You've probably heard of pro-ana websites, the online communities where people with eating disorders swap dieting tips and post "thinspiration" images. Now there's another type of website that's purportedly the antidote to all that. In the past few years, people have started posting images of themselves on body-positive websites. The intention is to promote acceptance, but, as with most topics having to do with our bodies, the sites are still problematic.
Today Refinery29 ran an interesting article that takes a tour of these body-positive online communities. There are several sites that celebrate larger women specifically, such as "Curve Appeal" and "Big And Better," but one of the most popular, "Stop Hating Your Body," focuses on people of all sizes. Annie Segarra, 20, who started the blog in October 2010, says it now has more than 32,000 followers.
The posts, which are mainly from young women, each feature a self-portrait along with a message about her struggle to love her body. Most are full-length shots of the girls in bathing suits or underwear, but anything goes: In the photos the posters are nude, totally clothed, or showing only one body part. There are even some men baring their bellies. The accompanying stories are heartbreaking, and not just because it seems like every girl in America grows up hating her body. Some posters share intimate stories on topics including eating disorders, self-harm, and abuse. Every post ends with the phrase "BE BRAVE: JOIN THE REVOLUTION."
It's a hopeful message, and the girls say they're becoming happier with themselves from reading other posts and seeing what the vast majority of women actually look like. But there's also a concerning element. Most posts include the poster's height, weight, and sizes, and experts say this sends mixed messages. From Refinery29:
"These websites represent a ground-flow of young women who want to find peace with their bodies, but the messages-‘I love myself, but please accept me'-can be confusing," said Elizabeth Scott, psychotherapist and Co-Founder of The Body Positive, a national body-image program for women. "These girls want community, and they want to be told they're beautiful, which makes sense, but focusing on measurements or specific body types is troubling."
Dr. Susan Albers, a psychologist and author that specializes in eating disorders, agreed that even sites with the best of intentions can cause harm. "It can be dangerous and triggering to people with eating disorders and body-image issues to see any kind of body measurements and weight posted," she wrote in an email. "This may foster comparison."
On the one hand, it does seem like some of the girls are missing the message of self-acceptance by fishing for others to say they look attractive. But many of the posters are looking for a different kind of validation. Not for someone to tell them their hip measurement is acceptable or that their breasts are big enough, but to confirm that it isn't crazy to think you look just fine. Our culture is constantly sending the message that we're never quite pretty enough, and girls need support if they're going to convince themselves that isn't true.
Image via Stop Hating Your Body.