Proud2Bme | What Makes a Social Media Movement Body-Positive?

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What Makes a Social Media Movement Body-Positive?

By Kimberly Neil--When companies are critiqued for a lack of diversity in their advertisements, or when individuals participate in body shaming, the Internet is almost always the metaphorical spark that starts the fire of outrage. It is so easy for things to go viral these days, which means that everyone with a strong opinion has a platform to share how they feel.

The positive side to this is the solidarity that accompanies all of our shared experiences and allows people from all over to connect based on their beliefs alone. Many successful, body-positive campaigns happen as a direct response to something that doesn’t feel quite right in the media.

When O, The Oprah Magazine gave fashion advice implying that only people with flat stomachs should wear crop tops, social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr all became spaces where people fired back – and that’s how #RockTheCrop was born. (According to ABC News, O has since apologized for featuring that sort of body shaming content.)

So what makes a hashtag encouraging and positive? Why do others, such as the #DontJudgeChallenge, receive so much criticism? Since body shaming is such a consistent issue online, it is so wonderful to see cohesive support that directly combats this negativity. If a hashtag is used to bring attention to a marginalized group of people, then it is empowering and positive.

If a hashtag is used as a way to belittle a marginalized group, or to “humble brag” – then it becomes an issue. For example, the #DontJudgeChallenge turned into a collection of people doing things to alter their appearance in a joking and negative manner, and that is where the issue arises.

A rule of thumb that I try to apply to my life is not to comment on someone’s appearance if it isn’t something that person can change in five minutes or less. For example, pointing out smudged eyeliner or a piece of spinach stuck in someone’s teeth is almost always harmless. However, commenting on someone’s weight, facial features, or even their style is often problematic.

So naturally, when a hashtag mocks aspects of an individual’s appearance that are shamed, it probably isn’t the best choice to participate in it. Another way to look at it is to ask yourself if someone created a body positive campaign about something you’re insecure about, would you feel supported when you discovered it, or offended?

Similarly, if a body positive trend is exclusionary (imagine #RockTheCrop if it didn’t challenge beauty standards by including all sizes and rebelling against the misguided advice in O) – it wouldn’t truly be body positive. So, drawing a unibrow with a Sharpie or minimizing body shaming with something like #Thighbrows is unproductive in a similar vein.

At the end of the day, social media can work in harmony with the media that is out of our control. It can also give individual users the autonomy to counteract body shaming content. By making mindful decisions, it’s possible to only contribute to positivity and avoid turning the struggles of others into a joke. 

About the blogger: Kimberly is a junior at Mount Holyoke College, a historically woman's liberal arts college in South Hadley, MA. She is an anthropology major. Her interests include dancing, choreographing, writing, spoken word poetry, Tumblr, binge watching shows on Netflix, and taking too many pictures with friends. She plans to pursue a master's degree (hopefully overseas!) followed by a PhD, and eventually research mental illness -- specifically eating disorders. She also hopes to one day work to change laws around mental health in the United States by promoting intersectional feminism and the idea that women around the world should have autonomy over their bodies.

For more on body positivity, check out:

Taking Care of Yourself While Caring for Others

Tips for Fostering Body Positivity in Our Communities

Tinder Body-Shamers: Just Don't

Image via Sarah Conley 

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