If you take a cursory look at my Instagram account, you’ll notice there are many photos of my face. Some might interpret this barrage of head tilts as a vain plea for attention, but the truth is, selfies are more than a form of self-expression for me.
Selfies are helping me heal.
I am currently in recovery for an eating disorder. I’ve previously written about my struggles with anorexia and regularly tweet about therapy or having bad days. Though I don’t make it a habit to divulge personal information and details about what I’m going through from day to day, I do occasionally open up in an attempt to destigmatize eating disorders and to help others who might be going through something similar realize they are not alone.
There are a number of mobile apps that have been crucial to helping me in my recovery, including food-trackers with emotional check-ins specifically for disordered eating, fitness, and meditation services, but all of those are fundamentally geared towards self-care and improving my body and mindfulness in healthy, conscious ways.
Instagram, on the other hand, is simply a photography app, but it’s also a powerful tool for self-healing. There are robust communities within Instagram where people share images of recovery, healthy cooking, fashion, and even drug paraphernalia, but for me, Instagram is an individual project where I put pieces of myself when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable or wanting to express confidence in my recovery.
In the U.S., 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their lives. Anorexia nervosa is the psychiatric disorder with the highest mortality rate, and yet eating disorders are still stigmatized and widely misunderstood.
Having an eating disorder is a lot of things: It’s frustrating, time-consuming, excruciatingly painful, and numbing. It can also be incredibly lonely.
I can’t say I like what I see when I look in the mirror, but I’m beginning to appreciate what I look like on Instagram.
When my mind and body are fighting with each other over space for food, emotions, and trauma, it creates a feeling of isolation. I don’t want to let anyone inside my search for self-worth and freedom, so I sit with it myself, outwardly projecting emotions or experiences I want to share with others while keeping other feelings to myself.
It’s easy to craft a particular narrative about myself on social media, but I’ve learned that it’s OK to talk about it with the world. The tremendous support and friendship I receive from both strangers and friends on the Internet has helped in my recovery. People respond to my true self with encouragement and support, something that can be hard to find on places like Twitter and Facebook if you’re not seeking it out.
Where I have found inherent positivity, regardless of what I share, is on Instagram. It’s perhaps the most revealing of all the social media platforms, because a photo captures a moment in time in a way a tweet or a Facebook status update can’t. Words on Facebook and Twitter flow freely from my fingers, but I take time and pride with what I share to Instagram. Including selfies.
On Instagram, I can pause my constant search for a perfection that doesn’t exist. It’s a place where I’m allowed to be confident in what I look like, flaws and all, because so many others do so. They embrace their internal and external beauty, and this is a feeling I want to experience, albeit through a filter.
Instagram is an individual project where I put pieces of myself when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable or wanting to express confidence in my recovery.
One of the most common misconceptions about eating disorders is that only people who “look anorexic” can have one. Eating disorders affect people of all shapes and sizes, and just because I don’t look particularly unhealthy on the outside doesn’t mean I’m not wrestling with inexorable fear of eating too much or looking a certain way on the inside.
I can’t say I like what I see when I look in the mirror, but I’m beginning to appreciate what I look like on Instagram. Taking self-portraits forces me to analyze myself at different angles, and believe, even if it’s just for a moment, that I look and feel good.
Kim Kardashian was once criticized for posting a selfie that cropped her daughter out of the photo. She scoffed at the criticism, saying confidently and without apology: “I was feeling my look.” For those of us who struggle to recognize and feel emotions beyond the constant anxiety our disorder creates, feeling a look is something that should be documented, celebrated, and Instagrammed. When I share a photo of myself, it sometimes captures a moment during which I felt like a whole, healthy person. Sometimes, I take and share one when I’m at my lowest point because I need to be reminded that people will Like me whether I’m perfect or not.
Self-portraits are not a new phenomenon, but with tools like the selfie stick, Instagram, and Snapchat making it easier to capture and fuel our desire to be photographed; the activity has become synonymous with narcissism. And frequently, capturing a photo of myself is absolutely an act of self-love.
I don’t feel it all that often, but when I do feel light, with space for self-love, I take a picture. Each photo is yet another step on the path to healing, and though I don’t advertise it with the photos I post, Instagram is an instrument in my recovery toolbox, turning rectangular self-portraits into building blocks for a healthy life.
A version of this story originally appeared on the Daily Dot on Feb. 24, 2016.
Photo via Selena Larson | Remix by Fernando Alfonso III