Welcome back to another instalment of my Girls Support Girls series – a series of posts in which I hope to continue for as long as I have this little internet space to call my own. I have to say, out of everything that I write on here, this series is proving to be the most challenging. Writing about myself is always easier as I have nobody else to let down, but telling other peoples stories can often be down right daunting. Whenever something gives me that feeling, I know it’s usually important that I do it anyway, to not only challenge myself, but to utilise the internet in the most productive way possible. To connect with others, to help share their stories, and to offer comfort and inspiration to other women…
I recently put out a message on Instagram stories asking any women with an inspiring story to get in touch – I was instantly struck with how many of these stories circulated around body image and body confidence. Everything from eating disorders to the negative effects of social media. The first thing I found myself doing when I’d finished reading these messages was to click on the profile behind it. I’d be scrolling down past numerous selfies, happy faces, empowering beach snaps, and thinking to myself but you look perfect, you look happy. Then my chest sank a little bit and I remembered all the times I’d felt like that, but simultaneously posted a picture on social media that contradicted it. Social media can be dangerous in this way, we feed off energy that’s attracted by an image, an image that contradicts how we feel in that moment, in hope that this will make us feel better about that particular insecurity. All of us that are present on social media are likely to find ourselves doing it at some point, so I thought it might be interesting curate some of the women’s stories that were brave enough to message, and post them here not only for inspiration, but also to spark important discussion. I’ve picked a few different girls – some I’ve engaged with one or twice on social media, some were total strangers before this, but all of them have a different angle on this concept. I asked each of them to send me a selfie and a story/view point, or little anecdote to go alongside it. All have been entirely composed by the individual and untouched by me completely…
Karen Flynn, Age 26, Graphic Design & Illustration student – Instagram @karenlouiseflynn
So, I’m not genetically blessed when it comes to my figure – endometriosis and PCOS mean I have surgical scars and I’m often bloated, life as an illustrator means I have awful posture from constantly hunching over my desk – but hey, I like to show my body off anyway. Growing up I was called ugly over and over, and the bullies made me believe it so I felt like my only option was to hide myself away. These days on social media some people take issue with the pride I show in body, even when I’m sharing a post about body positivity. We as women are used to being shamed. Confidence is often mistaken as arrogance, even attention seeking, but why not love your body? It’s the most rebellious stand you can take against a world that is constantly telling us we are too much or not enough. Most people are kind to me on social media and after years of silently hating on myself, I’m finally on the path to self acceptance. It’s important to form a friendship between your body and mind and to open yourself up because for every mean comment there will be ten kind, supportive, relatable ones. My confidence still ebbs and flows, but self acceptance is a life long process. It’s an investment in yourself. It’s exhausting but something that you simply can’t escape.
It’s hard not to feel insecure on social media sometimes, it feels like everyone on your feed is a model, but I try to remember that those insecurities are simply playing to someone else’s idea of what I should be. This idea is a hard one to shake. Women are constantly compared to each other, sexualised, broken apart physically, intellectually, emotionally – it’s SO draining sometimes. I just try my best to not let it consume me. How other women look is not really any concern of mine, and even though I love to celebrate my body now: my own looks don’t have a massive bearing on how I live my life. That’s what matters most I think. Our looks don’t define who we are, and we aren’t gonna care about this in the end, so why do we let it take up so much of time right now? I think it’s important to do what you have to do to feel beautiful, and from time to time, try to let go of the pressure to look perfect. Nobody looks the same as a photograph but that doesn’t mean they look any less beautiful or are any less amazing inside. In courage lies true confidence!
Kate Ellis, Age 27, Freelance Tour & Events Manager, Norwich – Instagram @kateellis90
I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in 2011, during the final year of my undergraduate degree. For those who don’t know, RA is an autoimmune disease where your immune system causes inflammation and attacks your joints, but as a society, arthritis (there are many forms) is usually perceived as affecting older people, not young people. For me, it has physically changed my body, affecting my confidence, mobility, mental health, social life, and completely changed what I wanted to pursue a career in (festival and music management), probably setting back my career at least 5 years.
My life as I knew it literally changed over night, starting when I woke up one morning and couldn’t put any weight on my feet, it felt as if I’d had a long night wearing stilettos. It took many months to get diagnosed with doctors telling me it was ‘all in my head’ and I was ‘too young to have arthritis’. I had been a very active (I used to swim for a club) and social person, and used to visit many venues interviewing and photographing bands. Even now, I can’t always commit to plans as my condition changes on a daily basis.
This photo was taken about 2 days before I started my new treatment, and just a week before I was due to walk one of my best friends down the aisle. I was in a lot of pain and hadn’t been able to leave my flat in days as I was having a flare up from my medication no longer working, crawling in my apartment to get around. I was anxious that I wouldn’t make it down the aisle, but for someone who rarely takes selfies, I was excited…because my new glasses had arrived. There are several reasons I post on social media; to talk openly about my condition and raise awareness, to use it (Instagram) as a portfolio, and sometimes, just because. I find that I am much more confident in sharing online than I would be in person, so it does tend to be something I can hide behind. I also have a habit of posting pictures of myself pre-diagnosis when I was at my most confident.
There is still a stigma surrounding invisible illnesses, and I get a lot of abuse at times because many believe I am too young to have the problems I have, and don’t look like I would have them. I can’t walk far due to it affecting my mobility, I get very tired, very quickly (thanks to chronic fatigue), I have hair loss, my body size fluctuates daily due to swelling, I am in constant pain, and my medications have many side effects. If I hadn’t had the support I have from my friends, who have shopped for me and fed me when I couldn’t leave my apartment, and just generally cared, I would never have been able to complete my degree and return to do my Masters this year, and have the (albeit little) confidence I have. I get frustrated and upset at the things I used to be able to do, but the littlest things that before I would have brushed off, such as a new pair of glasses or a new dress, I now have a new found appreciation for, due to the effort I have had to put in to receive something that normally I would have taken for granted, however silly that sounds.
There really isn’t enough awareness or support for young people with illnesses such as mine, and very few employed within music and fashion. I hope that the #girlssupportgirls series can help change the stigma surrounding invisible illnesses…
Life for me has been pretty different to everyone I follow on social media. I became a mum at 21, right at the start of my third year of university… so you could say I had to grow up pretty quickly. I’ve loved having a blog as an outlet to air my thoughts, be it positive or negative. I’ve shared the good and bad times on there, but I’ve always insisted on remaining a fashion/style blogger rather than moving on as a parenting blogger.
The truth is, I often struggle. I struggle with the parenting side of things, and particularly when there is now a wave of brilliant mums, who are juggling several children, yet still manage to make it look great, even under all the tantrums and turmoil they share online. I don’t know what it is about it all, but it still manages to make me feel like a bit of a failure, because it is difficult to cope sometimes. Social media can often make it look like other parents are fucking up, but going with the flow. And sometimes that’s hard to do, and it’s also hard to admit that you’re not dealing with the meltdowns very well, particularly on the internet.
Being a young mum too (well, not anymore I suppose), there is a certain feeling of imposter syndrome or a feeling of inferiority (I’ve spoken about this in a blog post before) that I really struggle with, where anxiety totally kicks in and I easily become completely overwhelmed thoughts of “THEY’RE GOING TO KNOW YOU’RE DOING THIS ALL WRONG. Regardless… I’m trying. As much as I love parenting bloggers, I’m slowly learning that sometimes, it’s not worth overthinking – particularly when it comes to social media. I skip, unfollow, or mute things (and people) I feel will affect my mental health, or the way I perceive myself, because at the end of the day, I’m doing my best, and that’s all I can do.
From a realistic point of view it is quite damaging, the way that an image of myself is posted to an audience of many on a day I felt incredible, compared to those days I am not. It tarnishes the way I think about myself as a whole, drawing a massive parallel to those with masses of self confidence. It’s a kind of punishment to look at those images that have been ‘accepted’ on Instagram, seeing the recognition it has got and the lovely comments said about it on the days I’d rather just hide away and avoid my reflection completely. What people don’t see is me behind the staged selfies, there will be no sight of flawless makeup the times I wished I had my eating disorder back just to lose weight again, you’ll find no pout on my face the days a breakout would decide to flare up, not a sight of a perfect cat eye flick the nights I’d stay in and fawn over women’s bodies on the internet showing nothing but their hip bones and huge thigh gaps! This mindset can be a demon, and although I have learnt to sedate this demon, sometimes the sedative wares off…
This photo was taken just before I was going to have a bath, I’d been out previously and had a full face of makeup and my hair was styled, I aimed for the whole natural look, when in fact seconds after my make-up was removed, my hair was tied up and I was exposed for real. However, I wasn’t comfortable posting an image of myself this way as it would have lead me to feel vulnerable and ugly. Some days I will wake up and be depressed with my reflection and these days I will not post images, instead I will keep wishing I was someone I am not, a catwalk model with limbs that stretch for miles, someone with radiant make-up free skin or a washboard stomach to die for. Personally, this is a cyclical feeling that will repeat itself, it will ruin my night, any plans I may have had and cause me to feel downhearted, all because I’ll compare myself to others and in my mind I just do not suffice. Social media is a carnival of judgement and unfortunately I often find myself getting caught up in it. I sometimes feel compelled to post an image of myself just for that feeling of acceptance. The best version of ourselves is commonly what all of us strive for, and it is understandable that everyone wants to look back at a flawless image of themselves. However, the perception of women in social media would really value more images of girls showing real, raw truthfulness. So you have a few spots like many other people, so what if your hair isn’t perfectly positioned, that roll of fat when you’re sat down is healthy. Less pressure to pout and more natural expressions encouraged. If people saw different things accepted, more females would feel better about posting natural images of themselves. It’s tiring trying to keep up with social media’s level of perfection – what we should all teach ourselves to see is that there is no perfection, we create our own…
Amelie Roch, Age 19, theatre student, London – Instagram @amelieroch
Why did I take this selfie? To show off my photography skills in case this whole theatre-making career is unreliable (unlikely). Although, this was taken on my iPhone using my dirty old bathroom curtain as a backdrop so maybe not. Could be an evolutionary tactic? Maybe this photo was my brain wanting to show all of the lads how brilliant I would be at passing on our genes so the human race would live on! Though, this photo does not show my excellent childbearing hips, demonstrate the strength of my teeth or explain what a fantastic forager I would make. Maybe it was to record what I looked like on this day so that in years to come historians can laugh at my “I’ve seen models do this” face. However, this is not my face. This is not how my face usually looks. So maybe it’s just a desperate search for external validation? Ah, that sounds about right…
I feel as if I have a false representation of my face because with a phone in front of it I know how I can morph into a good photograph. Then, in turn, it hurts as I see myself in other people’s photos, shocked by a grotesque me I don’t quite recognise. It feels wrong – like I’m cat-fishing myself to feed off of the likes that are mostly from people who I already know and love. Their validation shouldn’t be needed in notification form. Our relationship should not be reinforced through a screen. I’m scared that I will become too reliant on this constant drip of compliments that are given so flippantly and will miss out on the real, beautiful moments with friends that I share.
Selfies are a fantastic way of reinforcing our belief in external validation. It is so easy to directly compare the number of likes from one photo to another and then gain an idea of how you want to present yourself. We trick our followers with false symmetry, lighter skin, a subtle reshaping of the nose you inherited from your dad, and yet the biggest impact this has is on ourselves and how we feel validated. I can lie and say the only reason I upload photos of myself is because it’s empowering, but it’s not. I upload these photos to say “HERE I AM PUTTING MYSELF OUT THERE BEFORE YOU CAN COMMENT WITHOUT INVITATION but is this okay? Do I look pretty?”. I love that a selfie can make me embrace certain parts of myself like my big brows or sneakily lazy eye, but I refuse to be coerced into hiding other sides of myself any longer. All bodies are beautiful, so selfie away, but do it for you and please, do not feel like you have anything to hide. If you can be happy in yourself then external validation is irrelevant. You’re the boss.
There you have it – five beautifully inspiring women that I have had the pleasure of talking with this month, and five beautifully composed/raw representations of how social media makes them feel. I hope you enjoyed this post as I found it so interesting to put together – I’ve really enjoyed talking to other women about their body image issues and how they utilise their social media in times of both deep insecurity and peak happiness. As a blogger, it’s my job to constantly be posting myself online, my thoughts, my ‘best self’. It’s definitely not something I find easy all of the time, but dedication and a true passion for what I do usually overrules most of the negative aspects.
However, what you see online is obviously only a very small proportion of my life, a small part of my personality. You don’t see the times I’m upset or anxious or picking myself apart – the sides we all deem less worthy or presentable. I guess I just wanted to conclude this post in saying that we are all different in so many incredible ways, but most of us experience that inner voice of self doubt and insecurity at some point. Granted, some will experience it in waves, for others the world will seemingly stop.
The majority of the time (and as I’ve gotten older), I see Instagram for what it really is – a form of inspiration and escapism. Having said that, I’m all too familiar with how it damages self esteem, alters the way we see ourselves, causes us to compare, and ultimately warps our perception of beauty standards and perfection. I get lots of lovely comments on my photography and feed, which I’ll admit, sometimes makes me feel like I’ve set a certain bar for myself, that in a way, I have to keep improving the images, or even the way I look and the clothes that I wear. I’m sure that lots of other girls feel this way from time to time, and not just bloggers. This is why it’s important to have an outlet that reinforces your self confidence – for me, this is my writing. I see Instagram as a collage – but my blog is the depth and the personality that Instagram might lack. Here I’m often more vulnerable, and able to write in more detail about my personal experiences.
I hope there’s something here you’re able to take away from this post, I don’t really have anything profound or fancy to end with – I always want the focus of this series to be the stories and words of other women. Thank you to each and every one of you that messaged, I already have plans underway for the next two posts! Please feel free to message or email me if you’d like to take part in any way or have an inspiring story to tell…
Want to be part of the series? Email me - [email protected]