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Social Media and Body Image: Combatting the “Ideal” Summer Bod

Darcy Price
Written By
Darcy Price
Published On
Jul 03, 2023
A collage of Leslie Tucker and Brynta Ponn, BodCon 2023 speakers

In today’s digital age, social media has become an integral part of our lives, influencing the way we perceive ourselves and others. It has created a virtual space where the concept of an “ideal” body has gained prominence, setting unrealistic standards and fuelling insecurities among individuals. However, amidst this sea of unrealistic expectations, a wave of change is emerging—one that seeks to promote body positivity, body neutrality, and acceptance.

While it’s true that social media has a direct impact on our body image, it doesn’t have to be negative. In fact, a 2021 study found that participants who observed body-positive content on social media experienced significant improvements in body appreciation and mood. This number only increased when they were exposed to images with captions that reinforced positive messaging.

One community of voices leading the charge in this movement is The BodCon, and their message is simple: They want people to feel worthy in their bodies.

We sat down with Leslie Tucker (@lesliedtuck), brand strategist at The BodCon, and plus-sized content creator, Brynta Ponn (@bryntaponn), to explore the power of social media in reshaping the narrative around body image and how influencers can leverage their platforms to create a more inclusive and empowering online community.

Examining the Portrayal of the “Ideal” Body Image on Social Media

It’s no surprise that social media has a profound impact on how we perceive reality; comparison culture is not a new phenomenon. Our careers, relationships, and even holidays are on display for everyone to see (and make their own assumptions about). 

Leslie Tucker on vacation posing in a baby blue swimsuit
Image source: @lesliedtuck

The portrayal of the “ideal” body on social media, often driven by influencers and celebrities, plays a significant role in shaping societal beauty norms and impacting individuals’ body image. Unrealistic beauty standards, body shaming and negative comments, the promotion of diets and extreme fitness, as well as a lack of body diversity, are all factors that can make those with non-conforming bodies feel marginalized and unaccepted.

“In the summer when there’s a lot of talk about dieting and the perfect “summer body,” it’s so easy to get swept up in the idea that you need to change and be “better” to wear certain things or even leave the house… But the truth is that we all deserve to show up as we are and social media can either further this belief or hinder it.”

— Brynta Ponn

Social Media and Body Image: A Double-Edged Sword

Unfortunately, this blemish-free, filtered, and manipulated version of the lives around us can quickly lead to wilted self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. From the worsening of body-image disorders, cyberbullying, and the toxic culture of comparison and competition—the online world can absolutely do more harm than good.

“Social media is a double-edged sword that can be both toxic and empowering. Toxic by way of comparison culture and diet culture… it’s a microscope on how our society accepts or doesn’t accept the way we appear which can be detrimental at times,” said Leslie Tucker. “Empowering in the way we and many other social communities are committed to educating people about what it means to be body confident/body-neutral and how to practice it in their day-to-day lives, how to be kind and respectful to their own bodies and others, and understanding that all bodies are good bodies.”

“If your feed is curated properly it can be used as a great tool to empower and educate. To remind you that not only are you not alone in your struggles but that there is more than one way of existing with your body.”

— Brynta Ponn

Today, more and more influencers are using their platforms to reveal the truth behind social media’s culture of “perfection,” and communities like The BodCon are creating opportunities through conferences and podcasts to amplify positive voices in this space.

Embracing Body Positivity and Adopting Body Neutrality

You’ve likely heard the term ‘body positivity’ before, but what about body neutrality?

Brynta Ponn posing in a black leather skirt and black top
Image source: @bryntstagram

While both body positivity and body neutrality are social movements and ideologies that advocate for acceptance of all body types and foster healthier body image attitudes, there are some key differences between the two as well. 

In short, body neutrality is about adopting a more neutral or indifferent stance towards one’s physical appearance. It encourages individuals to recognize their worth and value are not solely determined by their body’s appearance. Instead of striving to constantly love or celebrate their bodies, individuals practicing body neutrality aim to acknowledge and accept their bodies without judgment or obsession.

“Body confidence is a mental journey that gives you the freedom and strength to love yourself, as you are, so you can respect your body. It’s a daily reminder to confidently live in the present moment, as you are.”

— Leslie Tucker

Body positivity, on the other hand, is a movement focused on actively embracing and celebrating all body types, regardless of size, shape, or appearance. It seeks to challenge unrealistic beauty ideals and promote self-love, confidence, and acceptance of one’s body, especially for marginalized or underrepresented bodies.

For Brynta, her path to self-love and acceptance was motivated by finding a deeper sense of self-worth and fulfillment. She shared, “I got engaged a few years ago and immediately started a journey towards weight loss. In my mind, I was not worthy of feeling loved or celebrated unless I was skinny. It speaks to a bigger issue amongst women and what the world and social media have ingrained in us if one of the happiest moments of our lives launches us into a spiral and need to make ourselves more worthy by being skinny.”

She went on to say, “Once I lost some weight and realized that I was still unhappy, I realized that my body wasn’t the issue and started sharing my journey with self-love and body acceptance online. It turns out a lot of people felt the same way and I continued to show up telling my story. What I’ve learned along the way is to remind people we are not alone in these feelings but also to represent South Asian culture within this conversation that has been notoriously silent on correcting body image issues and body confidence.”

“We believe that everyone should be free to express themselves and feel comfortable in their own skin, and in order to shift society’s perspective, we need representation! Representation of unique body types, shapes, sizes, and colors, regardless of their age, stage in their confidence journey, ethnicity, health or financial status is important for us to share, and even more important for commercial media to give more space to.”

— Leslie Tucker

Influencers as Agents of Change

It’s undeniable that influencers, especially those with large followings, are seen as role models, and their appearance can become an aspirational goal for their followers. This is why embracing diversity, sharing personal stories, showcasing unfiltered content, and collaborating with body-positive brands and organizations are all great ways to spread the message and reach a wider audience.

“I love collaborating with other content creators to promote this conversation through Reels especially. I’ve teamed up with friends like Hemali Mistry who is a different size than me to showcase the same clothing on different body types and to normalize all body types in all kinds of outfits,” Brynta shared. “I’ve also gotten to collaborate with content creators in settings like The BodCon to talk about our stories and how we can continue these conversations. The BodCon and its conferences, podcasts, and just presence in general, allows us to have a place and forum where we can more positively view our bodies. Being able to connect my story and work with other creators for others to hear and learn from is so wonderful.”

As catalysts for change, influencers who use their platforms candidly are actively creating safe and inclusive spaces for others to share their experiences, fears, and triumphs online, ultimately fostering a supportive community.

“The BodCon is a community fueled by the content both we and our community create. As we create content, respectfulness and inclusivity of all people is our north star. We’re on a mission to help create a more equitable and just society.”

— Leslie Tucker

By leveraging their platforms to share empowering messages, stories of self-love, and images that defy the narrow standards of attractiveness set by the media, influencers are shifting the conversation away from superficial ideals. This shift in narrative toward overall well-being, self-care, and mental health is exactly what’s needed online today in order to make individuals feel validated, irrespective of their body size or appearance.

Navigating Challenges and Overcoming Resistance

Whether you’re personally struggling with body image and social media or would like to become an advocate for body positivity or body neutrality yourself, it’s important to remember that confidence is a non-linear journey.

Leslie Tucker wearing lime green pants and a blue top
Image source: @lesliedtuck

Leslie advised, “For those who want to become an advocate for body confidence is to come from a place of authenticity and honesty when advocating for body-confident/body-neutral messages. They should focus on the authentic reality that confidence is a non-linear journey, it has its peaks and valleys and we all have good and bad days. A hot tip is to avoid spreading toxic positivity, shaming and criticism of others.”

The BodCon offered some helpful tips to help spread body confident messages online:

  • Focus on being authentic and real when sharing your journey; we’re all human!
  • Use language that is inclusive and respectful. 
  • Highlight diverse body types and shapes to help normalize them.
  • Share stories of people who have embraced their bodies.
  • Provide helpful resources like tools, books and podcasts.
  • Encourage others to have tough conversations with themselves and their bodies.
  • Don’t be afraid to call out negative behaviours—without being judgmental.

Unsure where to begin your personal journey of acceptance? Brynta shared, “My advice to people struggling with body image issues is, ironically, to spend more time with your body. Mirror work and spending time with my body has drastically changed my relationship with it and gave me the opportunity to discover body neutrality for days when my relationship is not at its best. Looking at your body and spending time with it allows us to truly see ourselves and address those feelings face to face.”

Brynta Ponn on vacation in a pool, eating pizza, and drinking a cocktail
Image source: @bryntstagram

The Social Evolution of Influencers

The “ideal” summer bod is a myth.

As the digital landscape continues to evolve, so does our understanding of body image and the impact of social media on our well-being. The journey toward body positivity, body neutrality, and acceptance is a collective effort that requires the active participation of influencers, brands, and social media users alike.

Brands who partner with body positive and body neutral influencers will challenge beauty norms, celebrate diverse body types, and inspire individuals to embrace their uniqueness. We support and stand with communities like The BodCon that are committed to using social media to encourage other brands out there to follow suit and empower one another to move towards a more accepting, body-neutral culture.

Together, we can create a more inclusive online environment where everyone feels empowered, confident, and accepted regardless of their body shape or size. Let’s embark on this transformative journey and use social media as a powerful tool for positive change!

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