Danae Mercer radiates good health, but there was a time when she disliked her body so much that she was prepared to risk literally killing herself to achieve what she perceived to be perfection.
Thanks to the intervention of concerned and caring friends and teachers at the US university where she was a student, she made a full recovery. But the days of judging her body were far from over.
Now she is a lifestyle journalist based in Dubai, who has written extensively for livehealthy.ae. But she’s also become a global body acceptance influencer, with posts that usually feature pictures of her own body — with all the cellulite, stretch marks and bloated bellies that can involve. Essentially Mercer uses her own body to explain all the the lighting, angles and other tricks that most influencers — and photographers and editors — use to cover them up. Mercer has lots of experience in this area, both as an influencer and former editor of Men’s and Women’s Health Middle East.
She’s pulling back the curtain, so to speak, and her work in this area has clearly struck a resounding chord with other women. In addition to press coverage in publications including the Daily Mail, she has recently surpassed one million followers on Instagram.
With that kind of exposure come trolls and angry people, who don’t hold back in expressing their opinions about her.
“It’s the whole range, from the really mean stuff about how ugly I am, how disgusting I am, how unhealthy I am because I don’t go to the gym,” explains Mercer, who does exercise regularly, on a recent episode of The Livehealthy.ae Podcast. “Then there are people who say I shouldn’t be talking about this stuff because of the way I look and because of my body type.”
Her posts on feminist topics provoke the sort of all-too-predictable responses you would expect from insecure men who have issues with women (one simply sent a string of barf emojis, says Mercer). But not all the trolls fall into that category.
“You also get people who are well-intentioned but critique a lot. What it comes back to is that someone who is comfortable in themselves would never tear someone else down,” says Mercer. “So I try and remind myself that, yes they’re trying to hurt me and they’re not being very nice… but what must it be like inside their heads?”
Women already have to struggle so hard to meet society’s expectations of what they should be and how they should look. So why are women so quick and so eager to judge other women? Why are women so often the worst critics of other women?
Mercer has also highlighted TikTok, which allows diet and “thinspo” but has taken down a half-dozen of Mercer’s videos – not because they were inappropriate in any way, but because they showed what are deemed to be “imperfections,” she says.
It’s problematic, particularly because there are so many young people — and girls, vulnerable to developing disordered eating — on there.
“TikTok tends to censor traditionally ‘unattractive’ bodies,” she explains. “There’s been an issue with people who are missing limbs or if it looks like you’re from a poor area. A lot of body positivity influencers are having their content censored. In my first post I was wearing a swimsuit and showing my cellulite on my thighs and it got taken down.”
At first she assumed it was because the swimsuit might be deemed unsuitable viewing for teenagers.
“Not true. There are loads of bikini videos. They’ll say that if your content is frowned upon, they suppress it. In fact, anything to do with tummy rolls or cellulite — that’s what they’re censoring,” says Mercer.
“It’s horrifying when you delve into the fact that so many teenagers are on this platform and there is so much about weight loss, about diet, getting skinny, getting skinny fast, physical appearance. Why don’t we create a space where teenagers can see a diverse range of bodies?”
Influencers are called influencers for a reason: through their armies of followers they have the power to influence current thinking and trends. Mercer says she cherishes the messages she gets from women who have followed her advice and thrown away their scales, or put on the shorts they never dared wear before as part of her #weartheshorts challenge.
Recently, Mercer was immensely moved by a message from a teacher. The teacher had shown Mercer’s profile to one of her pupils – a 14-year-old girl who struggles with body image. The girl then shared it with her friends and now they refer to Mercer in class.
“Just to know that somehow, somewhere I’ve helped one little 14-year-old – that really hit me,” says Mercer.
Anna Pukas has reported from all over the world as a foreign correspondent for British media. She is now an editor based in Abu Dhabi.