Women ignited the body-positivity movement on Instagram. Now men want in.
As it stands, women remain the leaders of the body-positive movement. They’re sharing their stories. They’re talking about their bodies. They’re opening up about their relationships to their bodies and how society’s affected their self-esteem. They’re showing off their stretch marks. They’re uploading their cellulite.
And it’s all happening on Instagram.
Instagram has been both pivotal and critical in the popularization of the body-positive conversation. It’s on Instagram that women are being open about their bodies and writing these posts with encouraging BOPO messages and hashtags like #EveryBodyIsBeautiful and #BeautyBeyondSize. Without the platform, women like Tess Holliday, Ashley Graham and Iskra Lawrence would’ve had to find different outlets.
“I think we’re in a society where we learn so much more visually than ever before,” Troy Solomon, a plus-size male model who’s got more than 33,000 followers on his Instagram page @ABearNamedTroy, said in an interview. “Something like Instagram, it’s imperative to making any kind of progress in body positivity. We’ve seen how it’s catapulted the women’s movement.”
Men are consciously using Instagram now in hopes of sparking a conversation around the importance of body positivity and self-love for guys. Mic spoke with three male bloggers who are doing exactly that.
How they’re getting their message across: A year and a half ago, Ryan Dziadul launched his own Instagram account @ExtraExtraStyle, which specializes in plus-size male fashion and body positivity, after seeing a void for stylish, encouraging plus-size guys on the app.
“I was talking to my friend Katie Sturino [plus-size blogger @The12ishStyle], and we were talking about what it was like working in the fashion industry, being plus size and being the biggest person in the room,” Dziadul said in an interview. “I was telling her that I was envious that women had a growing movement of body positivity and could share resources in plus-size dressing and options. And I felt like that didn’t exist for men. And she was like, ‘Well, why haven’t you started it? If you build it, they will come.’”
Come they did. In just over a year, @ExtraExtraStyle has amassed more than 4,500 followers. Dziadul’s account is a conglomerate of lifestyle and outfit shots featuring him, with all the brands and designers of the clothes he’s wearing tagged. Then, much like accounts from the likes of Graham and Holliday and Lawrence, there’s inspirational, body-positive posts, like one where he celebrated his own beach body.
“For me, the thought of putting pictures of myself out there was silly,” Dziadul said. “Like, who wants to see me? And then I remember I did my first bathing suit picture not that long ago, and there’s just these challenges that are forcing me to get more and more comfortable. Other people are going on that journey at the same time. It’s very supportive.”
For Dziadul, the Instagram community in itself really has been a critical tool for finding the people he wants to connect with.
“No matter what scene you’re into, there are people on Instagram who are into that too,” Dziadul said. “By following hashtags, or looking to see who I follow, you’re able to build a community and I think that something that can be as sensitive as body image, being able to sort of self-select those people who will be receptive to what you’re doing is important.”
There’s also Kelvin Davis, a plus-size male model, who launched @NotoriouslyDapper in 2013 mainly as a platform to talk about bigger guys and fashion. But then a leader of the body-positive movement, Tess Holliday, told him about the community, and that changed everything.
“I didn’t know about it until Tess reached out to me in 2016 or 2015, and she was like, ‘I’ve never seen a guy do what you do,’” Davis said in an interview. “’I would love for you to be an admin on @EffYourBeautyStandards’ [a popular BOPO account]. And that’s where I saw it was a movement of women, and I was like, ‘Damn I didn’t know this was a whole movement. Guys should be in here too.’”
Since then, Davis has leaned into the movement hard on Instagram. Scrolling through his account now, which has more than 61,000 followers, you’ll see tagged outfit photos interspersed with more inspiring posts about keeping positive or loving your body or wearing shorts, an item of clothing some people still don’t think bigger guys should wear.
As for why he thinks Instagram is such a potent tool for spreading a message, Davis said it’s all about the fact that your message can really be boiled down to just a picture and a few words or lines of text.
“You can get educated on body positivity and loving yourself on one screen,” Davis said. “The same way that people get educated on blogs, Instagram helps people who don’t want to sit on a computer and go to that website. It’s vital for people on the move and on the go.”
But writing specifically and explicitly about body positivity isn’t the only way these bloggers are spreading the message about guys understanding self-love. For Troy Solomon, it’s less about the explicit use of the words “body positivity” or writing up emotional posts about how he feels when he goes to the beach and more about becoming an example for other bigger guys out there.
He’s just trying to show other men what a happy, free and successful guy, who just happens to be plus-size, looks like. It’s like subliminal body-positive messaging.
“Focusing on spreading a good message and being myself started two years ago,” Solomon said. “I had this vast community that started gathering around and chatting with me through the captions and comments. It became more engaging and more conversation was being had. It definitely became more responsive rather than just liking a photo. There became more of a thought behind what they commented, and what they said.”
There’s no single way that these men are promoting male body positivity — no matter what they do, audiences are eating it up. In October, Davis will release his first book, also called Notoriously Dapper, which is all about about plus-size styling and the importance of body confidence.
Their real goals: By consciously imparting their messages of self-love and confidence for bigger guys on Instagram, what exactly is the real goal here? What do these Instagram bloggers, by openly promoting male body positivity, want to achieve?
For Davis, one of the main goals is to spread confidence among men who maybe don’t feel that celebrated by society.
“I think it helps guys really start the initiative to be more vocal about body image and about emotional insecurities,” Davis said. “I think it’s helping men be more comfortable and share with one another. It gives them a visual affirmation. ‘I may be this size, but I can still be attractive and confident in who I am.’”
For Solomon, that’s kind of the entire goal.
“The goal for me is to connect with people and give them a safe space to feel encouraged and empowered, which I think I’ve done,” Solomon said. “If I’ve changed one person’s life, then I’ve done my job. The second I realized I was having an impact on people, I thought that what I was doing was enough.”
There is some concrete progress these guys are trying to accomplish, like brands actually taking the time (and money) to expand sizes or just hire a plus-size guy for an ad.
“Yes, my confidence has grown,” Dziadul said. “Yes, it’s amazing to hear that me posting these pictures of me makes me feel better about themselves. Ultimately, I want brands to see that they’re underserving a market. I want them to look at us as valuable customers who they should be thinking about.”
“I really want brands to take notice and take notice in the sense that they do something to change the marketplace,” Dziadul continued. “I’m not looking for free stuff. I want brands to realize and take the population seriously and offer a selection that is beyond navy pants and a blue button-down. If they do things right, it’s a big win monetarily.”
Davis, too, is promoting body positivity, because as a model himself, he wants companies and brands to not just appreciate plus-size men from a distance but also get involved.
“We have the attention of the social media world, but now it’s time for that attention to transfer into results for the industry,” Davis said. “The reason we’re doing this is to get more sizing and diversity in fashion ads and more diversity in the fashion industry.”