At the beach this summer, I saw two young teens snapping photos at the edge of the water. The pair giggled at first, trying to get just the right shot with the ocean in the background, catching the sun dancing off the waves. Both wore their hair up in top buns, and possessed strong athletic bodies. Skin tan and glistening, I admired their youth and beauty.
I put my nose back into my book when I heard, “Wait, we can’t use this one because my face looks too round.”
Then, “Ugh. You didn’t hold the camera high enough, so my stomach is sticking out. Let’s take another.”
And then, “OK, just one more, and we’ll edit it before posting.”
By the end of the photo shoot, I was exhausted for them.
Instagram is a powerful place for young people.
Posting a photograph can elicit a vast array of emotions for the viewer and subject.
It can empower a young girl by bravely demonstrating she has body confidence or continue to tear down one who feels left out. It is a place where you can highlight your best assets or get ridiculed for exposing your vulnerabilities.
Recently, I read an article in Self magazine entitled, “Mermaid Thighs Are the Newest Body-Positive Trend Taking Over Instagram.” On one hand, it makes me smile that so many women and young girls are working to counteract the dangers of the “thigh-gap” craze, where young women whose thighs did not touch highlighted what is unachievable for most.
According to Self: “The mermaid thigh movement is a direct response to the thigh gap trend that’s taken over Instagram in recent years. Basically, having a gap between your thighs was considered beautiful, which shamed a ton of women whose thighs naturally touch. The mermaid thigh movement recognizes that other group of women—those who don’t have a natural thigh gap—effectively giving every woman a body-positive trend to identify with. If your thighs touch, great. If your thighs don’t touch, great. Every set of thighs is beautiful, whether you have a thigh gap or not.”
I looked at the carefully posed photos of the gorgeous women who appeared in all colors, shapes and sizes, highlighting their beautiful bodies with captions of #mermaidthighs scripted underneath. It made me wonder: “Do my girls need to identify with a thigh trend to feel body confident? Can bodies even be a trend?”
Body confidence is not about identifying with a current shape du jour. It’s knowing you are more than your appearance and feeling comfortable in your skin. It comes from within.
Every time we—the media, retailers, consumers and Instagrammers—focus on a new body type as a “trend,” we tell millions of women that their body is “wrong.”
It doesn’t matter if is portrayed as “positive” (such as a large bottom) or as “attainable” (i.e., an eight-pack set of abs), If you constantly are immersed in photos believing your body should look a way that it never will, you have a hard time loving the way you look right now. You have a hard time loving yourself at all.
And while I want sources of inspiration for my daughters—and even for myself—we need to stop using the shape of our bodies as trends—as something to aspire to—whether we think we are doing it for encouragement or shame.
Because the truth is, body confidence never goes out of style, even though body types do.
We need less posed photos geared towards perfection and more candid pictures of satisfaction; less hashtags about #bodygoals and more about #beautifulhearts; and less ostracizing of the norm, and more celebrating of the unique.
Because every time we highlight our body as a trend, we are stealing away a piece of someone else’s heart.
Keep up the great work mermaids. Just choose your hashtags carefully.
This piece originally appeared on Playdates on Fridays. It has been reprinted with permission.