‘It seems like most girls these days don’t feel pretty enough’
Limerick woman and body positivity activist Stacey Dineen is on a mission to help
Stacey Dineen, body positivity activist: “I do get negative comments, but they don’t affect me anymore”
For a while now, it has felt like the body positivity (BoPo) movement is having a moment. In a world that often demands physical perfection, BoPo advocates encouraging others to take their lead by adopting more forgiving and affirming attitudes towards their bodies. For many of them, self-acceptance is the end point on a journey marked with self-hatred, shame and embarrassment.
And for 19-year-old Limerick native Stacey Dineen, the road has been more circuitous than most.
You may not readily know her name, but for some 51,000 of her Instagram followers, Dineen is an inspiration. A 5ft 9in, size 14-16 woman who doesn’t know her true weight (“I stopped weighing myself a long time ago”), Dineen regularly posts inspirational and unfiltered images of herself. She is serious about delivering a message of authenticity, going so far as to use the Structure adjustment on Instagram, which highlights perceived ‘flaws’.
“I get around 1,000 new followers a week,” she says. “Many of them send me DMs [direct messages], especially when I post a natural selfie, saying ‘your posts really help me’.”
Yet when people post images of themselves online, a degree of negativity is to be expected. For women of size in particular, trolling is regrettably par for the course; the grim flipside of the BoPo movement. Last summer, Reddit banned five discussion groups for being distasteful. The one with the largest user base, more than 150,000 subscribers, was “fatpeoplehate”. It was a particularly active community that revelled in finding photos of overweight people looking happy, almost all women, and adding negative captions.
Experience with trolls
Writing of her own experience with trolls, the writer Lindy West hit the nail squarely on the head: “Today I woke up to an email with the subject line ‘Fat’. The body of the email simply read ‘Oink, oink’. I get emails and tweets like this every day and this is one of the mildest ones,” she told the BBC. “The sender and thousands like him can’t stand that I’m a fat woman living a happy, fulfilling and joyous life.”
Dineen has a happy and fulfilling life – with a budding career in showbiz (on which, more later) – yet she has had to weather her fair share of online negativity.
“I do get negative comments, but they don’t affect me anymore,” she says. “If someone is being negative, that’s merely showing who they are. Happily, there are more positive than negative, and it always helps to concentrate on the people I’m helping. I honestly think in this generation, we live off judging people.”
It’s a mindset made all the remarkable by the fact that just a few short years ago, Dineen left school after being viciously bullied. “From the get go, even when I was in playschool, I was called fat by the little kids,” she says. “I think I was about 10 when my size started playing on my mind. I kept wishing I was anyone else but myself and I’d compare myself to others, which no 10-year-old should have to do.”
As a teenager, she lost four stone, yet the bullies still taunted her.
“It was mainly girls, but boys sometimes,” she says. “I tried to not let anything break me and in time I tried to turn it all into a positive.
“When I was in secondary school, I’d put motivational posts up on Facebook. I sat down and figured that if I was feeling down, there must be so many others that felt the same way. I wanted to motivate people by saying, ‘you don’t have to look a certain way’.”
In time however, the sustained bullying would take its emotional toll.
“I was so depressed I was suicidal,” she recalls. “I ended up in the [Limerick] Regional [hospital] a few times. I was told to take anti-depressants, but I didn’t want to. I just woke up one morning and decided that I would chase my dream of getting into showbiz. I knew something had to change. I didn’t think I’d be able to come back up to the surface.”
Ever since she was a child and enthralled by Disney films, Dineen was adamant she wanted to be involved in showbiz. In fifth year, she dropped out of school to pursue that dream.
Around this time, in an act of self-love, Dineen also started exercising. Even now, she works out three times a week and follows a strict eating plan. That she isn’t an aerobic size 10 is not the point.
“It used to be about losing weight, but that is not why I do it,” she says. “I take on exercise to get my body more active. It’s honestly just about being happy.”
While posting her own images online, Dineen became increasingly disillusioned by the smoke and mirrors of the conventional beauty industry.
“I feel most girls nowadays don’t feel pretty enough,” she says. “My eight-year-old sister was crying a few weeks ago saying that she was fat and ugly. In a sense, nothing in the beauty industry has changed. That’s why I’m trying to make a change.”
Dineen looks set to bring her BoPo message to an even wider audience, after she beat 26,000 people to star in Canadian reality show The Fashion Hero (currently on Amazon Prime). The competition modelling series, hosted by Brooke Hogan, features real people and what its makers call ‘atypical beauty’. The 40 contestants are made up of a wide range of backgrounds, irrespective of size, height, ethnicity, orientation or style preference. The first season is on Canadian TV at the moment, and looks set to be brought to a global audience thereafter.
“The Fashion Hero is shaking up the fashion and beauty industries by beating down the unrealistic and unattainable standards and redefining the current definition of beauty,” the series blurb reads. “It’s not about height, size or the colour of our skin. It’s about personal style and self-expression. Our mission is to flip the social conventions on their heads and create a model search for the new world.”
Dineen says: “I found out about the show online, on a casting website, through my agent Pamela [Hughes] and it felt like the show I was meant to come across. I applied online and when I was voted on to the show [by the public], I was flown to Canada for filming over the summer: the first time I was out of the country on my own. The show has given me a whole new confidence and determination, especially after being told so many times I was too fat to model.”
She remains circumspect about where she eventually placed in the competition, but for now, Dineen is moving to Los Angeles in a bid to land acting roles and launch her music career. She’s aware that the slings and arrows of the showbiz industry in Los Angeles could likely give Limerick schoolyard bullies a run for their money in terms of assaulting the self-esteem.
“I’ve always said that what meant for you won’t pass you,” says Dineen. “My family have laughed at me in the past wanting to pursue showbiz, but they’re very supportive. If you give up, you’re 100 per cent certain not to have anything. This way, there’s a chance. If you’re persistent, the only person from stopping you from achieving your goal is you.
“But really, who wouldn’t want to be famous? It’s everyone’s dream. But the real goal is to inspire people, and to remind them that even within a couple of years, things can swing around. If you stay strong, time can heal everything. One of the hardest things to do is to accept yourself, but I’m proof that it does work.”
To see Stacey Dineen’s Instagram account, go to instagram.com/staceydineen