Illustrations: Carolyn Figel

Body Positivity Is Lost on YouTube

Traditional media has come a long way on self-acceptance. But the message is muddied in online spaces.

Virginia Sole-Smith
Elemental
Published in
13 min readOct 23, 2019

“T“The truth is, I am terrified right now,” says Jaclyn Glenn in a 2017 video posted to her YouTube channel. “[But] it’s gonna be obvious and […] It’s not something that I’m ashamed of.”

In her video, titled “I’m Getting a Boob Job!,” Glenn reveals her decision to undergo breast augmentation after what she describes as years of insecurity about her body. “This is not because of any kind of Internet comment I’ve gotten that was negative […] This is an insecurity I’ve had ever since high school.”

Later in the video, which now has over 260,000 views, Glenn’s eyes, painted in thick, sharply angled liner, mist over as she confesses: “I’m going to be very honest, like, I don’t even fill out a lot of bras that are an A unless I get a push-up. Like even the bra I’m wearing right now” — she pauses to pull down the neckline of her tank top, revealing cleavage — “I look like I have boobs but I’m wearing a push-up bra!” Her voice catches. “If I weren’t, I would look like… like a child. And that’s something I’ve always felt.”

But rivaling this insecurity about her body, Glenn says, has been her insecurity about being the kind of girl who gets plastic surgery. “This stigma against plastic surgery is something I think I’ve held onto until pretty recently,” she explains in the video. “I was always like, sure I hate that I don’t have boobs, but I would never [get breast augmentation].” She never quite explains why she’s changed this stance, but later, she compares her previous intolerance to homophobia: “It’s kind of the equivalent of someone being like, cool if you want to be gay or whatever, but I’m not. It’s like, okay, but that’s still kind of mean.”

Sitting at home in her bedroom in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, Amanda Butcher, then 14, watched Glenn’s video on her iPhone and nodded along. “I used to watch her talk about her breast implants and I would really think, ‘I should get that too,’ because I was smaller and less adult than other people in my grade,” she says now. “I also remember watching [another YouTuber] get a gift card for plastic surgery from her mom for her birthday, and I was so jealous…

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Virginia Sole-Smith
Elemental

Author of THE EATING INSTINCT and forthcoming FAT KID PHOBIA. Newsletter: https://virginiasolesmith.substack.com/ Everything else: https://virginiasolesmith.com