I am in no way a body image expert. I don’t know everything about diet culture, self-perception, or the route to self-acceptance. I also don’t claim that body image is a major struggle for me, but self-love is undoubtedly a work in progress and something that will feature intermittently throughout my life. As much as I’ve come to terms with this and as much as I appreciate the attention the body positive movement has garnered on social media, the commonality of this experience saddens me.
While social media can be a useful platform for this topic, recently my own Insta “explore” introduced me to a less positive version of it. I’m referring to one account specifically (not officially affiliated with the body positivity trend, I might add) called “beauty.false”, which endeavours to show the “reality” of beauty as represented by various celebs, models and influencers. This generally takes the form of two images of a person, side by side, one “false” (i.e a picture they themselves have taken) and one “reality” (i.e a candid image, usually taken by a third party, unposed and unfiltered).
On the face of it, this seems like a fair concept: showing the underbelly of social media aestheticism and proving that even Kim Kardashian doesn’t look like a goddess every minute of every day. For a lot of people, myself included, stripping back the layers of makeup, lighting, angles and editing which construct our Insta feeds and revealing the (almost invariably) women behind it to be “normal” was reassuring. “Phew, she’s actually not that hot in real life” was the recurring thought as I scrolled through the account’s content.
After the initial thrill of this had worn off, though, I reflected on why the account had such appeal; and the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I was actively disturbed by it. The original concept behind the account is somewhat respectable. Exposing the unrealistic expectations surrounding beauty? I could probably get on board with that. However, I feel that this “grand reveal” needs to come from the individual themselves. It needs to come from those who practice it, to prove that “reality” is often not as aesthetic as we have been convinced it should be. “Normal” needs to be redefined, truthfully, by those who are the most visible and influential (again, hello Kardashians).
Ultimately, “outing” celebs, models and influencers on social media as “not that pretty, in reality” or “having cellulite, in reality” doesn’t do anyone any favours. Rather than removing the unattainable goal, it merely soothes our ego and assures that it’s okay, she hasn’t reached that goal either – rather than assuring us that the goal does not, cannot and should not exist.
With the kind of mentality that these accounts encourage, we are still lured into the trap of comparison, which is the root of the problem. We are still comparing ourselves, only now to a “real” picture, which we have been led to believe is the true, attainable standard of aestheticism. Then, when we “fall short” of this, without the buffer of Photoshop and posing to blame, it can feel even worse.
The account also frequently “exposes” women for having cosmetic surgeries or adjustments. This is also not helpful and only serves to pit women against each other as “natural beauties” vs “fakes”, whilst maintaining an ideal of beauty – only, now with the condition that it is only “valid” if she didn’t spend money to look that way.
In short, we need to kill the compulsion for comparison, not attack, humiliate and “expose” other women on the internet. Doing this doesn’t weed out the root of the problem; in fact, it perpetuates it and forces it underground, resulting in internalised misogyny and comments like “Yeah, she’s pretty, but she’s had fillers.”
“Beauty” is a construct which shifts throughout cultures and eras. It is not something which can be labelled “real” or “false” and it is not a valid point of comparison between ourselves and others. Once we can agree to respect everyone (regardless of whether or not they conform to current beauty standards) there will be no need for clever angles and good lighting, and certainly no need for reality-exposing accounts like this. Photoshop and the like is not the disease; it’s just a symptom of the superficiality we have nurtured, and accounts such as this are not curing anything.