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Let’s Talk: Body image on social media

Let’s Talk: Body image is about mindset, according to Brea Dorsett. Photo by Megan Fisher

Going against just about every piece of guidance, the second an alarm rings in the morning it’s not uncommon for the scrolling to begin.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — the day begins with a sizeable consumption of media.

As a teenager, Brea Dorsett was not only comparing herself to people on social media, but setting herself a standard near impossible to meet.

Experiencing bullying, a dysfunctional home life and later down the track, youth homelessness, she began to use exercise as a coping mechanism.

“I was really self-conscious and had really bad body image, bad self-esteem; sport became my go-to but it became obsessive and unhealthy — at points quite disordered,“ she said.

“I was the skinniest I had ever been, but I didn’t feel it at all.”

Working in the fitness industry, Brea said she encountered a theme within her clients — nearly every person had their own personal battle with self-image, even the individuals least expected.

She said three types of people in particular came through the doors each day: those who were healthy in body and mind, training to feel better; others who would overtrain; and others who believed they couldn’t.

“It doesn’t matter how you look, it’s all in the mindset,” Brea said.

“The people that would come through the gym, even those who appear ”physically healthy”, would have quite an unhealthy self-image.

“Those that fail, it's not because they're underweight, or overweight, or have an issue with their body, it's literally the mindset.

“If you can’t love yourself at size 20, you’re not going to love yourself at size 6.”

Brea said the realisation was comforting in that she was not alone, but devastating in that so many people were going through it.

“We genuinely become what we consume,” she said.

“For me, I would just put it down to Instagram and looking at all of these literal fitness models or professional athletes, thinking that’s what I was supposed to look like.

Breaking the stigma: Brea Dorsett is passionate about changing the narrative. Photo by Megan Fisher

“But these people, they’re literally paid to look like that and often they themselves might not even look like that, so much is Photoshopped.”

In a culture steeped in highlight reels and picture-perfect images, Brea said the pressure to conform was endless.

So she stopped.

“I wanted to be that change on social media,” she said.

“I know I’m just someone from a small country town, not a fitness influencer or whatever, but I just thought no, it’s still good enough.

“I’m just going to be real and very honest, to showcase everything that I was going through.”

And so, Brea began posting images of stretch marks, cystic acne, cellulite — all things that make us human.

Each morning, she picks a range of posts to share on Instagram to ensure when other people pick up their phone first thing in the morning, they’re met with empowerment.

Unfollowing anything or anyone that doesn’t serve her, Brea has made her own online safe space.

“Social media is such a powerful tool, it’s just about harnessing it to your advantage,” she said.

“If I was in high school and I had seen a girl my age posting her acne like that would have made a world of difference to my self-esteem, because I just felt so like an alien.

“I just started cultivating the change I wanted to see, or I guess, like I always say, being the person I needed when I was younger.”

Through becoming the person she needed, Brea became this person for many others too.

After couch-surfing for months, Brea found a haven at the Education First Foyer in Shepparton.

At 17, her anxiety wouldn’t allow her to step foot into the communal areas of the youth housing complex.

She couldn’t go to the supermarket alone, fill up her car with petrol, complete her own washing — menial tasks many take for granted.

Being “riddled with anxiety” gave her little room to breathe, let alone live to her fullest potential.

Six years on, Brea has found her calling in advocacy and holds a hefty list of achievements for a 23-year-old.

As well as being a part of youth parliament, Brea is an Education First Foyer ambassador, a mentor within the Flamingo Project and assisted in completing research reports into women in work.

She said she was dedicated to standing up for disadvantaged youth and creating equal opportunity — along with breaking the bias, left, right and centre.

“I’ve got the piercings, I’ve got the hair, I’m starting my tattoo sleeve,” she said.

“So many people say, ‘no, think about jobs, think about this and that’, and I just think, exactly, because none of how I look changes my capabilities.

“There is such a stigma, and I just kind of love proving I am more than capable.”

∎ Caitlyn Grant and Megan Fisher are opening the conversation on all things with their new weekly column, Let’s Talk. If you or someone you know has a story, contact caitlyn.grant@mmg.com.au or megan.fisher@sheppnews.com.au