When it comes to confidence and body image, Instagram can be a real minefield. Sure, there are lots of body-positive, sex-positive, weight-neutral, diversity-celebrating accounts to follow. But there are plenty of others that showcase less inclusive ideas of beauty, sexuality, race, gender, ability level, and more. Not to mention, it’s easy to fall into the comparison trap when you’re looking through the feeds of people you actually know (and like!) IRL.
The good news is, there are steps you can take to make your own Instagram feed a more body-positive place. To be clear, body positivity is about accepting all bodies as good and worthy, not just your own; as such, a body-positive feed is one that’s filled with all kinds of different bodies, not just bodies that look like yours. It’s a complicated topic, and you shouldn’t expect that making a few changes to your social media habits will undo every not-so-body-positive thought you have overnight. But, we asked two experts to share how you can use Instagram as a tool to become more accepting of your own body and others’.
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Keep social media in perspective
“It’s a challenge, and a balancing act, to utilize social media while also maintaining a healthy and positive body image,” says Christine Yoshida, an eating disorder and body image counselor in Vancouver, Washington. “Remember that people are rarely, if ever, putting their ‘real-life’ on display for you.” Most people only post their best photos, and there are probably dozens of outtakes you’re not seeing — keep this in mind when you see a photo of someone else that makes you insecure about your own body.
Find accounts that show bodies like your own
We mentioned above that body positivity isn’t just about accepting your own body. That said, it can be helpful to follow some accounts that showcase bodies similar to your own. “Follow folks who don’t make you feel inadequate,” says Amee Severson, a registered dietitian in Bellingham, Washington whose work focuses on body positivity, fat acceptance, and intuitive eating through a social justice lens. If your body is outside of society’s very narrow “ideal,” regularly looking at other bodies similar to yours can help you realize that your own body is normal, natural, and worth sharing.
Then, follow accounts showing real bodies that look different from yours
The fact is, the majority of mainstream influencers and celebrities are young, white, thin, and cisgender. If this is the only kind of person you see when you open Instagram, that’s a problem. “When your brain absorbs the same images over and over again, you start thinking that what you are seeing repeatedly is normal, and other shapes, sizes, and body types are somehow abnormal, bad, or unworthy,” Yoshida says. “Expose yourself to diverse people who look different from the popular cookie-cutter images you normally see (different shapes, sizes, colors, etc.),” Yoshida says. “Real people in the real world come in all shapes and sizes. Your social media should reflect that.”
Don’t be afraid to follow accounts that challenge you in a good way
It’s important to acknowledge that all of us have internalized (to varying degrees) society’s messages about how bodies should look and people should behave. A great way to challenge these messages and change your beliefs is to inundate yourself with images of people and lifestyles that might make you a little bit uncomfortable. “Follow people that challenge your idea of beauty or success or your beliefs,” Severson says. “Not people who trigger you or make you feel unworthy, but people who may point out things you don’t always notice, including folks in larger bodies, of different skin colors, of different religions, sex-positive folks, and LGBTQ+ folks. The more we see these differences, the more we start to see them as beautiful and normal.”
Unfollow anyone who triggers you in any way
“Unfollow folks that are triggering disordered thoughts for you,” Severson says, even if it’s a person or account who is part of the body-positive movement. What’s helpful to one person might actually be harmful to you, depending on your identity, insecurities, and past struggles. “It’s your life, and you are the one affected by the messages you see. I will also say that if you feel triggered or uncomfortable about them, someone else does too. But you don’t have to be the one to stand up and say it to them. You don’t have to call them out.” If the person triggering you is a friend or someone you know who might be upset by you unfollowing them, you can opt to mute them instead.
Take responsibility for your own social media presence, too
Your Instagram account is yours, and it’s up to you what you choose to share or not. That said, it’s also important to remember that you’re sharing these things publicly. “I challenge you to ask yourself why you are posting [whatever you’re posting]. Who could be hurt by what you are sharing and who could be helped? Is this message in line with your beliefs? Is it a way that you want to challenge your followers and friends? Are you confident in these beliefs? If you are in a privileged body (thin, cis, white, straight appearing), how can you center more marginalized folks? How can you help those folks feel welcome on your page as well?” All of this can seem overwhelming and might be less relevant if you’re only posting for an audience of your close friends. But still, it’s worth considering that filtering perceived “flaws” out of your photos, posting about weight loss, or only hyping your successes, might be triggering to someone else.
Remember that you can step away if you need to
“If social media is causing you too much stress, insecurity, pain, anxiety, take a break (I do this often),” Yoshida says. “ It will still be there if and when you feel that you’re in a better mental space. For some people, it is not a good fit during their journey [to body positivity].” And, it’s worth noting that it’s OK to step away from it forever if that feels like the healthiest option for you.