How Black Women are Redefining Body Image Through Social Media


How often do you feel that the portrayal of black women’s bodies is narrow, misconstrued?
Or maybe you feel that it’s hyperbolic, exaggerated.

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In such an advanced digital age where women are now able to share their individual experiences with body image through platforms like Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, it is important to recognize the diversity of these stories.

Far too often will you go through an experience in your life and feel alone when you have no one else to relate to or look up to. Like dealing with scars after a double mastectomy. Or having the desire to try something new but not believing you are good enough to do it. Or even being afraid to take your wardrobe to the next level because you think certain colors look bad on your dark/light skin.

These are the narratives of many black women in America, but how they play out is different for each and every one of us. Here are a couple of women who are using their social media platforms, whether it be their Instagram or blog, to show the world how they are creating their own narratives:

Christina S. Brown
Christina is the creator of Instagram account, Brown Girls Love, and the Love Brown Sugar blog. Brown has worked with a number of brands outlets like BET Networks, UPTOWN Magazine, and Dove. With over 6 years of experience in her line of work, Brown has created a platform through which the diversity of black women’s beauty can thrive - fashionably.
The Brown Girls Love Instagram page displays a number of black female celebrities, non-celebrities, activists, artists, models, and more of all shades, sizes, and shapes. With over 17,000 followers, this account is a great source of inspiration for women who find it important to embrace diverse, multicultural backgrounds and body types.

The editors of Love Brown Sugar highlight the uniqueness of black fashion in that fashion is interpreted differently for every woman and fits uniquely to every woman’s size.

Jessamyn Stanley
Jessamyn Stanley is a self-identified “Yoga Enthusiast and Fat Femme” who “uses high energy vinyasa flow as a way to move past mental and emotional barriers.” With a focus on the question of how one feels when practicing yoga rather than how one looks, Stanley is storming her way through the predominantly white yoga industry. Having been featured in a number of media outlets like The Daily Mail and New York Magazine, Stanley uses her Instagram and Tumblr to showcase her personal journey as a yogi while spreading body positivity. Her pictures dispel common myths like yoga teachers have to be white and skinny or that it’s dangerous for bigger people to be flexible or even teach yoga. They also serve as a source of inspiration to other black women who are scared to participate in mindful practices like yoga or pilates because of their weight. Stanley connects with her followers through a forum on her blog where she answers tough questions like why she uses words like “whore” and “bitch” and whether or not she understands that the West is culturally appropriating yoga without recognizing its Hindu roots in many spaces. You can also check out Stanley's home yoga sessions on her YouTube channel.

Ericka Hart
Last year, "sexuality educator", "cancer-warrior", and "activist", Ericka Hart took Afro Punk by surprise when she decided to go topless at the New York music festival. With her bare breasts on full display, Hart felt the desire to show people that “this could happen to [them]”, she explained in an interview with Hello Beautiful. What she meant was that other women could also be diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer if they neglected to take steps like conducting breast self-exams at home. Since then, Hart’s story has been featured in various media outlets like Refinery29, Dutch, and Cosmopolitan.

From losing her nipples from a double mastectomy to losing her dreadlocks through chemotherapy, Hart has reclaimed her losses by proclaiming the “sexy” of being a breast cancer survivor. Her Instagram is a mural of topless photos, many of them showing her breast with artistic paintings and designs. “I want to reclaim my sexuality. I want people to see me beyond breast cancer,” she states. “I want people to see breast cancer patients beyond pink… I’m just tired of that single narrative.” That ‘single narrative’ is the one in which photos of black women who’ve had a double mastectomy are few to none. It is the tendency for breast cancer survivors to be portrayed through a tunneled vision that forgets the sensuality in being a woman with transformed breasts.

Having not been connected to her breast before, Hart describers herself as now being “hypervigilant” about it. She is constantly explaining her body to people, spreading awareness about breast cancer while empowering other women like her, especially black women, who are increasingly being diagnosed with breast cancer. Check out Ericka Hart’s blog to learn more about her story and the work she does.

Simone Mariposa

Simone identifies as a “plus size model, blogger, and motivational leader.” Based in Los Angeles, California, Mariposa is an inspiration to other women to embrace their physical features and have fun doing it. Her Instagram is full of photos that radiate fashion, happiness, and self-confidence. What makes Mariposa stand out is how she uses her journey in life to share important messages with the world, such as “fetishizing fat bodies does not make you body positive.” A message she shared for the men who have DM’d her expressing their infatuation with “BBWs”, which stands for Big Beautiful Women. “NOT YOUR FETISH”, it reads in her bio. Mariposa has been highlighted in various publications like Plus Model Magazine and Skorch Magazine while also having participated in campaigns like #WeWearWhatWeWant and #BEInYourSkin. Not only is Mariposa an example of being happy with yourself, but she also emanates a refusal to make herself feel small in order to make others feel more comfortable. You can also check out her Twitter here.

Deconstructing and then reconstructing your own body image is a process that begins with patience and self-love. These women signify the complexity of body image in that it is not always about weight and size, but it is also about expanding the narrative of what happiness, strength, and diversity looks like. Taking control of your own body image means taking control of how you see yourself not in comparison to other women, but with grace. And then confidence.

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Ariel is a 23-year old SoCal native, working professional, and Alumna of the University of California, Berkeley. She earned a Bachelor's degree in Sociology and through her studies, acquired a passion for gaining knowledge that would improve the quality of her life and further allow her to interact with and touch people in a positive way. You can follow her own blog, The Freewoman Diaries, at www.thefreewomandiaries.com

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