So. Many. iPhones. (Thanks Charlotte & Blueberry for letting me use this photo… even though I didn’t ask!)
I’m about to enter into some pretty sensitive territory, but if you can have an open mind I hope you hear me out. If you want, take it as a personal vent to the few who maybe read my blog. If you do, thank you for taking the time to do so, it honestly means more to me than you’ll ever know. If no one is, at least I’ve throw it out into the vast weird void of the Internet.
There’s no sidestepping around the issue or sweeping it under the rug. Body image is a big part of the equestrian world and unfortunately the impact it can have on people of all ages is heartbreaking.
Just like all horses are different heights, builds, shapes and colors, so are their riders. Most of the time the horses success and worth is based on it’s soundness and ability to perform it’s given job safely and correctly. I believe the riders success should be based upon those same factors.
Upon reentering the horse show scene, I found a lot had changed over the past decade. One of the biggest changes that I both support and detest for numerous reasons (which I’ll outline shortly) is the heavy ever-present influence of social media.
Instagram was released at the end of 2010. Just a little over six and a half years ago. I think the platform is genius and amazing for allowing brands to create visual storyboards promoting their image as well as a great way to interact and connect with their consumers. I also like it for personal use as it’s a quick and easy method of updating your family and friends with what’s going on in your life via photos and a quick caption. What you share is your business, but I encourage you to be your most authentic self and to do it for the love of what you’re wanting to share and not out of worry for looking like you lead a boring life or the need to paint a certain picture for others.
Before Instagram, there was a lot less sharing with people hiding behind a username. When I went to a horse show or even to the barn, it was RARE I ever took photos of my horse. Maybe with a disposable CVS camera, but once developed those photos ended up sitting in a drawer or being put into an album. Maybe one or two would be frame-worthy and I would show friends and family when they came over. If I went to a horse show, I would beg my parents to let me buy a print from the show photographer. There was so much less focus on how we were going to capture what we were going to share later that day and so much more on being present in the moment.
The progression in technology and camera phones is amazing, but not when it comes to creating ‘natural’ photos popular influencers post to thousands upon thousands of impressionable followers. I don’t care what you say, so-and-so’s skin is not that flawless and their butt is not that perfect. Retouching photos and claiming them to be the real deal has opened up the floodgates for self-comparison to simply unattainable and unrealistic expectations.
It’s a battle that will never be won, but it frustrates me that a lot of popular equestrian brands follow suit with the high-end fashion industry when choosing models for their products: retouched, overly made up, size zero models who look like they’re more ready for a beauty pageant than getting on a horse. It’s aesthetically appealing and the photos are gorgeous, but as a true equestrian consumer, I simply cannot relate. Who wears that much makeup to the barn and gets their hair blown out before putting on a helmet? If you do – I’d love to hear your secrets on how you maintain that. On the other hand, some of my favorite brands have taken the route of sharing actual consumer photos. I love that. It sends a realistic, positive, inclusive message to others and I applaud them for doing so and hope more brands catch on to the trend.
Still with me? I only have a little more I’d like to say.
The last show I was at, I overheard a trainer saying “she has a good build for the eq.” So I looked over to see a lean young girl with supermodel legs. Of course she looks beautiful on a horse, but saying a rider has the “look” for equitation is like saying every person over six feet tall should try out for the NBA.
Yes, in life, genetics and build can give some athletes an advantage over others. Some people have to work really hard to reach their goals and break their own personal best. Others just have raw natural talent that can give them a bit of a head start. It doesn’t make one better than the other, because at the end of the day it’s going to come down to determination, the hours of practice you’re willing to put in and the drive to succeed. Be healthy, treat your body well and be confident in how you look when you’re at your fighting best. Physical fitness and a healthy body come in all different shapes, weights, heights and types, so do not compare yourself to the photographs you see while scrolling through your feed. Be your best self and love yourself for it.
So to conclude, I beg you, do not strive to take the perfect photo simply to please your followers. Do not edit out what you think are flaws to try to be some preconceived standard of beautiful, because you already are. There is no one else out there like you, and that alone is something to be proud of and is more than worthy of being shared. Be true to who you are and be proud of what you love to do. I promise you, in this big, crazy world of ours there will always be someone who is interested and who cares. You are never alone.