Open up your Instagram app and you’ll likely thumb through a feed of seemingly picture-perfect people, places, and things. That’s the name of the social media game, after all. And while there’s no real shame in trying to put forth the best physical version of yourself or your home or your favorite feline, things can start to look a little, well, plastic-y, after a while.
That said, if you chisel away at the plastic surface of Instagram and other social media feeds, underneath you’ll find real, raw humans who aren’t afraid to get gritty, share their story, or unapologetically challenge the norm.
Today we’re featuring eight social media influencers who are redefining what beauty is, and we promise you’ll walk away feeling inspired after reading about them.
Anmol Rodriguez was only a toddler when she endured an acid attack, making her the youngest person in the world to undergo such trauma. In a fit of anger, her father threw acid at her mother while Anmol was asleep on her mother’s lap. Her mother died as a result, her father ended up in jail, and Anmol — permanently disfigured — was essentially abandoned.
Roughly a year ago, two decades after the attack, Anmol’s employer told her that she had to do something about her face to prevent customers from feeling alarmed. Instead of relinquishing to societal norms, she set out to break them through social media, inspirational speaking, and her NGO called Acid Survivors Saahas Foundation.
Lizzie Velsquez has a rare syndrome that prevents her from gaining weight and, as you might expect, she’s experienced a long life of bullying regarding her appearance. Through junior high and high school, she recalls waking up and looking at herself in the mirror, wishing and praying that she could “scrub her syndrome off” and be like everyone else. While in high school, she came across a YouTube video someone posted without her knowledge that labeled her “the world’s ugliest woman.”
It was an eight second clip with no sound that had accumulated over four million views and was accompanied by a comment section riddled with people saying she should kill herself. She was naturally devastated, but that experience, and the many that came before it, inspired Lizzie Velasquez to become a motivational speaker, an author, and to pursue personal goals. Which is exactly what she went on to do.
In 2015, plus size model Ashley Graham landed the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit edition. This is a big deal for any model, but an especially big deal for Graham because she was the first size 16 model to be featured on what’s become the magazine’s most coveted cover of the year. She’s since appeared in countless campaigns, walked hundreds of runways, and has served as a role model for women of all sizes. She’s also proof that being inclusive isn’t just a societal nicety — it sells.
Speaking of body positivity, Megan Jayne Crabbe is social media influencer who’s made it her mission to inspire self-acceptance and spread awareness about eating disorders. She began dieting around the age of 10, and quickly spiraled into an obsessive and unhealthy state regarding her body and her relationship with food.
She recalls that she got to a point where her “number one goal in life was just making her body smaller” and that this goal no longer was optional but compulsive. In the years that followed, she was taken to doctors, enrolled at a psychiatric unit, pulled out of school, and even brushed hands with death. It took many years for her to admit to herself that there was a problem, but she ultimately survived and has gone on to openly discuss her anorexia while inspiring body acceptance.
Turia Pitt is a former model and fitness enthusiast who became entrapped in a grass fire while running a 100km ultramarathon. Rescuers pulled her from the burning desert landscape barely alive and with severe burns covering roughly 65% of her body. She spent half a year in the hospital, two years in intensive recovery, and underwent over 200 operations. Since then, she’s penned a memoir titled Everything to Live For: The Inspirational Story of Turia Pitt, and has become a mentor to thousands through an online program she developed herself.
Iman Oubou is conventionally attractive. Like, the kind of attractive where you win the title of Miss New York, which she did in 2015. What qualifies her for this list of women redefining beauty is that since her stint as a beauty queen, she’s become a pioneer for female entrepreneurs and works every day to break the stereotype that “pretty women can’t be competent.” She founded the website SWAAY, which fills the gap in traditional women’s media by catering strictly to the business aspect of women’s lives.
Though Instagram’s pages may be dominated by 20, 30, and 40-somethings, there are a fair share of users who fall outside the typical age bracket. Take, for example, Baddie Winkle, a 90-year-old woman who’s figured out the Insta formula for success and who’s been “stealing your man since 1928.” She’s proof that beauty doesn’t have an age limit, that you can experiment with style even as a grandmother, and that you can pull off a Tweety Bird bathing suit at any age.
Madeline Stuart is the world’s first professional super model with Down Syndrome. In 2015, after attending a runway show and deciding she’d like to give modeling a try, Stuart’s mother arranged a fun photo shoot for her daughter. She shared the images with a private group of parents with children who had Down Syndrome, and the images promptly went viral. Since then, Madeline has walked NYFW runways, been featured in countless advertising campaigns, and has quickly become the modeling world’s sweetheart. In addition to pursuing her career, she’s also made it her goal to prompt important conversations about the inclusivity of differently abled people in all industries.