She stood in front of a mirror with beautifully tossed hair and puckered lips with a hand on her hip. The Instagram selfie was vertically angled to show off her entire slim body. As I looked at her photo in amazement, I thought to myself, “She is the embodiment of beauty.”
As I scrolled through my newly made Instagram account, I saw so many other beautiful girls who looked like her. Their posts had so many likes and comments. My newly uploaded photos of myself only had 10 likes.
Throughout the year, I became more aware of how my own body was portrayed on social media. Unlike the slim girls, curvy bodies like mine weren’t showered with social approval. I didn’t have random strangers commenting how “beautiful,” “sexy” and “desirable” I was. At best, my tias would comment, “Gorda hermosa” — “Voluptuous beauty.”
At the beginning of my senior year, I attended a party with my friends. As the music started to dim down, my friend took out her phone to exclaim, “Una foto en grupo!” — “Let’s get a group picture!”
As my friends assembled for the photo, I worked my way to the back of the picture, hoping to hide my curvy body behind everyone. If I was in the front, my body would be displayed on someone’s account for the world to judge my size and curves. I sullenly stood in the back as my friends posed wildly for the camera.
The next week, my best friend approached me at school saying, “That party was fun, right? I have a lot of good pictures of the group, but you’re hardly visible in most of them!”
Steering the conversation toward a new topic without responding to her observation, I answered, “Yeah, the party was great, I enjoyed the music. What do you think about the mix being played?”
I felt embarrassed telling her that I didn’t want to have pictures of myself on social media so that people wouldn’t judge my body.
After school, I went home and lay in my bed. I grabbed my phone, logged in to my Instagram and scrolled down my feed. I felt intimidated as every picture I passed showed a different slim body at a different angle — each photo with hundreds of likes and positive comments.
I ran to my closet to wear the same outfit most of the girls in the photos were wearing. I pulled out skinny jeans, tank tops and ankle boots to achieve their same aesthetic. As I put on my boots to finish the look, I walked to my mirror and saw that the mimicked outfit did not look as appealing on my curvy body as it looked on their slim bodies.
As I stood in front of my mirror to take photos, I angled the camera in many different ways, attempting to mimic popular poses from Instagram. I struggled to suck in my belly and position myself like them. I spent more than 30 minutes contorting my body in different ways, hoping to look like the Instagram models.
As I lay on my bed scrolling through the 40 photos I took, my eyes filled with tears, and I threw my phone at the mirror. I looked nothing like the photoshopped pictures online. I was upset that I was trying so hard to be someone else.
The next week, after a long day of classes, I sat down on my couch, pulled out my phone and logged on to Instagram. As the page loaded, I saw plus-size model Tess Holiday wearing a shirt that said, “Effectively Change Your Beauty Standards.” The photo vertically showed her whole curvy body and had nearly 10,000 likes. As I looked through her hundreds of positive comments, her message of body positivity inspired me to love my body in photos.
The next time I was hanging out with my friends, I proudly wore my tight skinny jeans and a tank top that showed off my curves. As we were walking through the streets of Downtown San Diego, I pulled out my phone and yelled, “Todos sonrian para la foto!” — “Everyone pose for the picture!”
My hands shook as I passed the camera to a friend to take the picture, but despite my nervousness, I challenged myself to stand in the front of the group.
With a huge smile on myself, I shouted, “Take it vertically please — a full body picture!” I confidently stood in the center of my friends with my hand on my hip — I was no longer afraid to embrace my body.
Throughout my adolescence, I have struggled to love my body in photos. My idea of beauty was influenced by Photoshopped pictures of slender women, but I no longer judge my body by “idealized” images. I confidently embrace photos of myself regardless of the angle. My worth has nothing to do with how many comments and likes I receive on social media. My body size does not define me. I am defined by the beauty of being me.
Shirley Ojeda writes the Thursday column on body positivity. Contact her at [email protected].