So I think trying to be genuine about it and focusing on what you’re doing to make a difference, because knowing that will affect other people, it just will.”

Paige, Minneapolis Curve Model

The Afternoon I sat down with Paige at a sunny North Loop cafe, Instagram had (ironically) been down for the majority of the day. “We are social media beings,” Paige tells me, “I’ve probably checked Instagram more times today just because I’m like: I’ve got a post that’s supposed to go out!” As social media has become the main source for news, connection, and collaboration for many millenials, Paige understands the influence and power it has. “When you have a network like that, when you have an audience like that, you have the ability to help shift perspective and shift opinion.”

What perspective and opinion is Paige trying to shift? The negativity surrounding plus size women, specifically women of color. “Women of color are already looked down upon, we’re not valued as much, not deemed worthy of protection, not viewed as being as intelligent. I want to empower women, but specifically [plus size] women of color… just live your best life, authentically and unapologetically.” Paige notes that the average size of the American woman is a 16, but with the power of social media and popular culture, most would assume it to be much smaller. “The norm is a size 16, the norm is people struggling with their weight regardless of size, the norm is people struggling with food and their relationship with food.” 

Photo by  Eames .

Photo by Eames.

I want to know how can we as women can embrace these "norms," how we can practice honesty on social platforms while discussing them, so I ask Paige. First, she tells me, it starts with embracing and accepting yourself, “when I found that happiness within myself [is] when I started seeing positive changes… just be happy with who you are and watch that radiate out into everything.” Next, recognize that it’s not a competition. “At the end of the day what you have is uniquely you and I should support that and encourage you to water that, to nurture it and make it grow and just be beautiful so you can stand in your sunlight.” 

As Paige is new to the Twin Cities, she’s excited to see where it takes her modeling career. “I really want to try to make something of this, whether I become an ‘influencer’ or whether someone says: let’s give her a contract. I’m just taking it as it comes.” Paige leaves me with a thought on the modeling industry that she is passionate about: “It’s okay to work with people who don’t look like you. It’s okay to work with people who are bigger, who may be blessed with more melanin, who have curly hair, who are taller, shorter, wider. It’s okay to work with people who are different from the norm.” As long as Paige is creating content I, and the women around me, will be inspired, motivated, and encouraged to challenge and protest this unspoken “norm.” 

Allison Mosso, Mosso Nutrition & Fitness

Photo by  Madeline Hunt .

When Allison Mosso developed Unspecified Eating Disorder, she was teaching group fitness, working as a personal trainer, and studying dietetics and nutrition as an undergrad. “On the outside you saw this health and wellness professional that was very bubbly, very perky,” Allison tells me, “but I was having such a hard time with my relationship with food, because I was having a really hard time with my relationship with myself.” Come graduate school two things changed, Allison sought help, and she discovered Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. “When I started reading the book I thought oh my god, this is my diary… for once in my life I didn’t feel alone. It felt like something finally clicked, and the whole premise of not having enough willpower to stick to a diet, or feeling like I was always failing these diets, was blown out the window.” 

Inspired by the methodology and concept of intuitive eating, Allison soon launched her small business, Mosso Nutrition and Fitness. Specializing in intuitive eating counseling and weight inclusive personal training, Allison is passionate about helping her clients love and accept themselves. “So many of our conversations are centered around what we don’t like about ourselves,” she says. “A lot of that has to do with the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food diet mentality… we get out of touch with ourselves and we end up backfiring on actually taking care of ourselves. We are so invested in these black and white food rules and this all or nothing mentality of what we think ‘health’ looks like.” She continues with: “I believe our culture has normalized orthorexia disorder eating.”

Photo by  Madeline Hunt.

Since I’m unfamiliar with the term, Allison breaks it down for me: Orthorexia is the obsession with clean eating. It’s having ridgid food rules and a rigid exercise program. Symptoms of the disorder can include high levels of stress around “unsafe” and “unhealthy” foods, or the obsessive checking of nutritional labels and ingredient lists. She tells me that the lifestyle is based on fear mongering and anxiety, not respect for our bodies, which the dieting industry so often claims.  

What Allison has learned about herself, and what she encourages her clients to explore, is rooted in respect. “When you learn how to respect yourself, that is when you will react better towards others… Say you’re working on your relationship with food— the more you do that the less you’re going to want to put yourself down or negatively comment about your body or what type of food you’re choosing to consume. And that will radiate [out to] the women you’re with.”

Unfortunately, body shaming conversations have become second nature, especially with the presence of social media and diet culture. Conversations about how tight our pants are or the extra pounds we want to shed are always on our mind, waiting to be released at the whisper of a relevant topic. But Allison knows these self deprecating conversations aren’t what will help us change. “By taking care of yourself and looking out for yourself, you’re going to bring more fulfilling conversations to the table, you’re going to lift other women up by being an example for them. Essentially, when you are comfortable with who you are, you’re going to give other women the space to be comfortable with who they are.” 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: OLIVIA WICKSTROM IS THE FOUNDER & EDITOR IN CHIEF OF NECTAR MEDIA. SKILLED IN TRAVEL & CULTURE JOURNALISM AND CREATIVE NON FICTION, SHE IS PASSIONATE ABOUT INSPIRING OTHERS TO EXPLORE AND QUESTION NEW IDEAS, SOCIAL CONSTRUCTS, AND THE WORLD AROUND THEM.

Nectar Media