Like most people with body confidence issues, I seek affirmation from internet strangers in a way that is akin to an addiction. And there’s no better place to do this than Instagram, a platform where other people offer their thoughts and opinions freely – especially if your latest post is somewhat ‘risque.’
The remarks can swing from sugary praise and endearment, to lustful comments from guys hunting for a nude, to the less favourable, slut shamming variety. But all I’m looking for is a common theme, a little reassurance: How do I look with my top off?
Here’s how I start:
Firstly, I disguise my body issues in a series of seemingly self-confident topless pictures. Then, after a round of selfie-survival, a game more brutal than The Hunger Games, I upload the winner for the world to both see, and comment on. Eventually I get the feedback I want, and for a while I feel better about myself – but it’s a short-lived sensation.
While ‘You’re a skinny legend!’ is welcomed with open arms, I know that it’s only a matter of time before the fat voice starts walking toward my brain mic ready to shut this confidence boost down. I wish I could ignore the litany of images of guys on Instagram with minimum belly fat and maximum abs; but the moment I see someone else’s flaming hot topless portfolio, my faith in my recent selfie starts to dwindle.
And as great as Instagram is, it also sets an unrealistic expectation of beauty – which can make it almost impossible to not compare yourself to others. Even on confident days Instagram has left me feeling like a Gremlin, but my weakness is muscle fit t-shirts, not water. It’s then I realise that at any given point I’m only a scroll away from bring reminded that there’s someone with a better body, nicer clothes and that I need to compete with (that’s how it makes me feel anyway.)
There’s this crazy double cultural standard where we’re all supposed to love ourselves, to feel good in the skin we’re in, but also aspire to be like the demi-gods of Instagram. We’re meant to cherish everything from our split ends, to that extra fat we’re carrying around – but after bearing witness to another guy with Shawn Mendes’s face and Jesus’ abs, trying to feel good about myself is a lot like doing the Thriller choreography on a galloping horse.
But this issue isn’t anything new for me, in fact it’s one I’ve wrestled with for most of my life.
There’s so many cultural conversations about body standards that sometimes it seems impossible to trace the root of the issue. Other times you’re able to find exactly where this hang-up began. It could be a specific person, let’s say an ex or a bully; it could have even formed when you lived in a certain location. My body issues wobbled into my life at young age, but it wasn’t until I was at the cusp of twenty that I started to form an OCD-like infatuation with my weight.
Like any sensible person with a disease that sounds made-up I considered (and tried) lots of different treatments. I’ve taken medication to help cancel out the thoughts; I’ve even attended psychotherapy, indulged in a banquet of different weight loss tips and spent hours glued to YouTube fitness tutorials. I’ve tried hammering out two gym sessions a day whilst living on a diet of soup, salads and shadows. And once I even considered finding a fucking witch.
But it wasn’t until this last year that I truly got a handle on it.
By educating myself on how my body works I’ve managed to rewire my brain and thus taught myself to like myself – or at least how to hate myself less. I learned about muscle weight, how to burn fat, how I can be a stone heavier than I was a year ago but still be trimmer, slimmer, than I was then.
I also learned that everyone has flaws; aspects of themselves they wish they could change (my hair line is so weird; my pores are so huge etc.) So, I decided in order to love myself more I need own these flaws and accept there are things I cannot change – as much as I want to.
Sure, I can be hyper-critical of my squint that I’ve undergone surgery on; I can shamefully hide my teeth which feel off-white compared to everyone else’s; I can get worked up that my whatever is too whatever – but what’s the point? If you hate your looks and your body, then it’s just going to get worse and worse. You’re flawed, address it then own it.
Self-criticism can often feel like a failure; like we’ve betrayed the person we are meant to be, but it’s okay to feel your own flaws sometimes. And perhaps my biggest flaw is seeking validation from others, or even comparing myself to them? I now realise these issues don’t stem from other people’s posts, or Instagram itself. They come from my own dented self-esteem.
I guess the only way to truly learn to love myself is to do what I can to feel good about myself. And to realise that this urge to compare myself to everyone else, that I need to live up to this unrealistic expectation of beauty, is a severely toxic notion.