“Hiiiiiiii! Hi! Hiiiii,” Lacey Claire Rogers, an American influencer, is dancing in a turquoise bikini. “I just feel my body looks so good in this. This colour makes me look so tanned. Wooooow!” She points to her high cut bikini. She clearly wears perfect make-up – even though it looks very subtle in front of the camera. There is an abrupt cut and we see Australian comedian Celeste Barber in a bikini, without make-up, imitating the blogger. Barber is a reflection of what happens to us, to normal people, or at least to me. Of course, she exaggerates. But let’s be honest, who looks like a Sports Illustrated cover model in a bikini? Like Barber, we have to pull our bikinis into the right places, we do not have abs or the signature vertical line which Emily Ratajkowski and the likes made fashionable a few years ago.
I do not follow many so-called influencers. Nevertheless, Instagram’s explore page frequently reminds me that I should follow them. Young women pressing their lips together in duck faces. Kim Kardashian “clones” pulling their bikini bottoms up high to recreate her signature wasp waist. And do not forget about the thigh gap!
I started using Instagram in 2015 – I was a late adopter. But it did not take long until I discovered the “Instagram vs. Reality”-posts. Not the funny ones where you see the Instagram husband/boyfriend lying on the floor to take a flattering picture of their partner. The one where a beautiful girl posts a flawless picture right next to an “ugly” one. I put the “ugly” in quotation marks because most of the time the pictures still show a perfect woman. Sometimes with a slight belly – but frankly, I can hardly see any difference between the pictures. Hence, they need to put “Instagram” and “Reality” on each of them to make it clear that one is beautiful and one is “ugly”.
The initial idea is admirable: do not believe everything you see on Instagram. The majority of pictures is fake – whether it is the pose, the clothes, the filter, Photoshop. Most of the people we see on Instagram may not look like that when they are not in front of the camera. Point taken. Why this “movement” annoys me is that women who are already in great shape and are hardly body-shamed show their bodies in poses which they consider unflattering. But they still look great. Suddenly, their “thigh gap” is gone or they have the slight hint of a muffin top. Then they wait for all the comments by their fan base that they are still beautiful. What does this “movement” do to women who do not look like that?
(Side note: I do know that even the most perfect women suffer from body shaming. But there is a difference if you get an odd body-shaming comment if you intentionally display your body online while others are constantly body shamed in daily life – weird looks on the bus when they want to sit down next to someone, their sizes never available when they go shopping or being called unhealthy simply based on their body shape.)
As you may have realized, I hate to pose for pictures. When I compare pictures of me to some of the girls in their early twenties, I start laughing. They all have their poses practiced. I still look like in the typical year-end high school picture. My only achievement is reminding myself not to slouch.
I got curious. I stand in front of the mirror in my bikini and try to imitate the poses. It feels ridiculous. First of all, I do not have this effortless sexy look on my face and I start laughing every time I try. Then I try the thigh gap pose. Have you ever tried to recreate that? You need to stand parallel to the mirror and shift your hips and tailbone to the back. It feels and looks really weird. Yeah, I may see a thigh gap here. I always hated bikini bottoms which are cut high – maybe because I am a kid of the nineties and it reminds me of the perfect Baywatch-bodies we would never have. I pull the bikini bottom higher up – it does create a different body shape. And paired with the thigh gap pose, it looks a bit like the Kardashian clones. I find it unnatural, and, frankly, ugly.
Is this really what we are supposed to look like? Women were freed from corsets in the early 20th century. Why would we now go back to this unnatural wasp waist? (I even saw videos on Instagram with advice on how to exercise wearing girdles to achieve this body shape…) Why are we told that we cannot live without a thigh gap? (I think in the majority of cases, it looks as if the woman has O-shaped-legs…)
I am a size 38 (a US-size 6) and I am happy with the way I look. Of course, I have days where I find countless things to criticise. But overall, 38 is fine for me and I do not consider it fat at all. Nevertheless, I am surprised how often I get comments from men that I am – quote – “on the bigger side”. “Don’t worry, it is charming that you are a bit bigger”, one guy with what I call an “abundance belly” (Wohlstandswampe) told me in a business meeting. (I am not commenting on the inappropriate comment itself in a business setting here, that would be a different postcard). The average size of women in the German-speaking countries is 42 (US-size 10). Are we then all fat?! And why is it OK to body shame us women while our male counterparts hardly come up to the six-pack Abercrombie models?
There are many body-positivity movements online – like #effyourbeautystandards by plus-size model Tess Holiday or the plus-size model Ashley Graham who also speaks at schools. Many speak up against these beauty ideals. Very often, trends like the thigh gap are criticized as sexist demands by men. I agree, many of the beauty ideals are indeed created by men – the majority of lifestyle and fashion magazine editors-in-chief, photographers and designers are still male. But when I see women dancing in their bikinis on Instagram or posing with a duck face, I also have to admit that women are part of the problem as well. Because many aspire to come up to that ideal. The reasons are unclear to me. Is it to be desired by men, to be more popular, or to just correspond to beauty standards?
When I got the comment that I was “a bit bigger” and that I would not need to worry because “it was charming” – I just started laughing and made a remark about the abundance belly hanging over the guy’s belt. “Your six-pack is not bad either.” He immediately turned silent. I have learned how to handle these situations. But what if you are a young girl who sees these beautiful women online and their only “faults” are missing thigh gaps or the indication of a muffin top? Would this girl also be able to reply that way and now it is bullsh*t? (Pardon my French.)
When I think about myself and my circle of friends, the majority of us is between the two extremes. I would consider us average. All of us are “imperfect” compared to the mainstream beauty ideal we get presented online and in print magazines every single day. Who really has the “perfect” smile, the “right hair/skin colour” or the “most amazing” body? And what do “perfect”, “right” and “amazing” actually mean? I would say imperfection is the real beauty. Does a thigh gap really make me more beautiful? Or does it even make me a better woman? I doubt it. But a smile showing off a gap in the front teeth, a super curly hairstyle or a curvy body – these are the things that make us beautiful and special.
I would appreciate to see this reflected in more natural pictures. Where nobody strikes a pose, maybe some which were not taken just for the sake of sharing them online. Instead of the “sexy” duck face, I would prefer to see a genuine smile, because the woman in the picture was just enjoying the moment without thinking if there is a muffin top, if the thigh gap can be seen or the angle is perfect to show off her face.
Have an imperfect and special week ahead!