Its everywhere: Body positive eating disorder survivor Alex Light on diet culture
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“You don’t deserve the frankly abusive things that a lot of us say to say to ourselves,” Alex Light says. The 32-year-old influencer and swimwear designer with almost 420,000 Instagram followers speaks passionately as she addresses body confidence and mental health.
The social media star is a strong advocate after suffering from eating disorders in her 20s. While her Instagram page – where she posted about her career as a fashion and beauty editor – was beautiful, behind it all she was struggling.
“(My Instagram) was completely in contrast to what was going on behind the scenes for me in my personal life,” Alex describes.
“I was suffering from eating disorders, and I was in a really bad way and ended up having to seek treatment. The photos I was posting at the time were these perfect, edited photos and it felt so at odds with what was going on. It felt really disingenuous.”
As an influencer herself, Alex knows all about what it’s like to find your mental health is being damaged by social media.
“With the rise of social media with there’s also been the rise of this image, this unattainable standard of beauty, that’s been set by a platform that’s curated and edits someone down to, well, down to a square,” Alex says. “And it tends to be the best square.
“People say, ‘Instagram’s a highlight reel’, and it’s kind of an overused phrase but it’s true.
“Instagram – social media in general – is a highlight reel. We prefer to put more positive depictions of ourselves online, that’s just how we work.”
This experience is why Alex is working with Isle of Paradise – the self-care and self-tan brand – to challenge social media companies to create a better experience for users.
The brand is working on the campaign with Nyome Nicholas-Williams, who in 2020 challenged Instagram’s policy on nudity, launching a viral campaign to ensure all bodies are treated equally.
“The campaign is about everybody and I feel that’s incredibly, incredibly important in a time when we’re really trying to change the status quo,” Alex explains. “In the media, there has always only been one very, very narrow standard of beauty for as long as we can all remember. It has been really detrimental to self-esteem and body image, especially among women and girls. I’m very passionate about pushing the message that everybody deserves to be seen that there is beauty in every kind of body shape and size and ability and race.
“There’s been a huge problem of censorship, especially with fat bodies, and with black bodies as well, and people of colour, and it’s so, so, so damaging. The root of that message is that your body can’t be seen if it looks a certain way. It’s really damaging and I’m just happy to be part of something that pushes back against that.”
Alex claimed she often has her images and videos taken down from TikTok, which she believes is due to her being a straight size.
“There is not much I can upload on there without getting taken down,” she explains.
“Even pictures of me showing the slightest bit of skin will be taken off. Whereas it’s it’s just totally at odds with some of the other videos on there.”
Alex says during the height of her issues with disordered eating, Instagram was playing a negative role in her life.
“When I was in the thick of my eating disorder I followed people for ‘inspo’, as much as I hate to admit that now,” Alex said.
“But that ‘inspo’ was making me feel even worse about myself and sort of throwing me further down that path. As I started to go through recovery, I began to take a look at who I was following, and try to decipher what these people were actually bringing into my life, to my mental health.
Was I left feeling good about myself, or was I left feeling like I need to look more like them to be happy, or to be successful or to be desirable?”
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Being mindful about who she was following was a key part of Alex’s recovery.
“A huge change for me was when I started to follow people that looked like me, as I am now, and people who looked completely different from me as well,” Alex said.
“I branched out and I followed people of all different shapes and sizes and genders and races. It was a shock at first because we’re only used to seeing one type of beauty and it feels shocking to see anything else.
“Slowly but surely I desensitised myself to those images and seeing a different type of beauty. Now, I can genuinely see the beauty in all shapes and sizes.
“For far too long we’ve thought that we all need to look like one type of person but beauty lies in the fact that we all look completely different and completely unique. That’s what’s beautiful.”
Alex also discussed the proliferation of edited images on social media apps like Instagram: “What I think is incredibly toxic is the rise of editing, manipulating bodies, thinning bodies and sometimes enhancing them, smoothing out the skin. I think this all setting an unattainable standard of beauty, but also an unrealistic one and a totally false one because the people who are in those pictures don’t even look like that.
“You’ve got 1000s if not millions of women consuming this content and having no idea that this content has been touched. Humans are hardwired to compare themselves to others. And what’s happening is we’ve got a generation of kids who are comparing themselves to something that isn’t real.
“They’re coming out the other side feeling not enough, feeling that they will never be enough, because, you know, to the vast majority of people we can never ever look like that. And it’s really detrimental to their self-esteem to their body confidence and to their overall confidence as well.”
She went on: “We talk about the effects of editing on the person consuming the content, but also for the person creating the content and doing the editing themselves it creates a standard of beauty that they can’t live up to even though this page is supposed to be themselves, you know, they’re never gonna look like that, and never gonna match up to that and it’s a slippery slope.
“I feel editing and manipulating photos often comes from a place of insecurity and bad body image, and we end up thinking of these people as the big bad monsters because they’re trying to sell a lie, but actually it needs to be approached with more compassion.
“Editing your photos is only a very short term reassurance that’s actually leading to real long term issues.”
The activist speaks out on her anti-diet culture stance, a concept many may still be unfamiliar with. “I believe it’s really at the root of a lot of mental health issues,” Alex explains.
“Diet culture is the belief that thinness is the best thing a human can achieve, and we all live in diet culture. It’s thrown at us all the time, through overt things like weight loss ads and family members telling you that you need to lose weight to really subtle things like ‘wellness brands’. It’s everywhere and it’s really difficult to get away from.
“The more I spoke about it and looked into it, I realised just how widespread it was, and especially growing up in the 90s. We were absolutely bombarded with things like Kate Moss saying nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, the heyday of Weight Watchers and Slimming World, the popularity of the Atkins diet.
“Being subject to all of that has been really problematic for a lot of people and it’s the reason collectively we have such a low body image and that we have poor mental health when it comes to our body confidence.”
So, what can social media companies do to improve the experience of people like Alex?
“Regulation is great, especially the regulation of diet products,” the influencer said. “I think the more that Instagram is able to work on their censorship, to provide censorship for things it’s needed for rather than maginalised bodies, I think the more we do on that the better.
“I personally think it is a good thing to hide likes. We have the option now that you can hide likes on your posts if you want to. It was great we were given that option. I do think that we live in a generation where we rely on likes, comments and social media popularity to get our dopamine hits. Eliminating that is generally a really positive thing.
“Brands on social media to start being as inclusive and diverse as possible, but truly diverse and truly inclusive. That means not just their campaigns but looking inside the companies as well. There are still brands where the entire page is just full of really thin women. They don’t display any other kind of shapes or sizes and I think that that’s not acceptable in this age. It never was, but especially now.
“What we consume, we internalise that, and then it shapes our belief system. It’s important as well for the younger generation to be aware of the fact, to a certain extent the controls is in our hands. We are able to adapt the algorithm. The algorithm wants to work to you like, that’s what it’s designed for, it’s designed to be as personalised to you as possible.
“We don’t have to follow the Instagram models, we can choose our own path and follow people who we find personally to be positive and uplifting. We need to fill our feeds with as much positivity as possible.”
Alex Light’s wellness tips
“There are so many amazing resources out there today. You have so many Instagram accounts dedicated to body image, and specifically approving it.
“There are amazing books that you can read. There’s Just Eat It by Laura Thomas, which touches on body image but also dieting and why we’re in such a bad place where we are with eating.
“Fattily Ever After by Stephanie Yeboah is a brilliant book as well.
“Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach is another book that’s great to read.
“Look into diet culture because it will help you understand why you feel the way you do about your body, and why these standards are in place in the first place.
“Arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible, because if you can get to the root of why you’ve been made to feel this way that can help you debunk it a little, or at least start challenging and questioning your own mind. This was incredibly helpful for me.”
Update your Instagram feed
“I filled my feed with people who look like me and then people who like to completely different from Just to fill my favourite diverse range of people.
“Being able to see the beauty in them made me realise I can see the beauty in me.”
Indulge in self care
“Self-care is a huge part of self-compassion. I think we often don’t give ourselves enough time for self-care but it has been on the rise in the past few years and I’m so thankful for that. It’s so helpful for mental health and for self-esteem as well.
“For me, self-care includes making sure I get enough sleep and taking my mind off stuff with guided breathing. I love reading. I would highly recommend investing in self-care because you are just as important as everyone else in your life, if not more important.
“I always go back to my definition of feminism which is allowing women to do what feels good for them, what they want to do and what makes them feel good and for me, that’s getting my hair highlighted. I love wearing makeup like it’s one of my favourite things to do, I find it so therapeutic. love applying for it. I love a fake tan. I love having a nice glow and it makes me feel good and I just think whatever you want to do, you deserve it.
“The Isle of Paradise self-tanning drops are one of my favourite parts of my self-care routine, and they’re super easy you just mix them with your favourite moisturiser or your serum.”
“The way that we talk to ourselves often goes totally unquestioned and unchallenged. We can say the most awful things to ourselves.
“Compassion is hugely important, but something that isn’t talked about enough is self-compassion, giving yourself a break and cutting yourself some slack.”
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