Body hair, stretch marks and double chins.

Rarely do these features conform to conventional standards of beauty.

While the Internet can be a cruel and terrible place overrun with mean comments, there’s also a growing contingency of women redefining self-love.

And they’re taking a stand against Photoshopped-perfect photos.

We spoke to 10 Instagrammers who’ve turned their accounts into safe havens for the body positivity movement, which isn’t limited to accepting physical appearances. There’s so much strength in embracing your diagnoses and illnesses, too.

When we asked them what feeling comfortable in your own skin looks like, one word stood out in their responses:

“Freedom.”

Michelle Liu, 21, has combined chins, selfies and an appearance from Dr. Oz in her quirky account. She also popularized the hashtag #chinning, which now has almost 10,000 posts tagged.

“Chinning was originally born out of my insecurity from middle school,” Liu says. “I felt the pressures of society and my peers to look a certain way and felt that I wouldn’t be able to live up to those standards. … At the time, selfies were really popular, and I figured I could turn it into a ‘chinfie,’ which was an easy way for me to capture my chin and landmarks together when I traveled.”

Ally Zinsmeister, 21, was diagnosed with CRPS, or complex regional pain syndrome, eight years ago. The incurable condition causes devastating pain. She uses her account to advocate for those who struggle with the physical limitations that come with chronic illness and disability.

Ally Zinsmeister, 21, was diagnosed with CRPS, or complex regional pain syndrome, eight years ago. The incurable condition causes devastating pain. She uses her account to advocate for those who struggle with the physical limitations that come with chronic illness and disability.


“When I first got diagnosed [with CRPS], I wish I had an influencer or mentor in my life who not only understood what I was going through, but had made it out on the other side,” Zinsmeister says. “I made it a goal to become that for others.”

“I want people to know that it is absolutely okay to feel every emotion, especially the ‘bad’ ones, and still find joy buried in there somewhere.”

Gina K., 31, refused to let anorexia get the better of her and began to expose the pooches, rolls and soft parts of her body that once made her feel ashamed. She’s the creator of #EmbraceTheSquish, which now has around 29,000 photos tagged.

“#EmbraceTheSquish … is simply about refusing to let our own bodily insecurities get the better of us,” she says. “It’s about pulling back the veil and letting ourselves — and society — know that all bodies move, jiggle and pudge, and that’s just a part of being alive. All shapes, all sizes. We squish, therefore, we are.”

“I’m still learning what it means to be truly comfortable in my own skin, but I think it has a lot to do with realizing that our bodies are vessels for experience. [They] evolve and adapt as often as we do. I think it means knowing that who we are is good enough, always, all ways.”

In 2016, Hann Peliowski was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer at 24. They had their last reconstructive surgery about two weeks ago.

“When I was in chemo, I spent a lot of time online, searching for other people with cancer,” Peliowski says. “I stumbled upon Ericka Hart, a black sex educator who also had breast cancer and went through a bilateral mastectomy. She posts photos of her bare chest, looking incredible and honoring her scars. It made me contemplate my own situation as a young, genderqueer person with breast cancer, and how representation is so important.”

Reesie T., 28, is a yoga Instagrammer and elementary school teacher who stopped shaving two years ago.

“I have never actually liked to shave my legs or other body hair, but I felt like I needed to shave to be with a man,” she says. “I didn’t want to get made fun of or get looks from people.”

“Growing up, I have personally felt shame for being labeled ‘hairy’ in school, and it negatively impacted me. I don’t want that for my daughters or students. … I want people to understand that body hair is normal for humans. No female should be made to feel lazy, nasty or uncomfortable because they choose to keep the hair that naturally grows on them.”

Sara Geurts, 26, has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a disorder that affects connective tissues and can cause some people to have elastic skin that stretches easily.

“My biggest insecurity in the past was my disorder and the effects it has on my body,” Geurts says. “I used to hide in baggy clothes and didn’t want anyone to see it or ask me about it. Now, I consider my disorder to be one of my most beautiful imperfections.”

“I believe your imperfections are individual to you and show the journey you have been on. I may have a disorder, and yes, my disorder is a part of me, but I am not my disorder.”

Kacy Johnson, 36, has photographed more than 210 women in Brazil, San Francisco and Detroit over the past three years.

“Every day, I hear from women who tell me that this portrait series — and the stories from each of the women photographed — have helped them to realize that all women are beautiful and that there are no such things as imperfections,” Johnson says.

“I used to obsess more about the size of my body or how I would present myself to the world, but when I began to actually express my thoughts and opinions, my physical appearance stopped feeling like something that defined me and became just another piece of who I am. I also like reflecting on the story of my body: the way it’s changed over the years, what it’s been through and the parts that remind me of my mother.”

Talmesha Jones, 27, doesn’t call them stretch marks. The independent model began sharing photos of her “tiger stripes” to heal and overcome her insecurities about them. She started the hashtag #TigerStripesOnATuesday.

"I hope to inspire others by showing them that real bodies are beautiful,” Jones says. “That sexiness is not equated with smooth, flawless skin, but with the belief that we are sexy.”

Akual Chan, 20, is a South Sudanese student who is using her Instagram to fight against race-related problems and self-hate.

“I call myself ‘dark love’ because I believe that self-love is the greatest type of love,” Chan says. “I pass and preach beauty in diversity. When a young girl looks at my page, I would love her to be inspired to appreciate herself as she is. I would want her to feel complete and beautiful as she is.”

Twenty-year-old Roseanna Mae and two friends (@busty_diaries and @nipnipss) bonded over their mutual love for lingerie. “[It] turned into many conversations about our bodies and how nudity is not always sexual,” Mae explains. Their joint account, Positively Glittered, started with a backyard photoshoot.

“We have already had many messages and comments from women saying how they feel more kindly towards themselves and their bodies, and that they are enjoying seeing representation of themselves that is not a ‘typical’ media body. We hope to encourage women to see their individual beauty and strength.”

Illustrations by Rachel Orr.

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