Social media is a powerful force. Instagram is a place that many of us visit every single day, for hours at a time, and the sort of content you consume can have a real impact on how you feel about yourself – and your body. For one plus-size influencer, Danielle Catton, who uses the handle @DanielleIsAnxious, the lack of representation of diverse body types began to have an affect on her mental health. So she chose to do something about it.
I dial in for a Zoom call with Danielle, who is based in Canada (a few hours outside of Toronto) to hear more about why she decided to create a viral series of posts. In them, she recreates videos (think: 'how to pose yourself thinner' tutorials) and photos that she found excluded her bigger body. One photo, shared by a slim woman, says 'sizing up is not a bad thing' in relation to wearing shorts – an important message about labels not determining self-worth, but in Danielle's version, she writes 'sizing up is not always an option', highlighting that plus-size women often have limited clothing options.
Danielle first set up her Instagram account around two and a half years ago to document her mental health journey (she has been diagnosed with anxiety and depression), but found as time progressed her focus migrated to fat positivity ("we need to stop weaponising that word") and self-love. For her, mental health and body image go hand in hand – as does representation. "I realised through counselling that a lot of my issues with anxiety came from having poor body image. There was that yearning to love myself and not having self-confidence... I always think what would've helped my teenage self and better representation of body types is one thing, definitely."
As for the images she's now recreating, Danielle explains, "I'd see these images shared and re-shared on big accounts and it'd leave me with this little feeling inside, like 'I should be happy for this, I should be thankful for this' but something just wasn't sitting right with me." She continues, "Then I realised it's because, still, none of those bodies looked like mine."
She acknowledges that the original posts serve a purpose too, but that thin privilege still exists and the balance online is currently tipped – you're more likely to see a straight size woman on your explore page, than a plus-size one. "I can't ever use angles or lighting tricks to make myself look like a slim woman. It’s a privilege that only some have, to be able to pull their leggings up and be able to hide whatever 'flaws' they think they have."
When I ask whether she was ever worried about offending any of the original creators, such as Danae Mercer, Danielle admits she had some concerns in the beginning – but that many of them now repost her work. Danae has since even tagged her in 'challenges' to recreate too. "At first I was worried these creators were going to be upset with me, but my intention was not – and is never – to be malicious," she tells me. "I just want to provide that missing representation and I hope my posts are educational too. I'd say 98% of the recreations I've done, I've had a positive and very open arms response from the creators."
Danielle adds, "Both posts have value, both messages have value – because not everybody has the body like me either. And that's my whole point, we need to see a broader spectrum. The messages from the original creators are definitely going to help people too."
As for who her posts engage with the most, Danielle says it's not just bigger women like herself, but that her messages are resonating across the board. This is evidence in her follower count which has leapt up by some 25,000 since she started her recreation series this summer, to around 45,000. "It's been absolutely wild seeing seeing it grow like that, I didn't expect it at all. It's not just fat bodies that are commenting on my posts, but all bodies are giving a positive response. People who are in thin bodies are recognising and saying, 'Yeah, I like your values', or 'Your message has value too'."
As somebody who'd previously only come across smaller women posting about how posing makes a difference, as a size 10 to 12 myself, I can attest that they impacted on me positively (especially any centred on bloating or the overuse of filters). But speaking with Danielle and engaging with her content has opened my eyes to the fact that not everybody will have the same reaction.
Diversity, in all forms (age, race, size, ability) truly matters – and so does who you follow and learn from. It's easy to forget that we're in control (to an extent) of what we view online and right now, it's more important than ever to make a conscious effort to break out of the online echo chamber.
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