Reclaiming my body pt.1 : Instagram

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been grappling with a realization: no one cares what I post on Instagram. No one cares because I’m neither a renowned artist nor a talentless influencer hawking overly edited images of their “fascinating life.” And if no one cares about what I post, especially on a platform that feeds off of the constant absorption of the viewers precious time and attention, then why do I do it? 

At the beginning of the year, an old-but-still-kicking method of life improvement known as the Happiness Project helped transform my life. As recommended in the Happiness Project, I created a few personal commandments to live by and have been holding to them ever since. One such commandment (later added after it kept intercepting my progress) is to love myself more, by truly appreciating my body for what it is. And of course, the best way to begin is by weeding out the deeply anchored roots of the patriarchy. During one particularly eye opening and exciting bout of feminist literature and empowering discussions I asked myself why, after knowing how social constructs destroy my self confidence, do I still believe that my body was just not right? Why did I feel it was okay to perpetually critique my appearance, especially when others always saw me in a much better light? Loving one’s self, with all the cellulite, dark circles, stretch marks, lower belly fat, and every other thing society has consistently been telling me to hide, has proven to be a difficult feat. And that’s coming from me, a woman quick to bash the patriarchy and uplift my friends. So why can’t I uplift myself? I’ll save you the suspense and admit that I still don’t have an answer to that. In truth, it may take many years to find it, but at least the question has been asked and the process begun.

I’ve spoken with older women dear to me who share envious wisdom of learning to let go and care less about what the world tells them to be — a simple yet epic truth that took well past 50 years to discover. And as much as I praise this discovery, I can’t help but wonder… If these women are understanding this now, in old age, how did they spend their youth? How many diets, body shaming, razor burns, or degrading remarks did they endure to finally resign to the fact that all of those lies are impossible to live up to? It breaks my heart to think that they weren’t their true, untamed selves for so long, striving instead to be something that only a slim percentage of the population fits into. And although the world today is far more aware of body diversity and far less tolerant of body shaming, social media platforms like Instagram can be as mean and two-faced as the bitchiest popular kid in high school. Women are told around the clock to be slimmer, but still embrace your curves! They should have flawless skin, but don’t worry because acne is normal and everyone gets it! They should be hairless, but also be a feminist and decide whether and where hair is best for them. We’re fed the illusion that in a progressive society we should be completely free to choose how we want to look and feel, when in reality, those seemingly living their “best lives” are all just photocopies of each other, each looking a little skinnier and less wrinkled than the ones before. 

During this period of self reflection, it is impossible to not ask the difficult questions. Why don’t I love my body more? I’m so quick to celebrate self-love in others and cheer on confident women who own their truths. So, why don’t I love my body more? I know how society crushes each woman from the minute they are born. We spend our lives being told our emotions are overwhelming for the world, but at the same time get praise for our empathy and nurturing ways; being told how we are not competent enough to make decisions about our own bodies, but we must endure what others decide for us.

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My relationship with Instagram is… complicated. We fight a lot, and although in the past I have outwardly professed sincere love, I now feel betrayal. What I once believed to be a platform of inspiration has become venomous and backstabbing. It’s toxic to self-image and propagates the never ending destruction of bodies in the name of vogue and aesthetic. I’m lucky to have highly supportive parents who’ve always emphasized recognizing the strength and incredible capability of my body rather than focusing on the latest pink trend. But that still wasn’t enough. Outside of my protective bubble of loved ones, there is a brutal world that grows fat off of my self-deprecation and hate. And Instagram is part of that world. 

Apart from the mindless scrolling that in a week devours 5 hours of my time, the comparitis is severe and paralyzing. I regularly compare myself to over-filtered images with glowy skin and fat butts and then criticize myself for not being more like that. But who can compete with photoshop? To make matters worse, the more time I spend viewing a post, the higher the chances the algorithm will pick up on my behaviors and feed me more images in the same vein of “perfection.” Ceaseless binging is always followed by a purge. One night, soon after my realization hit, I began to question the basis of my toxic relationship with the app. What exactly do I get out of it? Apart from pictures of cute clothing items that beg to be purchased (don’t even get me started on Instagram’s consumerism), the only other thing of value I stood to lose were connections with my photography community. And even then, it wasn’t so innocent. The comparitis of not being a good enough photographer while others seemingly (again, because it’s all an illusion) dedicated their lives to taking back-to-back award-winning photographs was debilitating. Enough was enough. I had to exorcise the demons impeding my growth from my psyche. If comparitis was a poison, then this app was Snow White’s shiny red apple, pretty but toxic to its core.  

My relationship today with Instagram is still in flux. Spurred on by the belief that no one really cares what I post, I managed to remove the app from my phone and my life. Well, not entirely. I have promised myself to dedicate more time to my blog, an endeavor I find solace in but rarely make use of, and that way I can still share my art and writing. And Instagram? It is undeniably a useful tool for strictly promotional purposes. So, I won’t completely cut ties to the app just yet. However, I now have uncompromising usage limits. If I want to use it, I have to re-download it, and if I do, only to share a picture. I’ll spend no more than ten minutes and then immediately remove it from my phone. It’s tedious but useful. And having applied this new routine, I’ve found myself to be more present in my day-to-day activities and less crappy to myself. As for improving my self-esteem, I practice positive affirmations and continue to nourish my mind and soul with the writings and tellings of powerful women who have broken the chains. I tell myself, “your body is strong, your body is healthy, and that is true beauty.” 

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