Social media can sometimes make you depressed or envious, especially if you have a bad case of FOMO or feel like you’ve fallen behind. From scoping pics of epic adventures, engagement celebrations, newborn babies, and all things career, comparing yourself to others based on what they post can make you feel downright terrible about yourself. Thankfully, we’ve scored another perspective from curve model, author, and all-around badass babe Katie Willcox. Scroll on to learn about how she deals with negativity online and why she believes social sharing can actually foster wellness and authenticity while inspiring meaningful connection.

Brit + Co: We adore the healthy, strong messages you share online and how you’ve been able to connect with women everywhere. Which social media platform do you use most often, and what do you love about it?

Katie Willcox: My go-to social media platform is Instagram, and we use it every day. I really love the community engagement, especially with stories — I try really hard to share my life in real time. In fact, I cried on my Instagram story for the first time today! I believe that the power of social media lies in sharing our real experiences and relationships instead of the depiction of “picture perfect” lives we see so often in our feeds. When I first started using Instagram, I saw my page as a second portfolio for modeling photos, because I thought that was its purpose: Post pretty pictures, get followers, get more opportunities in the industry. That’s still a winning formula for some people, but I felt fake and totally uninspired by what I was putting out into the world. I stopped posting bikini photos, and I started to share the real me that extends far beyond just a body. To my surprise, I began to see my audience change drastically. I’ve built a large following in the last five years, which has become a true community of like-minded women. It’s awesome.

An aside, the best compliment I received at one of my events was, “Wow, you’re exactly the same in real life as you are on Instagram.” It’s those moments that make a person feel proud for knowing who you are and living your truth; especially in our current digital culture.

B+C: That’s amazing and so refreshing. Do you find that Instagram can be used to foster a healthy sense of self or inspire well-being, despite talk about it being harmful to mental health?

KW: I think Instagram can be inspiring, but I don’t think you can go there looking for yourself. You actually have to turn *away* from social media and turn inward to find that. It’s super important to realize that social media is an advertisement, and many people are paid to post products. Even more, they way they look is sometimes altered to be a better fit for the advertisers who are paying them for their idea of beauty.

I think there needs to be an open dialogue about this, because models and celebrities (even curvy ones!) Photoshop their bodies. Everyone needs to make a living, and I don’t think advertising is bad, but I do believe that we need to reevaluate the real price that’s being paid, which I see as our sense of self and authenticity. Can we continue to push images and messages that we know hurt people just so we can benefit? On the consumer side, we all need to understand that we’re being compelled to buy more products or to look a certain way in hopes of being “good enough.” If a person can have this basic understanding, not only will their contributions on social media change, but what they hope to find might change as well. Then, there will be an opportunity for powerful insights, healthy engagement, and inspiration to occur.

B+C: How does negativity on social media affect you personally? What do you do about it?

KW: To be honest, I don’t encounter too much negativity on social media. Our pages are really positive and healthy, so we mostly attract the same. When we do get some shade thrown our way, we use it as a lesson and address it head-on. To combat negativity, I share the comment someone posted to spin it into a conversation. I think when you do that, you take away its negative power. But I do believe it is important to pick and choose your battles, because some people feed off of the attention they get from being mean and negative. I’ve talked with people who’ve lashed out at me, and we’ve had a great convo/they’ve apologized.

My work has helped me realize that most people are acting out of their own pain and that it really isn’t personal in any way. Understanding this has given me the ability to handle those experiences differently.

B+C: What a great perspective! Have you ever wanted to quit social media entirely, despite the fact that it’s vital to your career and the healthy message you work so hard to share? What do you do when it just feels too tough?

KW: There are times that I want to quit social media altogether; I feel gross when I start to get sucked in too far. But then I read the messages we get from girls and women, sharing how much we’ve helped them, and it reminds me to stay in my lane and focus on why I’m here instead of what other people are posting and doing. Honestly, I do my best to stay off the search page!

I also think it’s easy for us to talk about others and how fake they are or to judge them, but I’ve learned that we need to place that judgment back on ourselves. If we hold ourselves accountable to be authentic and real (even if it is scary and makes us uncomfortable sometimes), we’re able to consciously choose to contribute to something better and greater than ourselves. Circling back to your second question, we can all talk about how toxic social media can be — but there’s good there too. The more good we each contribute by being transparent and honest, the more opportunities there are for people like you to find you. I like to think of it as shooting a flare gun up into the night sky; when you create a healthy space, you’ve shot a signal out into the world for others to see and find. In this case, there are few things more powerful than an honest, healthy, and encouraging space in a sea of selfies with Facetune.

How does scrolling through social feeds make you feel? Tell us where you find inspiration or how you deal with negativity @BritandCo.

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