We’re allowed to be vulnerable online now. Of course, we were always allowed. We have been cry-drooling onto our Livejournal’s and Myspace’s since their inception. But now, there’s a strand of legitimacy within our lyrical expressions of self-doubt that we choose to broadcast over Twitter or Facebook. We are no longer just spitting up our insecurities for our own self-indulgence, but rather we’re contributing to some larger upswing in a sort of public emotional vulnerability. The constructive kind.
Body-positive blogs, websites that feature anonymous and semi-anonymous submissions from teenagers about topics under the umbrella of self-acceptance has become a mainstay of many individual’s Internet browsing. These websites, such as stophatingyourbody.tumblr.com, regularly feature submitted pictures of teenagers with short descriptions of their personal struggles with their self-esteem. These blurbs range from discussing body image concerns s to issues regarding citizenship and naturalization. They’re highly personal and sometimes difficult to get through. Although these posts may be inspirational to some, they should not be tucked away in the “inspirational tumblr” corner of the Internet. These do not belong with the sepia pictures with text strangely printed over them.
What allows these websites to transcend the ranks of a mere self-esteem poster is the ways in which the content has become politicized. These blogs have a larger ethos driving them. They aim to showcase and examine how one’s personal narrative is both a product and a part of something much larger. Although posts often detail an individual’s obsession over their thighs, the words are always tied back to the root of it: why do I feel this way?
Instead of merely serving as an outlet for one to spew self-hatred or struggle, these websites attempt to deconstruct the reasons for these feelings. Of course, similar websites exist. There are various popular websites in which pieces of culture are extracted and interpreted to better understand its visual power and implications. The Society Pages (http://thesocietypages.org/), created by Dr. Lisa Wade, a professor at Occidental College, analyzes advertisements and products through a sociological lens, such as the price disparity between identical razors, one being sold “for him,” and the other “for her.” Although these websites shed light on the point at which our lives intersect with larger institutions of power, their tone remains slightly removed and out of touch.
The Society Pages is edited and run by professors of sociology and gender and feminist studies. It reads like your first essay of your first class on sexuality: overly reductive and dispropriatelnly eager. Posts cover more large-scale issues. Despite their dedication to intersectionality, the absence of first-person submissions makes these very personal issues feel larger and more distant that they are.
However, blogs that rely on user submission for content create archives of narratives and images of various types of bodies and gender expressions. This is where representation comes into play. Blogs that give space to users to chronicle their emotional and physical struggles allow individuals to create their own content, to control the bodies and people represented in the media that they consume. This can serve as a small action against the absence of fat bodies, queer bodies and bodies of color in the media surrounding us.
The website My Body Gallery (mybodygallery.com) is a gallery of all kinds of bodies. Initially I thought it was unnecessary, dumb even. There are all kinds of bodies all around me. Why do we need an online gallery? The website features a search bar in which you can enter a height, weight, age, pant-size, shirt-size and shape. You could enter all of your information. Or someone else’s. Either way, the search results will feature bodies that you have seen in your classroom, at the mall and in the mirror. But most likely not what you have seen on screen. It is the screen specifically that transforms these sometimes low-quality pictures of bodies into something entirely more powerful.
These images of bodies have neither been photoshopped as we would see in a magazine nor strategically shot like on Instagram. There’s a realness to these images. It’s not that these bodies have gained legitimacy by being featured on our screens instead of in our direct vision. Rather, it’s that this website gives us a peek inside the scars, marks and wounds of another. We’re let in for a moment to this intimate space of other’s, a space in which we usually occupy alone.
This realm of self-positivity extends beyond body acceptance websites; it has become a part of the writing we read daily. The Hairpin, a self-proclaimed “women’s website,” started a new self-care column in November this past year, cataloging the routines and rituals of self-care of the women on the Internet. In the first edition of the column, Fariha Roisin, writer and host of the podcast Two Brown Girls, writes that she intends for the column to serve as a way for women to share their versions of self-care in addition to their “struggles that come when [women] been socialized to equate an act of self-love with solipsism.”
Roisin presents the common pushback or criticism of websites such as Stop Hating Your Body. Why so much focus on the body? Isn’t this preoccupation with the body the root of this very problem? Well, sort of.
Self-positivity on the Internet is making up for a lack of diversity in all of the media that is not user-generated. Is it solipsistic for one to write about their process of learning to love their body when their body has been erased, or mocked on television and in movies? What’s wrong with making up for this absence?
This self-positivity presence on the Internet is not gloating. It is not a faction of people Instragramming their latte’s and ranting about homework. It’s a string of blogs and arguments that complicate people’s notions of who belongs on their screen. It allows one to present oneself in a selfie mirror shot in their dirty room. And it allows others to see that image and feel something, be it disgust, recognition or nothing at all.