Instagram Is Tackling Body Image In A New Way

Photo: Courtesy of Courtney Sofiah Yates.
For a long time, Jude Valentin thought social media was “toxic.” As a queer and Latinx teenager, Valentin (who uses the pronouns she/they) felt “othered.” They'd look at “before and after” transformation photos, and feel like they'd never achieve the same picture-perfect progress. They struggled with disordered eating. Things felt dark.
But in 2014, they had an idea. They wanted to create a community dedicated to “radical self-love,” acceptance, and empathy; a place where people could be themselves and abandon their pursuit of the “perfect” body. Valentin called it The Mermaid Kingdom
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“I think the idea of perfection is something that is sold to us by a society that wants us to hate ourselves, and I’m tired of hating myself,” Valentin, now 23 years old, tells Refinery29. "I want the Kingdom to be a place where we can reject our perfectionistic quests." A place where people can come as they are, which for Valentin means "being queer, loud, and the personification of glitter."
Now, Valentin is teaming up with Instagram and the U.S. National Eating Disorder Association as they work toward a similar mission. The app and the nonprofit organization are launching a campaign called #ComeAsYouAre, meant to encourage people to use the social media platform in a healthier way. One of its main goals is discouraging comparison, an unfortunate byproduct of many social media platforms. (Last year, Instagram and NEDA partnered for a similar #ComeAsYouAre campaign that tackled eating disorder recovery.)
There’s often pressure to present yourself without flaws online — through the use of Facetune and filters, or by only posting about the positive aspects of your life, explains Claire Mysko, the CEO of NEDA. But this can be detrimental to mental health, she says. "Social media doesn’t cause eating disorders, but it can amplify the behaviours that are present in those with disordered eating," Mysko says.
Instagram knows this. That’s why they’re trying to bring home the message that authenticity is key, and that all experiences — and all bodies — are welcome.
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“Our goal with #ComeAsYouAre isn’t necessarily to get rid of social comparison,” says Dayna Geldwert, the policy programs manager at Instagram. “Instead, we want to give people tools to help them better manage how they interact with content that could make them feel negatively about themselves or their bodies. And [we want to] elevate [those] who are displaying diverse body types and experiences to help show that all points of view are valid and important.” 
The National Eating Disorder Awareness Week campaign includes a promotional video featuring stories from three "creators" who are being held up as examples of people who interact with Instagram in a healthy way. There's Valentin, who posts uplifting photos and videos, and pushes back on the concept of presenting the “perfect” life or body. Two other creators — Shira Rosenbluth and Kelvin Davis — share equally inspiring messages. Rosenbluth, a social worker and fashion blogger, uses her platform to share the ups and downs of eating disorder recovery. Davis wants to normalize the idea that men have serious discussions about body image.
Instagram is also sharing a resource guide with tips, tools, and information about how to make their feeds feel more "supportive and empowering" on their platform, NEDA's website, and through their creators.
One suggestion the guide offers is to follow accounts that feature people of all shapes, sizes, races, and gender presentations. “We believe that visibility and exposure matter," Geldwert says. “The more diverse bodies you see, the more you may be able to appreciate how natural and beautiful all bodies are." The social media platform hopes strategies like this one will help people feel a sense of belonging and acceptance.
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Another tip: Follow hashtags that connect you to “life-affirming content and communities of support,” Geldwert says, such as #RecoveryWarrior, #BodyLove, and #FatAcceptance. One particular hashtag the campaign is emphasizing is #BodyLiberation.
Unlike the concept of "body positivity," terms such as “body liberation” and “body neutrality” don’t put the impetus on the individual to feel like they need to love their body at all times, making it a good choice for people who are actively struggling with disordered eating or are in recovery, Mysko says.
In the end, Valentin hopes that the campaign will encourage people to know that “weight loss is not a prerequisite for respect.” 
“You don't need to prove yourself worthy to exist,” Valentin says. “You’re allowed to exist, and be, and take up space… You are allowed to love and laugh and be."
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorder Information Centre hotline at 1-866-633-4220.

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