This Is the Next Battle Frontier in the War Against Body Shaming

The feminist struggle against body shaming practices in the media has resulted in steady yet slow progress. Victoria’s Secret, a company that epitomizes the brands that make women feel bad about the way they look, still doesn’t feature any plus-sized models in its collection of “angels." But one small victory last month after the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show brought some hope. As Alyssa Hardy pointed out in Teen Vogue, Lais Ribeiro, one of the models, showed visible stretch marks while walking down the runway, marking a significant shift in body acceptance by major corporations. The time has come for stretch mark acceptance.

All signs point toward stretch marks as the next battle for body positivity advocates. 2017 was arguably about skin pigmentation; models like Winnie Harlow and Nyakim Gatwech rose in popularity this year, thanks to social media. The year before saw a different victory when size 16 Ashley Graham made history after becoming the first plus-sized model featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, a moment many hoped signified the end of the fashion industry’s shunning of women over size 8.

Now it’s stretch marks’ time. Kendrick Lamar revitalized a conversation around stretch marks earlier this year when he released HUMBLE. The lyrics include the lines: "I'm so f**kin' sick and tired of the Photoshop/Show me somethin' natural like afro on Richard Pryor/Show me somethin' natural like ass with some stretch marks." Later in 2017, Barcelona-based artist Cinta Tort Cartró made headlines with her snapshots of stretch marks colored in with rainbow paints. “It all started as a form of expression, but it quickly turned into social commentary of the male-dominated culture we live in,” she told Yahoo Beauty.

The changing nature of popular photography has played a huge role in the way the public sees stretch marks. For years, women have been told to cover up their marks with creams and makeup. Models have traditionally had stretch marks airbrushed away in advertising photos, but 2017 saw a significant return to the “natural” look. Brands like Asos, American Eagle and Target were praised for featuring models sans-airbrushing in their ads.

Finally, you can’t talk about popular photography these days without considering the impact of Instagram. Social media has been a driving force in the body positivity and wellness movements. The platform allows ordinary users and models alike to share closeups as well as stories of their struggles to overcome body insecurities, and the app has awakened a widespread demand for authenticity. While Instagram is certainly guilty of enabling users to filter and distort their photos, some of the most popular accounts belong to activists, artists and models like Denise Bidot who proudly show off their stretch marks. They're expanding our definitions of what can be beautiful, proving that perfection is no longer what all of the people want.

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