Chessie King is a bundle of joy on a one-woman mission to change the way we see ourselves. Here, she tells Stylist how a huge Sunday roast changed everything.
Three years ago, Chessie King’s Instagram was about as glossy as they come – working as a presenter and fitness blogger, her feed was full of toned gym selfies and polished travel shots. If you were having a good day, it was aspirational. If you were having a bad day, it was downright enviable.
“I fell into the trap of filtering and editing all my photos because that’s what Instagram was back then,” King, 26, tells me. But one day, she realised that her online persona didn’t represent who she really was.
“There was a moment when everything changed,” she says. “I was on WhatsApp with all of my friends and we’d just been out for food. When I came home, I just sat down, unzipped my flies, had my tummy hanging out and sent a picture to the girls’ chat. We always do that – I was like, ‘Girls, that was a good Sunday roast’.”
“But then I thought, why am I sending this to my girls but not posting it on Instagram? Why am I trying to be someone that I’m not? I’ve always been a person who’s very free and very open about myself and always trying to support people offline – but my social media didn’t show that. I’d never seen someone post a picture like that, an imperfect photo. I was so scared but I uploaded it anyway.”
Now a self-titled body confidence spreader, King quickly realised how much people’s feeds needed a dose of reality.
“I’m not scared of posting anything now,” she says. “I post about my acne, about my bad days. All these things we never spoke about when I was in school, like hormones and periods – now I have a voice on Instagram, why wouldn’t I speak about them? If it’s helping somebody, I’m going to continue doing it.”
Her ‘Instagram vs Reality’ posts quickly gained attention, a refreshing and light-hearted drop in the heavily edited ocean of online influencers. She created a hard-hitting video alongside anti-bullying charity Cybersmile, editing her body in line with the comments of online trolls until she was unrecognisable. Now, she shares every aspect of her life with a 539,000-strong following, a “genuine sisterhood”, who rely on her to always keep it real.
“I’m someone that hopefully a lot of girls can look up to and go, ‘OK, Chessie’s going through it so I can go through it with her’,” King says. “Once you’ve got your audience and they trust you, you need to really look after them. And I do I feel a huge responsibility, but I enjoy it because I know I’m helping at least one person every day.”
When I meet King, her energy is infectious and she’s wearing an outfit that looks suspiciously like a cheerleading outfit – entirely appropriate, I think, since you can tell she’s wholeheartedly rooting for everyone she comes into contact with.
“I think it’s absolutely possible for everyone to have body confidence,” she says. “I never use the words ‘love yourself’ or ‘self-love’ because they’re a bit cliché, they’re thrown around a lot and they don’t quite ring true.
“For me it’s just about appreciating my body and all the amazing things it’s doing for me – breathing, regulating my temperature. People say body positivity is a trend, but I think it’s only going to carry on. Once you start talking to yourself kindly and appreciating your body, you never want to go back.”
King’s approach to social media still feels radical, but she’s part of a growing movement of influencers giving us the empowerment and feel-good factor we need, rather than the kind of unrealistic posts that can take their toll on our mental health.
“When you curate your feed to be positive and happy, to include creative, diverse people that you probably would never come across in real life, it’s amazing,” she says. “Take control of your social media and have a spring clean if it’s not making you feel good – Marie Kondo your life!”
For far too long, the representation of women by both mainstream and social media has failed to reflect who we see in the mirror, and its impact on our mental health is worrying. Stylist’s Love Women initiative promises to change that. As well as the launch of our Body Politics series, we’ve partnered with Dove, whose latest project (in conjunction with photo library Getty Images) aims to increase the supply of diverse pictures of women – which we will be using going forward.
Our editor-in-chief Lisa Smosarski has also made five pledges to Stylist readers:
We will ensure the women you see on our pages represent all women – inclusive of ethnicity, body shape, sexuality, age and disability. When we create content and ideas, we will ensure that all women are represented at the table. We commit to featuring one fashion or beauty photoshoot a month that uses real, diverse women.
We will ensure that we never sell an impossible dream. We believe in aspiration, but not in selling a lie. We will work with influencers, celebrities and other partners to encourage them to reveal their truths, too.
We will celebrate the so-called flaws of women to prove the normality in all of our bodies. We will run videos, photoshoots and honest accounts of our bodies and how they behave.
We will hold regular huddles with our advertisers and brand partners to challenge the way they portray and reflect women in their branding and advertising. We will call out and challenge brands, media and people who refuse to represent women with respect and truth. We will call on the government to support our goals.
Through insight and anecdote, we will teach everyone about the issues facing women, what needs to be done and how we can all work together to resolve this self-esteem crisis.
Find out more about Stylist’s Love Women initiative here.