I recognize the devil and angel resting on my shoulders because they’ve both been here before.
I’m debating whether or not I should post a thread of semi-nude photos on my Instagram. The photos, taken by my true love, self-timer, show off my new bangin’ haircut with the morning March light coming into my Flatbush apartment, which is hitting in all the right spots and my ass, caught in between a worn black thong, looks nice. As someone who struggled with an eating disorder, finding and capturing the beauty in my flaws with this body of mine is therapeutic and part of recovery.
The angel says I can post these, unfiltered, and feel like I am portraying my authentic self — one who does not feel the need to censor anything. I don’t have a “finsta,” an account many millennials only share with their truest friends in their most fucked up or raw, emotional state. Whenever I post a “risqué” photo of myself, which usually comprises of me unapologetically rocking my curves in little to no clothing, I feel strong; I feel whole; I feel empowered. In this state of nakedness, I am pure in my truest form. I also love catching my followers off guard in a feed full of avocado toast brunches and iPhone photography, but that’s another essay.
The devil says only a small percentage of followers will understand my intentions, whereas the others will miss the point. However, the devil doesn’t understand that this is not for the male gaze; this is for women, non-binary, and trans folks everywhere who feel elated knowing they are accepting the space and body they are in. I also had a pit in my stomach knowing that one of my best friends would see this photo and immediately get uncomfortable. But why?
To the devil’s utter dismay, I post the photos amongst my collection of selfies, travel snapshots, and writing excerpts. An hour later, not to my surprise, the same friend sends me a fuming text, which is coated and disguised in trying to have kind intentions but fails to deliver. I really hope your profile is on private because when you apply for jobs, professionals will definitely be looking at your account. And I hope you’re posting those photos for self-love purposes and not attention.
The pit in my stomach expands and suddenly I can feel a lump in my throat the size of a pinball. Not only am I saddened by my “friend’s” feedback, but I am stuck between a rock and a hard place trying to identify myself as an uncensored, free 23-year-old queer woman writer, and trying to pay the bills and have job security.
Not only have I heard this advice before to “clean up” my social media accounts, but keeping it PG is boring to me, and it would not accurately reflect the way I want to portray myself to my followers.
Instagram can be a very artificial place where we only want to post the good days, but I’m not here for just the good days; I’m here for the crying puffy-faced selfies, the stretch marks that I have finally come to find sexy, and the blemishes on my face I refuse to Facetune. So, how can I be a professional, someone actively craving stability and a career, but wanting to continue to push boundaries and shift silly stigmas of how women should act not only IRL, but on the world wide web?
Women like Ashley Graham, Lizzo, and Indya Moore simultaneously contribute to the body positivity movement and decide to be the narrators of their own image, which influences me to do the same. Although these three are all in the entertainment industry unlike me, I appreciate the influence they bring to my life as a woman navigating self-love, peace, and acceptance.
Before I eventually severed the friendship with someone I’ve known for over 15 years, I didn’t want to delete the photos because let’s be real; I was blessing everyone’s feed. Instead, I changed my username so it wouldn’t show both my first and last name, which would make it more difficult for job searchers to find me. But a day passed and it didn’t sit well with me; why couldn’t I just own it? This account was mine, these photos are mine, and this body is mine. And if I don’t get a job because a recruiter thinks I’m not professional on my social media, the job just most likely isn’t for me. Because I will stay true to myself before I will ever sell myself out or be something I’m not.
Top photo: Flickr / d. perrotta
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Gretchen Sterba is an editorial intern for BUST. She recently graduated with a B.A. from Columbia College Chicago with a double major in magazine journalism and creative nonfiction. Her most profound accomplishment is getting a Michael Scott tattoo. Follow her on Instagram at @gretchensterba