The term social media influencer usually spawns the image of a stick thin, tanned and photoshopped woman posting about her “everyday” lavish life that is typically not necessarily relatable to their followers. With people like these consuming feeds across Instagram, TikTok, and the like, influencer Emily Bispo decided to change the narrative.
“All of my content is really centered around recovery, body acceptance, and self-love. Self-love starts within,” said Bispo.
With 518,400 followers on TikTok and 14,300 on Instagram, Bispo has built a brand where she inspires women and young girls alike to love themselves for who they are, no matter what they look like. When she was younger, Bispo felt disconnected from the traditional influencer because she didn’t see any that looked like her. This lack of representation, and a toxic past relationship, caused her to spiral into an eating disorder. That was a year ago.
Social media played a role in Bispo falling to her lowest point, but it, ironically, ended up being what also brought her to her highest. Now she is on her recovery journey and sharing her story with others so she can be the role model she never had by becoming an influencer herself.
Despite being a 22-year-old full-time communications student with a minor in social media marketing at Bakersfield College, in Bakersfield, California, Bispo had always had an interest in being a Youtuber, or something of the sort. She was inspired when she was younger after seeing creators such as Emma Chamberlain, who highlighted acne rather than emphasizing the perfect butt.
The rise of Tik Tok brought Bispo her chance for social media fame, which she skyrocketed to after posting a video of herself being posed (stomach sucked in, hips pushed back, bikini bottoms positioned strategically) and then unposed (body relaxed, stomach normal, bikini bottoms sitting low on her hips) in a bathing suit. This video’s success made her realize what her niche could be: body positivity. By showing the difference and celebrating both, Bispo was creating an inclusive space for all women on her channel.
“There’s so many young girls, older women, women in general, who always feel like they’re not good enough, because of societal pressures, and wanting to look a certain way or fit in,” said Bispo. “So many people told me that it [my videos] helped them.”
Bispo’s fame isn’t surprising to Cal Poly junior Emma Schultz, who has known Bispo since her junior year of high school. According to her, Bispo has always garnered a following, just never as big as the one she has now.
“I do not think I will ever get used to her having over half a million followers,” said Schultz.
Bispo even caught the attention of Ashley Graham, the famous plus-sized model who has been profiled in “Vogue,” walked runways for Dolce and Gabbana, Michael Kors, and Tommy Hilfiger, been a judge on “America’s Next Top Model,” and currently has 12.1 millions followers on Instagram. Graham recently reposted one of Bispo’s TikToks about building better relationships with our bodies on her Instagram story.
Knowing Bispo over the past few years, Schultz, who is now an architecture major, says the biggest change she’s seen in Bispo isn’t her follower count or even the fact that celebrities are noticing her, however. It’s Bispo’s self-love.
“She grew up with the pressure that her body needed to look a certain way and if it didn’t, she would be insecure. Now, she promotes self-love and is confident in herself. I think this was her biggest development and it is inspiring for all of her followers [and] anyone around her,” said Schultz.
Bispo recalls that, from a very young age, she was skinny but not in the same way the girls on TV were and she felt the need to compare herself to them. As she got older, this desire to be like them worsened and she developed anorexia in her late teens.
“It was really difficult and it’s something that I feel like not a lot of people get to talk about with eating disorders. It’s a scary world and not something to be romanticized,” said Bispo.
Her eating disorder was heightened because of the relationship she was in at this time. Her ex-boyfriend would make comments that would stick with Bispo. During a period when she was struggling, he said he liked the way her ribs felt.
“It made me feel like it was something to be proud of. So as I started going through recovery, as I started gaining weight, I started to feel more insecure,” said Bispo.
While her ex-boyfriend never said Bispo looked fat directly, according to Bispo he would continue to make comments here and there and was never empathetic to her recovery process.
Bispo now deems leaving him five months ago as one of the best decisions she ever made for loving herself and doing what’s best for her. Part of this meant sharing her story with others online with all of her followers. However, while it is beneficial for Bispo to be as transparent as she can with her followers, consistently posting can also be draining for her.
Part of what makes it difficult is the hate Bispo receives. Sometimes she is compared to others and other times she is told she isn’t doing enough for their community so she’ll receive backlash, which she says is overwhelming.
“People are always going to look for something. I’ve just learned to not give them my energy because that’s all they want in the end,” said Bispo.
In order to combat the harder sides of being an influencer, Bispo prioritizes self-care. From Zumba classes and journaling to not using social media entirely on Sundays, Bispo does this so her whole world isn’t absorbed by the Internet.
“I think breaks are super important for mental health, even if you’re not a creator, deleting your app once a while is good to break away,” said Bispo.
While not a social media influencer herself, Tea Murphy, a Santa Rosa Junior College nursing junior, feels social media fatigue, too. She is someone who struggles with body image and felt social media became a continuous cycle of comparing herself to others. This led to her deleting all of her apps – except for TikTok. The reason Murphy chose to keep TikTok is the same reason Bispo thrived on the platform: they feel it celebrates body diversity.
The way the app is designed allows for more personal content cultivation for its users so Murphy was able to create a page of extremely accepting content.
“Since joining TikTok I have found amazing influencers and a community that helps me to feel comfortable in my body. TikTok also has a more supportive and uplifting comment section on body positivity videos than I have seen on any other platform. I think that has primarily been due to Gen Z being the majority on the app with our effort to advocate for equality,” said Murphy.
Gen Z is the generation born in the late nineties to the early 2000s, which is exactly when the term “body positivity” emerged after a psychotherapist and someone who had been through treatment for an eating disorder created thebodypostive.org, a site designed to help people feel good about their bodies.
Then the body positivity movement began to reemerge around 2012 as a way to challenge unrealistic feminine beauty standards and preach that all bodies are beautiful. This becoming the new standard was something Bispo loved seeing when she was just starting.
“Seeing people who showed their cellulite, their stretch marks, their tummy rolls – like that really inspired me and made me realize it is important who you follow on Instagram, as far as you know, feeling bad about yourself or feeling good about yourself,” said Bispo, who shares the same parts of herself to her followers too.
Helping others feel better about themselves, is a large reason Bispo has amassed such a large following on social media. Nathalie Rivera, a Cal Poly nutrition junior, has been following Bispo for a bit now and loves how much Bispo loves and flaunts her body, despite not fitting the “ideal” body standard, i.e. not a size zero, not always being smooth and shaven, and wearing whatever she wants despite all of this.
Rivera finds Bispo beautiful inside and out given the way she presents herself on Instagram.
“She really shows the world that beauty is not limited to women who are a size 0. Emily is my favorite influencer because she is so raw, real, and honest, and she is doing so much for the body positivity movement,” said Rivera.
Being this role model for other girls has been Bispo’s favorite part of becoming an influencer.
“I’ve had 10-year-old girls tell me that they want to love themselves and they want to start their self-love journey. Which is so amazing, because when I was 10 I didn’t even know what that meant,” said Bispo.