In 2013, Brandy Melville showed us that mental illness was trendy. The company’s Instagram featured models in graphic tees with sayings like “cute but psycho” and “stressed, depressed, but well dressed,” thus cementing the romanticization of being mentally ill — if you were hot and skinny, that is.
Alongside mainstream brands’ efforts to blend mental illness and sex appeal, Tumblr was full of pro-anorexia and bulimia blogs with teenagers encouraging each other to perpetuate detrimental behaviors, all to fit the “Scarlet Leithold” definition of Instagram beauty. This beauty was preferably white, tall, and skinny with a cinched waist; extra points if you have blue eyes. I was the opposite with features that weren’t Eurocentric: brown skin, black hair, and 5 foot 3 inches. However, I was skinny so my thirteen year old self’s skewed perception was spared body dysmorphia — for a while at least. But this merging of body dysmorphia and Eurocentric Instagram beauty standards gained a captivating hold on social media, one that is still continues today.
Since my Instagram account’s conception, I have continuously deleted every photo I’ve posted. I would zoom in and look for imperfections — with my nose, my lips, my eyes, the way my hands were positioned, my hair, my legs — literally anything that could become a focal point. If I detected even the tiniest flaw, I’d remove the picture.
As the Instagram models and influencers on my explore page grew, so did my odd concern with my already tiny waist, in addition to everything else. I was always skinny, and even was dubbed “skinny legend” in high school, yet I couldn’t help staring at myself in the mirror and wondering what I could do to get that hourglass shape and become beautiful.
It was bizarre. Why had I become obsessed with my figure when I had no reason to be? I was healthy and that’s all that should have mattered. I also met the unrealistic societal norm. I never got dizzy spells until I started limiting myself in terms of how much or what I could eat. My weight started fluctuating. My mother threw away the scale, but I could tell when I had lost weight because I spent an unreasonable amount of time staring at myself in the mirror. I even tried deleting Instagram for a bit, realizing that it was the core of this issue, but kept finding myself downloading it again. Not only did Instagram make me feel terrible about my body, but I couldn’t go a day without subjecting myself to endless comparisons to some girl online I didn’t even know.
In the midst of all of this, I failed to recognize the fact that social media profiles are all curated. We see what the person wants us to see. We don’t see the breakdowns, or the constant introspection that comes with being popular on a social media platform. We see models in their “cute but psycho” tees, but all we are granted is the cute; any signs of mental struggle are airbrushed away like stretch marks. We don’t see the FaceTune (if done well), and we don’t see the lives these influencers, models, and stars lead either.
The person I have deemed so perfect and want to look like may be struggling with something much more complex than I am. Therefore, it is unrealistic to hold myself to such expectations. I am not perfect, and what I think is perfect isn’t perfect at all.
I stopped comparing myself to people. I stopped zooming in and tapping delete and let myself be. I would be lying if I said I didn’t compare myself to anyone, given that we are such visual creatures, but my psyche no longer feels this incessant need to berate myself for not being a certain way.
Maybe it’s time for us to log off.
Photos by Dina Veloric.