We recently came across a new account on Instagram named Shape of Confidence and really liked how they were focused on Body Positivity! As such, we reached out to them and was pleasantly surprised to find out that Shape of Confidence was created by three postgraduate students from National Institute of Education (NIE)/Nanyang Technological University (NTU) as part of a research study on education through Instagram and mental health promotion, as conducted by Dr Hannah Suh from NIE.
Further intrigued, we spoke to them to learn more about their research study and their take on body positivity.
Q: Could you tell us a little more about the research study and why the focus on Body Positivity?
This project is part of a training that we get from our higher degree programme at NIE to become more competent at social media such as Instagram to create public awareness about a topic related to mental health. Social media is far-reaching and all-encompassing. As such, we wanted to find out how effective the use of social media, specifically Instagram, could help in educating, spreading awareness, and creating a community which promotes body positivity.
We decided to focus on body positivity because we see how prevalent body image issues are in our society. It is becoming increasingly so, especially amongst children and adolescents. Body Positivity movements have been seen as common in Western countries like the USA and Europe, and we would like to explore how we could use the same medium and localise the content and information shared to our local population in Singapore.
Q: Why do you think there are more people suffering from body image issues?
We feel that body image issues have been a problem for a very long time. But now, there is more awareness, and more people are talking about it. Technology, social media, research publications and mental health stakeholders (such as hospitals, schools) have all played a huge role in acknowledging and taking the initiative to tackle it.
More individuals have personal phones, which increases their access to worldwide media online. With cultural globalisation, wider exposure to pop culture influences and habits will inevitably influence individuals’ perceptions on what is acceptable or deemed desirable. This may influence how they perceive themselves pertaining to their bodies. The media messages can get internalised to what is deemed as ‘ideal’ body types and features. We consider that young children are more vulnerable as they may not be able to fully discern between the information. Peer influences and pressure may also further perpetuate the issues. There are also reports indicating increasing young age client referrals with issues in body image, low self-confidence and esteem even clinical disorders such as depression, anxiety arising from these challenges.
Q: What are some misconceptions about body positivity?
A big misconception is that we have to completely love our bodies and be fully satisfied with how we look to be happy. Body positivity doesn’t mean feeling good about your body all the time. We know that sometimes we may feel insecure about certain body parts or how we look in certain clothes but we feel that body positivity is about being kinder to yourself, acknowledging your body for the work it does and in those moments when we feel insecure, it is about reminding ourselves that there are so many other parts to us to feel confident and good about. For us, we define it as being able to relate to our own bodies with self-compassion, understanding and acceptance. This allows us to differentiate and detach our self-worth from how our body looks like, and to promote a more healthy, holistic lifestyle.
Body positivity is not just a movement to combat fatphobia. It is for folks of all shapes, forms and sizes. Be it recovering from postpartum, or being called too ‘skinny’ for your culture, too ‘white’ or too ‘tanned’ skinned, people struggling with acne, hair-loss, wrinkles, and even disabilities. Body positivity is truly an inclusive movement that relates to everyone and anyone. A misconception that has begun to get more attention is that body image issues and body positivity apply to only females. While it does affect more females, this is definitely not true. Males also experience pressure to look a certain way, such as having more muscles, so that they are perceived as stronger and more desirable. With abundant online images of males in gyms posting pictures of their workouts and flexing their muscles, it is not surprising that people looking at these images start to doubt themselves.
Another misconception is that people with socially ideal ‘body figures and features’, if there is one, do not struggle from body image issues. Sometimes paradoxically, those who seem to ‘have it all’, may be the ones who are struggling the most – to keep up with ever-changing body image trends, or go on extreme dieting or go under the knife to achieve a certain ideal body type or feature. Again, body positivity is a movement for all.
In essence, we believe body positivity goes beyond acceptance of how we look, our physical bodies or daily habits. It also reflects our inner states of mind, emotional well-being and our inner self. Hence, when we discuss body positivity, it goes deeper than acceptance of our looks, body shapes or type. Body positivity, at best, is self-acceptance.
Q: Main advice for anyone suffering from body image issues?
Our worth and value is not attached to how our bodies look. We do not have to conform to what we see in the media in order to be seen as beautiful. All of us have values, interests, accomplishments, family and friends, goals, and there are many other things to us apart from whether our bodies are similar to what we see as “preferred” or “desirable” in the media and society.
Perhaps, we could think about what the goal or purpose for having a better body is. We all want to look better, but we could ask how that would be meaningful to us. Realigning ourselves with what we want to achieve for ourselves by having a better body, helps us to relate to how we feel, think and perceive about our inner self, and by doing so builds upon our self-confidence and identity.
Try practicing self-compassion, regardless of what your goals are. If there are days where you do not feel the best about your body or wish it was different, remind yourself to be kinder towards your body that is keeping you alive and allowing you to do the things you can do right now. Our thoughts have a large influence on how we feel and we can practice adopting kinder and more positive thoughts towards ourselves.
Seek help if the negative thoughts, feelings or emotions are too overwhelming for you to handle and they continue to persist to the point it is affecting your functioning. It is important to know when and who to seek help from. Find a professional (counsellor, psychologist, psychiatrist, etc) who can work together with you. Remember that you are not alone. Having body image issues may seem like a lonely journey, and while knowing that more people do experience similar struggles as you does not take away your pain, it may be seen as a community that can be built. With the solidarity, comes strength and accountability as we embark on our own journeys of self-acceptance.
Q: We love the messages that you’ve put on Instagram but we’re wondering where do you get the research from?
Most of the information related to statistics or research findings are from research publications or peer-reviewed academic journal articles. We also get information from social platforms, including The Wellness Insider, and we always credit the source. We are aware of initiatives and campaigns that advocate for body positivity and we hope to amplify these messages too. As we are fro]m Singapore, we also gain our knowledge through reading articles and research papers published from Singapore to provide a localised stance on the issue of body positivity and body image issues. Our strategies also come from research findings and publications and we try to build on those from what we have learnt from our training as counsellors and psychologists.
Q: How is the reception to these messages so far?
We began less than a month ago but the responses have all been positive so far. We received comments and messages asking us when we will be posting and commending the message/post. We hope to continue reaching out to more people over the upcoming weeks.
Q: Will you continue the account once the research study is over?
This account will be kept as long as the grant is active.
Grant information: Education through Instagram Adventure: A proof of concept for a curriculum for mental health promotion competence. Incentivising ICT-Use Innovations Grant (I3G), NIE Teaching and Learning Committee (TLC), National Institute of Education/Nanyang Technological University.
We wish Shape of Confidence all the best and we are looking forward to find out the conclusion of their research! You can follow them on Instagram @shapeofconfidence.
If you would like to share your Body Confidence story, we would like to invite you to let us know more here so that we too, are able to build up a community to build each other up through this journey.
Images: Shape of Confidence