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'Bad' Picture Monday: Unflattering photos spur online movement

Courtesy of Sonya Renee Taylor

If memory serves her, Sonya Renee Taylor says this is the photo that started 'Bad' Picture Monday, an online movement that encourages people to defy our culture's beauty standards and post unflattering pictures of themselves to social media sites like Facebook.

Thinking of untagging that less-than-flattering Facebook photo your best friend (or frenemy) posted over the weekend?

You may want to make it your profile picture instead. 

That's the argument of a movement called Bad Picture Monday, a meme launched two years ago by Bay area poet and activist Sonya Renee Taylor, founder of the body empowerment project, The Body Is Not An Apology, a “one-stop shop for affirmation and reminders to love your rolls, your back hair, your calluses, the smooth skin where a left breast used to be.”

“It struck me one day as I went to untag an image on Facebook that it felt a bit hypocritical,” says Taylor. “I’d created this movement about body empowerment and embracing ourselves as we are today. I wondered what would happen if I decided to live with this picture in the world. It was really just an exercise in unplugging from that constant voice that says ‘Do you look good? Are you attractive enough? How does the world see me right now?’”

Courtesy of Marc Lorenz Photography

Here's Sonya Renee Taylor again, this time from a more flattering angle.

Taylor posted her unflattering pic and continued to do so every Monday afterward, encouraging other women (and men) to do the same. Two years later, The Body Is Not An Apology has nearly 17,000 Facebook fans and has garnered attention from publications like New York Magazine.

“When it first started, people were like ‘You’re crazy. I’m never going to post that picture,’” she says. “There was absolute resistance. But then you’d see one person put a toe in the water. And then another one and another one. After awhile, people just said, ‘I’m going to do this every week and practice being okay with myself – however I show up.”

For Taylor, posting “bad” pictures or “ugly selfies” on sites like Reddit is a way to take back power from a society that insists you look beautiful – no matter what the circumstances.

“People think you have to be attractive even if you’re in the middle of chemotherapy,” she says. “Some days, I’m not attractive. This expands the boundaries for what’s acceptable. It presses the boundaries of the beauty box.”

And that’s a very good thing, says West Hartford, Conn. clinical psychologist Margo Maine, author of "The Body Myth: Adult Women and the Pressure to be Perfect."

“Facebook and the rest of the social media have elevated competition around appearance and body image exponentially,” she says. ”It used to be we competed with the women we saw every day or those we saw on the covers of magazines or on the screen. But every time we hold a smartphone in our hands or turn on a laptop or iPad, we’re immersed in a cyber universe that tells us we’re not good enough as is.”

As a result, we feel pressure to “craft” better images of ourselves, either through drastic means like plastic surgery or simpler “fixes” like putting on a pair of Spanx or Photoshopping our birthday party pics.

Embracing our everyday selves, though, is a much healthier way to go, says Maine.

“Anything we can do to help women become conscious of how they have automatically internalized these unreasonable expectations for the perfect body, perfect face, perfect wardrobe, perfect life is worth a try,” she says. “For most women, hearing about a movement like Bad Picture Monday will help them to gain a perspective on how their lives are affected by these cultural forces and will get them to question themselves, be less harsh in their self-assessment, to talk with friends and gain support to be more natural -- at least on Mondays.

“For some, it will change their world view and self-image in a more lasting way. I think it’s a wonderful and potentially empowering idea.”

Clinical psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo agrees, pointing to the huge impact pictures of celebs without makeup have on us.

“I remember a couple of years ago Oprah tweeted a picture of herself without makeup,” says Lombardo, author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. “People loved it. It was the same when TODAY's Kathie Lee and Hoda did their show without makeup. When women see that, it’s like this sigh of relief, like ‘Okay, I don’t have to pretend I’m something I’m not.’”

The concept of going “ugly” in public is nothing new, of course. Past celebrities like Lucille Ball and Phyllis Diller regularly played down their looks in order to get major laughs. Actress Charlize Theron even embraced her inner “Monster” and gained major respect -- and an Oscar.

Lombardo says she sees absolutely no down side to allowing ourselves to be seen by others when we’re not at our best.

“I don’t know how you could get a negative on this,” she says. “It’s taking off the filter. We tell our kids to be themselves but as we get older, we’re not ourselves. It’s encouraging people to enjoy life, to be silly, to erase the negative judgment in their mind. To just live.”