There’s a new movement that you might be unaware of. It largely exists on instagram, it’s founders are internet famous and it has a massive cult following - some call it self love, others call it body acceptance or body confidence but what lurks beneath its hashtagged manifesto is a desire for fame, popularity and likes.
I’m often asked to speak at public events - I have a mouth on me and I know how to use it. I’m there wearing the badges of fat, femme, common and queer and I bring with me a body of work that addresses gender, sexuality, age, class, wealth and the body. The contexts in which I speak are varied - I’ve taken to lecterns and armchairs at galleries, book shops, dinners, living rooms, communes, theatres, public halls, online and derelict shops. These events are a chance to discuss my projects, on panels with other artists or activists creating social interventions that address their beef. We talk about our actions and activisms and tell audiences how they can get involved.
Recently I’ve been booked for lots of so-called body acceptance events. As a result I’ve been digitally befriended by some of the ring leaders of the self love movement and invited to #selfcare with them.
I’m interested in social activism and DIY movements - I know how these can influence political and social change. I began to follow the self love gang back. I started to watch their instagram stories and dig deeper into what the movement stood for, seeked to find their actions/interventions and sought to reveal what the goal was.
I found very little action but hundreds of people all of whom had founded their own hashtag. These hashtags are all variations of the words love, loving yourself, accepting yourself, body confidence and self care - some more catchy than others.
I began to investigate what these hashtags were there for, what they did. The ringleaders of the movement who have already ‘found’ their acceptance encourage you to post your own journey to acceptance using their hashtag - it’s hard not to think of it as being just another way to increase their audience using your story.
I started to follow more accounts and noticed another similarity between them - self acceptance is about getting your kit off, posing in your pants and encouraging that double tap dopamine.
For the record, I’m not a prude nor do I want to police how or who reveals their body but many of the images I’ve given a cursory swipe to are uploaded at 8pm (peak time for UK instagram users) for optimum exposure and feel more like a formality towards the fruition of numbers rather than a socio-political statement.
These posts are often accompanied by lengthy texts about the journey to finding acceptance, what the utopianistic world of being set free from capitalist ideals looks like ...and all whilst in designer pants with nice lighting, a touch of filter and expensive bedding. The irony is not lost on me, dears.
These accompanied texts and DM interactions are littered with exoticising, assumptions, privilege and problematic use of identifiers; specifically disability, black/brown emojis and gender that sometimes come with corporate sponsorship - the movement is often green with its use of language.
Attempting to find out how so-called ‘body confidence’ exists in the real world I started trawling through copious vlogs, blogs and snapchats by the world’s biggest body acceptors - I found videos about how to self love (apparently you do this with bath bombs and scented candles on a Sunday), book deals sharing their story and a lot of carefully crafted selfies.
When it does engage with real bodies, in real life, with real conversations its at body confidence events - attended by other body bloggers who all sit around and clap and whoop each others noncommittal statements.
I have found very few modes of rebellion, mobilising or disruption - it’s just safe, careful and well thought out methods of increasing followers, the presence of a hashtag and all through the small squares of instagram. This was perhaps painfully demonstrated at a recent event where I watched bloggers queue up for a selfie and instastory with the blogger with the biggest following in the room - none of whom did the same with each other. The same blogger referred to themselves and their hashtag as a brand on numerous occasions - freudian, much?
Looking at some of the biggest body bloggers who have an instagram following of over 100k followers they have a twitter following of a few hundred people - their audience want to see them in their pants, venerable but perhaps they don’t want to read their thoughts, politic or rants.
As someone whose body, gender presentation and sexuality is policed in public space I was excited about what the body acceptance movement might offer - granted it is diversifying the sorts of bodies we’re exposed to digitally which shouldn’t be underplayed but it's diversifying to an audience who is already on board with the message of diversification - an echo chamber of everyone loving themselves, liking each others images and tagging each other in posts - it feels like a wank in a mirror.
However, I can see the benefit in turning yourself into a role model - how marketing yourself as someone to look up to is useful for the teenagers in places like Derby, feeling like they don’t fit in. Even after that thinking I’m still left with question about its politic and manifesto - where is the action that palpably changes shit for the aforementioned teenagers or anyone else for that matter? Where is the message landing outside of instagram? Where is the diversity and inclusion?
By criticising the movements actions I am not including all of those I’ve come into contact with - there are some good eggs who use instagram as an accessible platform for radicalism, action, tangible stuff that is anti-celebrity and actively agitating.
It's also really important I make it clear that I’m not saying this version of body confidence shouldn’t happen or that ‘the journeys’ that bloggers share are false, nontraumatic or unfounded but branding it activist when that action is so obviously directed towards personal gain is unethical. Calling it a movement or pushing it as some sort of radical culture is, in my eyes, completely untrue - it’s using the same muscle we used in 2005 for MySpace except the pictures are no longer taken from above.
In its current form the body acceptance movement on instagram is a movement that is replicating the very systems it says it is trying to deconstruct - but I don’t think the perpetrators are doing it on purpose. I think power and popularity are extremely attractive especially when you’ve constantly been sidelined but what needs to be acknowledged is how these play into the longevity of the very systems that oppress them/us/me.
Across all social activisms we need to ensure our conversations are reaching far beyond our front door - if the current global political climate has taught us anything it's the urgency in which we need to have conversations with those outside of our social media networks.
Perhaps my beef with this very specific version of body acceptance is that the message is too simplistic - the common rhetoric at body confidence events is that if you love yourself the world will be better. I wholeheartedly disagree. Firstly, self love isn't and cannot be a permanent state because we are not mono-emotional - too many external influences dictate our mental well-being and the opinion we have of ourselves - saying "I love me" isn't always going to defend the blows.
Whats often ignored by the cis, white, middle class, able bodied elite who make up the bulk of body bloggers is the ability to be body confident is often majorly affected by privilege, capitalism, access and hegemonic masculinity. The source of the problem is not those of us forced into questioning our bodies or our aesthetic capital, it’s not us who needs to go on a journey - its the aforementioned complex systems that are the problem. The difficult truth is these systems will not be toppled by confidence - no matter how much they believe it.
All that the movement in its current state has shown me is it's an exercise in self promotion rather than self love - it’s time to up the game.