Introducing EveryBody, a series by Yahoo Canada highlighting the people and organizations working to end weight stigma, promote size inclusivity and prove that everybody and every body has value.
I’m calling it: the days of the influencer are coming to an end.
The endless curated feeds of FaceTuned faces hawking hair vitamins on social media have become a breeding ground for insecurity and status anxiety, prompting many to take self-imposed breaks from social media for the sake of our mental health. However, our desire for connection and a need to be “in the know” often prompts us to reopen apps like Instagram and Facebook, effectively beginning the emotional cycle all over again.
It’s not enough for influencers to curate an aesthetically appealing feed or share their gym or sultry selfies to attract followers. The epidemic of loneliness and personal dissatisfaction has created a need for a reboot in how we use social media to achieve its original purpose of fostering connection.
That’s why I’m calling an end to the influencer, and introducing the era of the change-maker; people who are using social media with the intention of creating positive change that extends offline. These are the people who recognize the need of authenticity and vulnerability, and work to carve out a place in the digital world that can be a reprieve from comparison.
One of those people committed to using social media to positively impact young women and redefine beauty standards is Nabela Noor.
With more than twp million followers on social media, Noor has parlayed her online presence as beauty vlogger into a career as the CEO and founder of Zeba, an inclusive fashion line and online community for women.
The 27-year-old told Yahoo Canada she was inspired to begin a “self-love revolution” for women after years of feeling excluded by the fashion industry and receiving hurtful comments from online bullies about her appearance.
Named after her mother and the Arabic word for “beautiful,” the first generation Bangladeshi-American wanted to create a space that not only offered access to women of all sizes, but also provided a platform to share resources for practicing self-care and building self-esteem.
With clothing ranging from XS to a 4X, Noor chose to remove numerical sizing from Zeba labels in an effort to remove the preoccupation and stigma often associated with conventional sizing and measurements. Instead, the “Zeba standard” attributes words of empowerment to each size range. For example, a medium in Zeba clothing is “inspiring”; for a 3X, “loved.”
“We’re more than our size, but society wants to paint us into this box and tell us that we need to change to be beautiful. I wanted people to look at the label on their Zeba garment and be reminded that they’re brave, passionate and all these amazing things,” she explained during a phone interview. “To me, the sizing and choosing those names are my way of affirming people. There’s a sense of shame that’s associated with size on any end of the spectrum and it’s something I wanted to challenge. We should be proud of our size, and who we are right now in this moment.”
Noor’s personal journey to body liberation has been public and at times, painful. As her online following continued to grow, her videos and photos became flooded with comments from bullies who called her fat, ugly and those who told her that she should kill herself. The backlash is just one aspect of the deeply entrenched fatphobia that has propelled people like Noor and her contemporaries to work harder and speak louder about the need for size inclusion.
Refusing to succumb to her bullies, Noor partnered with AT&T Hello Lab to create The Bright Fight, a body positive video series inspiring men and women to “reclaim” their relationship with their mirror.
“We live in a world that conditions us to be insecure for profit. I realized that I could hate myself, but who was that going to help? I was just going to line the pockets of more brands and more companies that want me to feel insecure and buy a diet pill or detox tea,” Noor said. “Instead I decided could unapologetically love myself and live a fuller life. Once I made that choice, that I was going to love the skin that I’m in and challenge society’s beauty standards, I began looking at everything differently, especially sizing systems and numbers. It took a while to get there. The reason why I created Zeba was because I wanted people to know that living a confident life isn’t something that just happens overnight. I wanted to provide access and resources and the tools to help people, because for me it’s still journey.”
Although she has created a safe space for women of all sizes to shop without division (there is no plus-size section in Zeba), Noor knows that for all the online celebration of bodies online, it’s all for naught if people don’t feel empowered and respected offline. One of the ways we can do that, she explained, is to change not only the way we speak, but the way we allow others to speak to us.
“We have a collective responsibility to check people who are body shaming,” she said. “It’s super common for people to make body shaming remarks. I dealt with it on a daily basis from my own relatives. The only way I could start practicing what I believed offline was to tell the people I love that what they were saying to me wasn’t OK and I wasn’t going to accept that.
It was an important thing to do. It was tough, but it was necessary. It wasn’t enough to just talk about it online, I had to make offline attempts to change it.”
Noor admitted that although she still experiences bullying on a daily basis online, she believes Zeba and her work advocating for representation in beauty is something she was meant to do. Noor is proof that it’s possible for influencers to change the way they use social media for something more; something beyond its current image-centric practice to share and spread a positive message and spark a “self-love revolution.”
“I knew I wanted to do something of service to people and the world around me,” she explained. “I’ve always known that was my destiny, but I didn’t know how...When I started my first video, I never thought that it would lead to me creating this movement, but it all makes sense now. Every door that’s ever been closed on me, every rejection I’ve ever faced, it all makes sense because it’s lead me to this space in my life.”