The #NormalizeNormalBodies Movement Is Going Viral for All the Right Reasons
Thanks to the body-positivity movement, more women are embracing their shapes and shunning antiquated ideas about what it means to be "beautiful". Brands like Aerie have helped the cause by featuring more diverse models and vowing not to retouch them. Women like Ashley Graham and Iskra Lawrence are helping to change beauty standards by being their authentic, unfiltered selves and scoring major beauty contracts and magazine covers like Vogue in the process. It's a time when women are (finally) being encouraged to celebrate their bodies rather than change or feel ashamed of them.
But Mik Zazon, founder of the #NormalizeNormalBodies movement on Instagram, says there are still women who are left out of this conversation around body positivity—women who don't fit the stereotypical label of "skinny" but who wouldn't necessarily consider themselves "curvy" either. Women who fall somewhere in the middle of these two labels still don't see their body types represented in media, argues Zazon. And more importantly, conversations about body image, self-acceptance, and self-love aren't always geared toward these women either, Zazon tells Shape.
"The body-positive movement is specifically for people who have marginalized bodies," says Zazon. "But I do feel like there's some space to give women with 'normal bodies' more of a voice."
Of course, the term "normal" can be interpreted in many different ways, notes Zazon. "Being 'normal-sized' means something different to everyone," she explains. "But I want women to know that if you don't fall into the plus-size, athletic, or straight-sized categories, you deserve to be a part of the body-positivity movement, too." (Related: These Women Are Embracing Their Stature In the "More Than My Height" Movement)
"I've lived in so many different bodies throughout my life," adds Zazon. "This movement is my way of reminding women that you're allowed to show up as you are. You don't have to fit into a mold or category to feel comfortable and confident in your skin. All bodies are 'normal' bodies."
Since Zazon's movement began about a year ago, over 21,000 women have used the #normalizenormalbodies hashtag. The movement has given these women a platform to share their truth and an opportunity for their voices to be heard, Zazon tells Shape.
"I was ALWAYS insecure about my 'hip dips'," shared one woman who used the hashtag. "It wasn’t until my mid-twenties when I decided to love myself and embrace my body for what it is. There is nothing wrong with me or my hips, this is my skeleton. This is how I’m built and I am beautiful. So are you." (Related: I'm Not Body Positive or Negative, I'm Just Me)
Another person who used the hashtag wrote: "From a young age, we are led to believe that our body isn’t beautiful enough, or enough at all. But [the body] is not an object for other’s pleasure or to be restrained to fit society’s beauty standards. Your body holds many qualities. Qualities far beyond size and shape." (Related: Katie Willcox Wants You to Know You're So Much More Than What You See In the Mirror)
Zazon says her personal journey with body image inspired her to create the hashtag. "I thought about what it took for me to normalize my own body," she says. "It's taken a lot for me to get to where I am today."
Growing up as an athlete, Zazon "always had an athletic body type," she shares. "But I ended up having to quit all sports because of concussions and injuries," she explains. "It was a huge blow to my self-esteem."
Once she stopped being as active, Zazon says she started to gain weight. "I was eating the same as I was when I still played sports, so the pounds kept racking on," she says. "Soon it started to feel like I'd lost my identity." (Related: Can You Love Your Body and Still Want to Change It?)
As years passed, Zazon began feeling increasingly uncomfortable in her skin, she says. During this vulnerable time, she found herself in what she describes as "an extremely abusive" relationship, she shares. "The trauma through that four-year relationship affected me on both an emotional and physical level," she says. "I didn't know who I was anymore, and emotionally, I was so damaged. I just wanted to feel a sense of control, and that's when I started going through cycles of anorexia, bulimia, and orthorexia." (Related: How Running Helped Me Conquer My Eating Disorder)
Even after that relationship ended, Zazon continued to struggle with disordered eating habits, she says. "I remember looking in the mirror and seeing my ribs protruding out of my chest," she shares. "I loved being 'skinny', but at that moment, my desire to live made me realize I needed to make a change."
As she worked on regaining her health, Zazon began sharing her recovery on Instagram, she tells Shape. "I started by posting about my recovery, but then it became so much more than that," she explains. "It became about embracing every aspect of yourself. Whether it was adult acne, stretch marks, premature graying—stuff that's so demonized in society—I wanted women to realize that all of these things are normal."
Today, Zazon's message resonates with women around the world, as evidenced by the tens of thousands of people who use her hashtag every day. But Zazon admits she still can't quite believe how much the movement has taken off.
"It's not about me anymore," she shares. "It's about these women who were lacking a voice."
These women, in turn, have given Zazon her own sense of empowerment, she says. "Without even realizing, so many people keep certain things about their lives to themselves," she explains. "But when I look at the hashtag page, I see women share things that I didn't even realize that I was hiding about myself. They've given me permission to realize that I was hiding these things. It empowers me so much every single day."
As for what's ahead, Zazon hopes the movement will continue to remind people of the power you gain once you feel liberated in your own body, she says. "Even if you don't have a truly marginalized body type and aren't seeing versions of yourself in mainstream media, you still have the microphone," she says. "You just need to speak up."