Before I started writing about health and wellness news for MBG, I was inspired by body-positive advertisements. I watched videos of women in their underwear, vulnerable, sharing their insecurities with the world, and felt my eyes start to well up.
Having grown up surrounded by images of unrealistic beauty in the media, it was so refreshing to at last see “models” I could relate to, who didn’t seem like they were challenging me to be as good-looking as they were.
I loved, and still love, the body-positive movement. But now, since I’ve seen (and written about) so many brands try to replicate this formula, using people’s emotions to make their videos go “viral,” I’ve become more cynical about it. To me, each company’s hashtag has just become another tagline designed to sell a product.
I’m afraid that, over time, my jaded view will become widely accepted. If that happens, an important message could be lost as brands inevitably move on to ride the wave of the next social movement. So how do we take control of the conversation and prevent the body-positive trend from becoming just that — a trend?
Well, when I see real people trying to inspire others, with no motive other than solidarity, that’s when I feel like we’re making real social change. Here are five people who are fighting the good fight to make sure body positivity survives:
Lithuanian photographer Neringa Rekasiute used her photography skills to capture the reactions of 12 women looking at themselves in the mirror wearing only their underwear. The exhibition was called We.Women. Each woman had faced a traumatic body-related issue at some point. The goal of this project was to tell their story, both visually and orthographically, so that they could learn (and inspire others) to accept and love their bodies as they are, especially with — and not despite — all the inner and outer scars.
Ashlee Wells Jackson & Laura Weetzie Wilson
The 4th Trimester Bodies Project, a documentary photo project co-created by Ashlee Wells Jackson and Laura Weetzie Wilson, is specifically dedicated to embracing the changes in women’s bodies after they give birth. By photographing mothers in their underwear, feeling comfortable in their own skin, Jackson and Wilson hope to disrupt the idea that mothers need to get their bodies back to they way they were before giving birth. If “Dad bods” are a thing, then “Mom bods” had better be, too.
Most of the yogis with large followings on Instagram are, let’s face it, skinny white women. Jessamyn Stanley is bringing a different attitude to the table. As a self-described “yoga enthusiast” and “fat femme,” she believes everyone — no matter your body type, age, gender, or sexuality — should be able to use yoga as “a way to move past mental and emotional barriers.” She documents her yoga journey on Instagram (she’s now a certified instructor), where she has more than 82K followers. Clearly, people are paying attention.
Two anonymous mothers created an Instagram called @LoveYourLines, devoted solely to celebrating women’s stretch marks. They ask women to submit their photos of their stretch marks — on thighs, stomachs, butts, breasts, arms, anywhere — so that they can share them with their pretty large following (128K followers!). Stretch marks, often caused by rapid growth, weight changes and giving birth, signify that your body endured a dramatic transformation. This account celebrates them as beautiful battle scars. They’re building a supportive community (full of positive comments) with their hashtag #LoveYourLines.
Photographer Kate Parker doesn't want her daughters to be what society expects them to be. She wants them to be themselves — loud, messy, awkward, artistic, athletic — whatever that may be. If they don’t want to wear dresses, they don’t have to. Her photo project, called “Strong is the New Pretty,” aims to show people that little girls don’t have to be adorable. They can be fierce. They can be whatever they want to be, and that should be enough.
These are the people I’m most inspired by.
Sure, it's not necessarily a bad thing that brands helped get the body-positive message out there. We’re lucky to live in a time where the body-positive movement is even a thing. Now, hopefully with strong leaders like these, we can make it a permanent condition, rather than just a movement.
Cover Photo: Ashlee Wells Jackson