I remember making my first Instagram account the summer after sixth grade. Thankfully, none of those posts are still around, but I can still vividly remember what my feed was like, even back then. In the early 2010’s, Instagram was full of people like Savannah Montano and Jay Alvarez: thin, tan, and somehow always on the beach but never in school. In the following years, social media began to expand and influencer culture spread like wildfire with everyone looking pretty much the same, but always not quite like me. Then, with the early years of high school came the body-positivity and self-love trends, advocating for us to love how we look all the time. I loved the idea at the time, but I couldn’t quite identify with the girls on my Instagram feed who seemed to be at peace with how they looked. I knew that someday I would participate, just once I actually liked how I looked, which really meant once I changed how I looked.
I think that, as a cohort of college-aged women, it’s not until recently that we are beginning to realize how much growing up on social media has affected the way we think and behave, particularly when it comes to our bodies. In this digital age everything is so visual, and while I don’t speak for everyone, I think this has become a major metric for our self-evaluation. Moving back home when everything was moved online spring semester, my first concern was: What will I do without my weekly spin class in Duncan? How will I get my steps in without walking to class everyday? How can I be in any pictures this summer if I sit at my desk all spring? While exercise is vital for your mental and physical health, for me, they had morphed into another way to evaluate my self-worth through the lens of my appearance. The media compounded this too, with the flurry of segments on “The Quarantine 15” that attempted to scare us into shape amidst a collective traumatic experience.
In some ways, this shock to my routine forced me to change how I evaluate myself. It was simply impossible for me to maintain complete control over my body while stuck inside my childhood home for weeks on end. It was in these past months, during my routine of work, online class, and hours spent on self-help YouTube, that I was introduced to the concept of Body Neutrality. Simply put, Body Neutrality means that I accept the body I am in and focus on its achievements, rather than its appearance. This was, and still is, revolutionary to me, and honestly, really hard to do. It requires a lot of mental reprogramming. Particularly after years of trying to identify with the Body Positivity movement but constantly being deterred by the fact that I don’t always love how I look. A particular video I would highly recommend is “My body is not my worth” by Amy Lee. She really lays out the idea of body neutrality in a way that helped me shift my perspective. (I’d also recommend any of her videos if you’re a big self-actualization junkie like myself because she is excellent.)
This may seem like I did a total 180 from comparing myself to everyone on my Instagram feed to radical self-acceptance. I’m still doing a lot of internal re-wiring, and a lot of days when I take a step forward, I open up my social media and take two steps back. Right now, for me, a Junior college student living in an extremely stressful environment, amidst personal chaos and a global pandemic, body neutrality is being grateful that my sore butt is able to sit through my back-to-back classes in my dorm room all day. It means being thankful that my lungs are healthy, and my immune system is working to keep me safe. It means going on a run for my own sanity rather than to burn a certain amount of calories for the day. It means that my appearance isn’t everything; in fact, it’s hardly anything.
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