by SJ Thompson Belmonte, Resilient Fat Goddex and Lauren Muhlheim, Eating Disorder Therapy LA
“Body positivity can’t be just about thin, straight, cisgendered, white women who became comfortable with an additional ten pounds on their frame.” —Stacey Rosenfeld, Ph.D., Shape magazine (July, 2018).
Eating disorders are about so much more than body image, but the current diet culture, idealization of the thin ideal, and “war on obesity” make it much harder for people with eating disorders to recover. We are barraged on a daily basis by media images of people who represent only a small portion of the population.
As Dr. Muhlheim discussed in a previous post about fat photography, the mainstream media images we see are not diverse, and the images we do see of larger bodies are often portrayed in a particularly negative and stigmatizing way, adding fuel to the fire.
Thus, an important exercise for people of all sizes in recovery is to curate their social media feed by removing accounts that perpetuate the thin ideal and expand the range of body sizes and types to which one is exposed. This is consistent with our Health at Every Size(R) approach to eating disorder recovery. Adding diversity to your social media feed isn’t only important for people in recovery, it can be just as important for partners. It would even be useful for parents and family members of those recovering.
The term used to describe the absence of representation in media was coined by George Gerbner in 1972. This phenomenon is “symbolic annihilation.” Gerbner was a Hungarian-Jewish immigrant and communications professor who researched the influence of television trends on viewers’ perceptions of the world. According to Coleman and Yochim, Gerbner explained that “representation in the fictional world signifies social existence; absence means symbolic annihilation.” Representations, or lack thereof, lead to assumptions about how the world works and who holds power.
Gerbner did not assign symbolic annihilation to any particular group, so it has since been applied to many different identities. We can apply the concept to non-dominant systemic identities, such as larger-bodied people, people of color, trans and gender-expansive people, disabled people, etc. If we don’t see bodies like our own represented, we may come to believe “my body doesn’t matter”. Often, this can turn into “I don’t matter”. This means that for people whose bodies are marginalized in any way, it is essential to see images of people that look like them.
We have developed a roundup of Instagram accounts to help you on the journey. While it is not comprehensive, it is a starting point. What follows are some Instagram accounts that show body-positive images that celebrate diverse bodies in ways that mainstream media does not.
At the time of this posting, these accounts are free of body shaming, fat shaming, food shaming, and disordered eating. Some are people in recovery from eating disorders. If we missed one of your favorite accounts that consistently publishes photos of bodies at the margins, please email us and let us know!
People of color
Gender diverse people
People with disabilities
Other body-positive accounts to follow
Coleman and Yochim. The Symbolic Annihilation of Race: A Review of the “Blackness” Literature. Perspectives. Spring 2008.