Natalie Dunbar | RYT-200
Social Media: #ReflectYourself
"We cannot be what we cannot see." ~ Unknown
I recently had the honor and pleasure to catch up and chat with my teacher and Curvy Yoga founder, Anna Guest-Jelley, and Curvy Yoga's Curvy Operations Officer, Liz Eskridge, as part of a recent episode of the Love, Curvy Yoga podcast. We talked about my passion for yoga, dance and fashion, and how together these things comprise my personal body acceptance practice.
One of the things we zeroed in on rather quickly was how I have been impacted by seeing and actively seeking out people who look like me in my social media feed. And while there's no shortage of curvy influencers out there on Instagram and elsewhere, I gotta come clean: deciding who to follow was a whole heck of a lot easier than defining the why.
What I mean is this: I'd been following people that I hoped to emulate: those who met a standard beauty touted by the media as something I should ascribe to. If I stopped following them - or if I added more body diversity to my feeds - was I quitting? Giving up? A failure?
Or this: Was I walking away from aspirational "after" images of what I "could" (and by most media standards, "should") look like, instead settling for the "before"?
Foray into Fashion
In spite of the questions that kept gnawing at me, I slowly started adding curvy she-roes (and some he-roes, too) to my feeds. And to my delight, I easily found myriad beautiful people of all shapes, sizes and abilities thriving in their bodies, and doing all the things I love - dancing, walking, running, hiking and of course, yoga - and more.
Seeing full bodied people being active and doing sporty things was a great first step. As a "recovering marathoner" and coach, I'd seen first hand many active bodies of all brands training and crossing finish lines, just as I had done.
Then, as subscription box brands like Dia & Co. and StitchFix discovered that curvy women will spend good money on well-fitting, trendy and fashionable clothes - and as a few plus-size boutiques started popping up around me - I soon signed up for my own subscriptions and eventually joined in on the social shenanigans, first by sharing cleverly-hashtagged pics in private Facebook groups (where I felt safe), then among friends on my own Facebook page (where there were people I trusted).
Soon enough, I found myself dressing up, going out more, celebrating my size, and unapologetically living out loud on Instagram.
When I first started posting my fashion pics, I'd tap to post, drop my phone, and then run like hell, scared that the trolls and haters would come for me like I'd seen them do to so many of my favorite influencers.
But something else happened instead: As I surrounded myself with more and more like-minded, full-bodied folks like me (virtually and #IRL - in real life), I not only carefully studied their poise and graciousness in responding (or not) to negativity, but I started to flex and strengthen my own response mechanisms.
In short, I found my voice.
Some of the backhanded compliments I receive are in person, rather than online, and many times from (mostly) well-meaning people, though there is the ever present Stranger Danger, where someone I don't know approaches me and starts pitching some kind of weight loss miracle or training program, as though I have a problem with my body.
Online I get what I call passive haters - followers who have profiles that focus on cleanses, juice fasts and any number of methods and modalities that helped them to melt away fat, or shed excess pounds. I'm not sure why they follow me, especially since I don't engage with them and they rarely make direct contact, but follow me they do.
When I teach yoga, my language is just as accessible and inclusive as the way I teach a pose to a specific body, and not the body to a specific pose. I am careful about how I cue poses, how I talk about approaching the shape of a pose with curiosity, encouraging yogis to connect with how a pose makes them feel rather than how it looks - or how they look doing it. This is inclusivity.
I honestly believe most people mean well when they compliment my appearance, but they don't quite know what to say, or how to say it. So when someone says, "That outfit makes you look slim," (which sounds innocent enough, but think about it...amirite?) they don't necessarily know that they're not being inclusive.
After all, the lexicon of the land is all about being "thin," "skinny" or "slim" - and also about how that privilege somehow equates with being healthy.
Trust: I am not hating on those who fit any of those descriptors. I don't envy anyone's genetics. Still, words matter. And until we as a society accept that "curvy," "full," and even "fat" are also just descriptors, there's still work to do around accepting all bodies and not commenting on weight.
Do You, Boo
So I dress up. I post. I write. And I share. I've even gotten brave enough to do a few photo shoots. And while I've gotten more and more comfortable with the process each time, the reality is that there are some pics I don't like. Some outfits that looked better in my mind than they did in photos. And some pics of me posted by others that I rather have taken down (or at least un-tag).
That doesn't mean I'm ashamed of my body, or that I want to hide it.
It just means I'm human.
I know that some are not into posting and sharing on social media, no matter how good they feel in their bodies. And that's OK too. Just like your body is your business, so is how (or if) you choose to engage with social media.
But if you're "out there," and you've grown weary of not seeing folk who look like you in your feeds, try curating content that makes you feel good about you. Doing so can be a simple yet powerful way to bolster your body acceptance practice.
Comedian John Leguizamo summed it up like this: "If you don't see yourself represented outside of yourself, you just feel f*king invisible."
Couldn't have said it better - or shorter - myself.