Image Source: Getty / Tim Robberts
Whether it happens subconsciously or not, the images we see every day affect how we view ourselves. Seeing ourselves in the media is what makes things relatable. It's what makes us love our favourite song, favourite show, and favourite celebrities. But in the age of social media, the new normal is getting our inspiration and sense of belonging from the people and influencers we follow. As a Black woman, especially as a dark-skinned Black woman, it can become daunting to see the "accepted" idea of beauty, hair, and bodies be the exact opposite of who you are.
Accounts that only embrace the traditional standard of beauty and have an absence of diversity created a lack of representation as I scrolled, and it was something I, unfortunately, hadn't noticed before this year. I followed my close friends, brands, and influencers I liked who happened to cross my path on Instagram. However, when shelter-in-place orders hit, like millions of others, I found myself staying at home and on social media double (maybe even triple) the usual amount while simply trying to stay connected. It was then that I noticed something a little odd about my timeline. Where were all the dark-skinned Black women? I already followed a few inspirational Black women in my field of journalism and my favourite Black musicians, but other than people I knew personally, there were very few dark-skinned Black women I was seeing every day, and that was hurting my self-image. Without even realising it, the insecurities about my hair and my body were amplified because I wasn't seeing women who looked like me, even though I spent so much time on the app. In a way, Instagram began adding more stress to my life — on top of everything else that was going on in the world — and that should never be the case.
Being a Black woman is brilliant, empowering, and hard, and through this experiment with Instagram, I've found many resources to help me through it.
So, I decided to change that. I followed fashion, travel, and wellness influencers, as well as artists, activists, and writers — all Black creatives and all Black women. After following these amazing women for a few months now, I can say that it's changed my perspective of social media and has had the most positive impact on my self-image and self-confidence. Black women are beautiful! Although in the back of my mind I already knew this, having a daily reminder of women like me thriving is an inspiration.
I've had inspiration for natural hairstyles to try (which hasn't happened in years), I know more makeup brands that include and work for my skin tone, and I know the Black-owned brands to buy from to replace brands that I can no longer support due to their views (or loud silence) on important topics such as Black Lives Matter. Being a Black woman is brilliant, empowering, and hard, and through this experiment with Instagram, I've found many resources to help me through it. Socially aware yoga and meditation hosted by Black women, mental health resources specifically for us, and influential thoughts and ideas created by us. While some people or brands I followed before may be great allies, they won't ever fully understand what it's like to be me. Following these women felt like a personal connection and a comfort I didn't realise I was missing, especially while the injustices toward Black women were being amplified but still ignored.
Although it can be the source of a lot of hate, social media can also be a place to "escape" and stay connected. Ideally, it shouldn't add any stressors to your life. So, what's my advice? If you find more stress than enjoyment using social media, unfollow and block that negativity immediately (there's also never a wrong time to delete the app for a while). Make your timeline a place of inspiration and representation. Fill it with things you'd want to hear, friends you'd want to have in real-life, and a place with health and wellness resources specifically for you and women like you. Trust me, seeing your own thoughts and emotions shared by others means a little more when it comes from someone who just gets it.
The saying "representation matters" rings true. For me, it's even more imperative to see women who look like me on a daily basis and not in traumatising situations. Yes, it's important to stay aware and up to date on the news and what we as Black women are going through today, but it's also an act of self-care to have images of Black women embracing our features, watering our house plants, and simply living life every day.