EDIT: You can now listen to this blog as a podcast, here.
This is my honest experience of sharing so much of my body online.
Around 2013 I started sharing pictures of my body on the internet in skin tight gym wear – usually posing in my bedroom mirror on a Saturday morning before heading off to the gym. After 3-4 years of this, I’d built an audience of 95,000 on my Instagram, a community of mainly men who would use my pictures to get off to (and then proceed to tell me all about it in my DM). My original intention wasn’t to post pictures to satisfy the male gaze – I genuinely wanted to inspire other women to get active and go after their physique goals (albeit with a bit of an ego attached). After all, competitive sport and fitness had been such a big part of my life from a very young age and I absolutely loved it.
Sharing these pictures caused tension in my relationship at the time. My boyfriend really didn’t like it and it would often cause arguments. We broke up in 2014 for other reasons but this definitely contributed to tension and arguments in its final months. I was single for just over two years before meeting Dylan (my current BF) in late 2016. During this time I’d seen a few guys, most of whom expressed how my Instagram activity would have to stop if anything got serious between us. Red flag or nah? At the time I didn’t think so. A whole other blog needs to happen about this tbf. Should our partners be OK with us sharing so much of our bodies on the internet? Is it a lot to ask of a man to be OK with this? It is surely victim blaming to tell a woman she cannot share her body online due to how other men, including her partner, may respond to it. This is a big topic which deserves a blog of it’s own, but I can already hear my inner feminist in my ear telling me how I should feel about this.
Anyway fast forward to 2017, and I came to realise that I was addicted to posting pictures of my body online. The reaction I got from posting made me feel amazing and it completely validated me. It made me feel like a successful, sexy woman who was envied by women and desired by men. Something I’d been made to feel was of great importance – probably because women are conditioned from birth to find our self worth in our appearance, and also that we’re in competition with one another… interestingly this culture is changing and women are supporting other women WAY more now than 10 years ago. I recently watched some music videos from the 00’s including Skater boy by Avril Lavigne and one was Paramore Misery Business and some P!nk songs, and all of them show women competing for men and generally being toxic AF to each other. If we compare that to what we see now for example in the Dua Lipa New Rules Music video and the interaction between women on social media – there’s been a shift in the culture and I think it’s a really positive thing.
Trying to stop posting pictures and videos of my body was very stressful and I would often take pictures and sit with them on my phone battling internally on whether to post them. I started to question what I was doing… Am I posting these pictures to make myself feel loved and worthy? Am I subconsciously competing with other female influencers? Is that healthy? Definitely not. Who is actually benefiting from seeing my body? A bunch of men who I don’t know are doing disgusting things to these pictures. What happens when I get older and my body doesn’t look like this anymore?… another 20-something will surely replace me. But how could I possibly sit here with this body and not let the world know that I have it? That last one is something I continue to work through.
I’d really been conditioned into believing that my body was my biggest asset. Not sharing it felt as though I was falling behind and simply not relevant or successful anymore.
I realised that posting pictures of my body online was unhealthy for my mental health, but I also discovered that it was bad for my physical health too. Years of twisting and contorting my body for photos literally shifted my hip alignment and a rib cage which I’ve been trying to correct with physio work, pilates and a chiropractor. All of which has cost me a lot of money and is something I will continue to work on for years to come. The process has been emotional, long and gruelling and coming to terms with the fact that I created these imbalances and misalignments myself was a really hard pill to swallow. My posing was extreme but I did it for at least an hour weekly for years which is enough to make changes and damages to your posture. The whole thing was exacerbated when I went out for drinks with friends because I was constantly trying to prove that I had the body IRL that I had in my photos, so I would hyper arch my back and pose for photos using my special twist and arch technique all through the evening and that contributed to it
Others may find posting themselves is liberating. They may not be seeking validation at all, and there are definitely women out there sharing their bodies to support great causes such as fat acceptance or to campaign against sexualisation of women’s bodies. I do, however, feel as though there are a lot of women posting their bodies online who are in denial about the real reasons for posting it. For example, we see this in the classic before and after picture where the old picture is of the girl who is slender and clearly under-eating, and the new ‘now’ picture is of a muscular body. The caption usually explains how they’ve overcome disordered eating and found a love for nourishing their body with protein and exercise rather than starving it… but to me, it’s obvious that they’ve just swung from one disorder into another. Instead of trying to be super skinny which was trendy in the 00’s, they’ve now switched to obsessing with exercise to obtain curves instead because that’s what’s trending now. So I think there’s a lot of disordered behaviour and orthorexic behaviour disguised behind a recovery
I found it really hard to be honest with myself with this and that’s why I see it so in others too. But not everybody is in that boat and it’d be unfair to see every before and after picture is disordered. But I suppose that’s OK if that person is happy with validating themselves doing that. It’s nobody’s business to tell others what to do with their body. But it becomes a problem when it’s not genuine and others become influenced by something which is disordered.
It’s taken me a while to realise that my worth is far beyond what I look like, and although I’ve come a long way, I don’t think I’ll ever be fully detached from it and conforming to beauty standards to a degree is going to be a part of my life, but that’s OK. I can’t imagine being a woman who works against beauty standards so hard that I stop wearing makeup, or flattering clothes, or just stop caring about my appearance completely. I don’t even think there are many women out there at all who do that.
What counts is that I am now in a place where I don’t feel the need to share my body with the world because I know I’m enough, and it certainly doesn’t control me like it used to. Through this experience I’ve also remembered what my other passions and skills are such as being creative and my acting. I think this is why my content is now so wacky… it’s like I’m letting the real me free into the world after years of suppressing her behind pictures of my bod.
My BF Dylan was the one who really helped me to see my worth beyond what I look like, and was the one who encouraged me to start showing more of my personality online again. He helped me to remember who I was before Instagram and that there is SO MUCH VALUE beyond a big bum and a small waist.
If you’re struggling with anything mentioned in this blog, or just fancy a discussion then my Insta DMs are always open <3