Body positive advocates Hunter McGrady and Katie Sturino are speaking out about the dangers of diet culture after a photo of the pair re-creating looks worn by Gigi and Bella Hadid was used on an Instagram account promoting weight loss through the keto diet.
The side-by-side photo of McGrady, a model and clothing designer, and Sturino, an entrepreneur and author of the upcoming book Body Talk, was created for Sturino's #SuperSizeTheLook series, in which she sets out to recreate celebrity looks on different body shapes and sizes. After seeing the photo used to make Instagram users believe in the transformative power of a diet, Sturino was shocked.
"This is the first time a #SuperSizeTheLook has been presented as a before and after image. The whole idea behind #SuperSizeTheLook is taking a celebrity image and recreating it," she tells Yahoo Life. "The message is, they look good, I look good, you can have great style at any size. So to see this image used in this way is a complete distortion of that. It goes against my beliefs and platform entirely."
The Instagram account responsible didn't respond to Yahoo Life's request for comment. However, Sturino explains that the particular post was sent to her by followers who came across the image and knew that it was taken from the influencer's page. "My initial reaction was, this is so clearly not a before and after, it’s two completely different sets of people — the Hadid sisters, and Hunter and I," she says. "But then when you read the comments and realize some people think they are the same person, it’s sad. Not for me, but for them."
Still, it isn't the first time that a photo of either of the women has been used for this misleading purpose. McGrady tells Yahoo Life that it's something she sees quite often with posts of her own, indicating that using images of women without their consent as diet culture imagery is a much larger problem.
"I have a photo of me in a red bathing suit looming around for the past five years that compares me and an entirely different woman across a ton of different diet Instagrams. It pops up every year or so," she explains. "For one thing, it’s not your body to use to promote. It should be illegal to do this. They’re essentially scouring the Internet to find someone wearing something similar in order to perpetuate their narrative. Before and after photos have always had a negative connotation because for the most part if you're heavier in either the before or the after, it is portrayed as unworthy and gross, so for someone to see that it’s devaluing someone’s body."
Sturino goes on to explain them as photos being framed as "better and worse." And although the comparison of completely different women for the sake of a weight loss ad seems unbelievable to some, both women maintain that this is the norm within diet culture.
"This is exactly what diet culture does. It’s sick and twisted and creates unrealistic — quite literally, not real — ideals for people and sells it as truth. It is the best way for them to cash out on people’s insecurities," McGrady says. "It can be highly toxic and preys on the insecurities of so many people. I would love a day where I don’t have some kind of diet ad telling me my body is not worthy or good."
McGrady shared her thoughts about the "disgusting" and "dangerous" use of her and Sturino's photo on her Instagram stories on Thursday. She also posted a photo to her feed where she opened up about the impact of such imagery on young girls who learn to hate their bodies through similar toxicity.
"Kids are always listening, and hanging on the every word you speak about yourself, and others, remember that. Society and media would love nothing more than to rob them of these years," McGrady wrote, "I’m seeing kids compare themselves younger and younger because now more than ever they have access to even more now, social media, YouTube, tik tok, etc. This is once again, why representation matters."
It's for this reason that Sturino created a series like #SuperSizeTheLook to attach positive meaning to these otherwise demeaning comparisons.
"I do not want a girl to stumble on the photo and not know who we are and see something negative. I want people to look and see four beautiful and successful women, not a before and after. I am committed to breaking through the noise that women have been listening to their whole lives and making real changes. I want to challenge the way you see everything, from Instagram ads to the media you consume and digest them with a different filter, not internalize them as weapons on yourself. I want women to realize and recognize the reality of what is going on, or that people all look different."
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