In April 2017, Mikael M. Melo founded Body 365, an Instagram and Facebook campaign that highlights diverse body types and their accompanying stories. Using black and white photography, and no other editing, Body 365 publishes photos of people expressing who they are, in their skin, no matter their shape, upbringing, colour or size.
With nine other volunteers, Mikael has featured people from varying backgrounds and communities. Through their work, the Body 365 team remains dedicated to encouraging other brands and organization to support inclusion and diversity in more ways than just meeting corporate quotas.
We connect with Mikael to learn about his own body-love journey and the Body 365 story, thus far.
Read our full interview below.
- What inspired you to create Body 365?
Growing up, I was always very insecure about my body image. I was overweight and one day, I promised myself I’d lose weight to be happier in my own skin. Eventually, I dropped around 50lbs, but remained extremely insecure. I hadn’t realized that loving my body wasn’t about how it looked on the outside, but instead, was about how I felt on the inside and how I treated myself.
Ever since this realization, I’ve been extremely outspoken when it comes to body positivity. About a year and a half ago, I went out for coffee with my good friend Justine Erdelyi and we talked for hours about our experiences. Eventually, we came to realize that we should start a platform where people can openly talk about their struggles with their bodies and their journeys of learning to love themselves. This casual coffee was where Body 365 started.
- You’re a marketer and content creator by trade. How does your work with Body 365 differ from the work you do in other aspects of your life?
A lot of my previous projects have been video-based. I was originally going to make Body 365 a hub of video interviews and stories. Then, I realized it would work better, visually, if Body 365 was instead a collection of photos.
The brand marks the first time I’ve utilized real people and their authentic stories to display a visual stylistic art piece. I think there’s a lot of power in seeing unedited bodies on display; it reminds us all that we are all made to look different. We are all beautiful because of that.
- On that note, which other projects and organizations occupy your time, when you’re not sharing unique body stories?
I just graduated, so I’m freelancing right now. I did some work with etalk for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), I worked the Much Music Video Awards (MMVAs) and have been working at Virgin Radio. I have some written content coming out soon via Wattpad. I’m trying to figure out where to find a career for myself by diving into places that stimulate my creativity and love for media.
- Were you always empowered by the act of sharing experiences and art?
I’d say so. Most of my video projects are based off experiences I’ve had. I think art should be both therapeutic and a representation of who the artist is, as a person.
One of my favourite quotes is by Carrie Fisher. It reads, “Take your broken heart and turn it into art.” There’s a beauty in sharing our lived experiences with one another.
- How do audiences engage with Body 365? What are some of your favourite parts about the conversations Body 365 generates, both online and offline?
It was a very slow climb at first. Some people were turned off by the concept. I think they saw it too sexual, perhaps. Eventually, we received interest from enough volunteers, each willing to share their stories and then, I think audiences started to get it. The feedback from that point has been so, so lovely.
People are thanking us for displaying different body types, sizes and shapes that often don’t get represented. We all have bodies and we should be celebrating all of them in mainstream media.
I once received a DM from a girl who opened up to me about her eating disorder. She had read one of the stories we posted, highlighting someone who had recovered from their eating disorder. The girl said she just broke down. She felt comfort knowing someone else went through what she has been and was still able to come out on top.
It was one of those moments where all the hard work that goes into making a project pays off. Hearing someone relate to your project on such a deep level – words can’t even begin to explain how it feels.
- Have you ever had to deal with negative feedback or commentary regarding Body 365? What tactics have you used when dealing with these situations?
Well, funny enough, we pitched Body 365 as my final thesis for school and it got rejected. I followed up with the teacher as to why it wasn’t green lit and they told me it just didn’t seem like a viable idea. That made me furious – not because the idea was rejected, but because it felt like the school didn’t believe body positivity was something we should be showcasing online!
I then turned to the team that I had planned to work with, asked them if they wanted to do this project on our own time, outside of class, and they did – so we did! I think this says something so profound. My team worked for free, for countless hours, for no grade or purpose other than believing in the Body 365 cause and mandate.
- What about the Body 365 concept continues to appeal to you?
I love being on set. Just seeing people come for a shoot. We always say, “You decide how much you want to show.” If a model wants to be fully clothed or in their underwear – that’s entirely their call.
I remember this one person I went to school with arrived to her shoot in this great dress. That’s what she wanted to be photographed in. Eventually, as the shoot went on, she mustered the courage and said she wanted to remove some clothing. We got this incredible, powerful shot of her dropping her dress, just standing their, totally badass and confident, loving her body. After the shoot, she told me how happy and confident she felt. It’s just so beautiful seeing people feel like themselves; nothing is more captivating than that blissful confidence of self-love.
- How has the project shifted and grown since it launched?
When Justine and I first thought of the Body 365 concept, we thought it was going to be video interviews, then we thought it could be a visual calendar, then a flip book and then it came to grow into this social media movement. Once we got the ground running, we had a clear aesthetic and theme that we stuck with. Being cohesive to showcase different body types and how we’re all unique but still the same was very important to me. Luckily, I have a team of amazing photographers that were able to tackle that, visually.
- One of Body 365’s targets is to showcase proportional representation of the whole population. What type of strategy are you using to ensure you continue to see this through?
In the beginning stages, I would personally reach out to people. I am a strong believer in diverse representation, so with our first batch of features, I wanted to make sure that audiences could find someone they could relate to in our work, whether that was visually or through the story behind the photo. So we reached out to men, women, people of colour, people who were 18, people who were 40, people living with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ2+ community, etc..
We do always give people the option to pull out of the project 24-hours before their photo release date, which has happened with a few models. It’s important to me that we’re making sure people are comfortable with such personal, raw content being published online. Our strategy is simply ensuring we are being open to everyone – those who want to be part of Body 365 and our viewers.
- Body 365 proudly states that there is power and strength in seeing accurate, realistic representations of ourselves in media. How does Body 365 educate audiences of all ages about the importance of including all shapes, sizes and colours in advertising, marketing and content?
We educate people by being real. The photos you see on our social media pages aren’t photoshopped. Our photos are what people look like. Humans all have bodies; the body is the common factor that links us all. That’s why, stylistically, I wanted Body 365 photos to be black and white – to keep that cohesive connection. I truly believe seeing these honest photos teaches us about false beauty standards and inspires us to fight back against them.
- Body 365 also aims to showcase that we have all felt insecure about the way we look, at one point or another. What about these similar lived experiences is so critical to your messaging?
Reliability and empathy are the best ways to connect with people. Once you are able to put yourself in another person’s shoes, you come to learn that underneath it all, we are all very similar. We are all human beings just trying to live a good life.
- The Body 365 social media strategy is to share a feature photo and a quote by the person in said photo, touching on common themes like body image and mental health. How do you think this method has impacted your audiences? How do you think it has impacted the people you feature?
This style of marketing worked well for Humans of New York, so we studied that and tried to do something similar. Real people sharing real stories. People love that, as they should, ‘cause our stories are about lives lived. I think it’s all profound to learn and hear about.
- What do you hope professional and personal brands learn from the work Body 365 has done?
To start casting all body types! We are not cookie cutters and we need better representation in media and advertising. Why isn’t there a superhero living with a disability? Why does someone have to be labelled a “plus-sized model,” why can’t they all just be models? We put a lot of value on how people look, but if we valued how we look in a way that makes everyone feel beautiful, I think brands would start to notice more traffic and the world would start to experience more positive impact, change and community.
- What are some of the challenges you face while trying to see the Body 365 vision through?
I think the whole getting rejected when we pitched Body 365 as a school project thing was a challenge. Then, trying to convince people to be our first batch of models – that was hard because we didn’t have any content to show them to better pitch what we were trying to achieve with the project.
I told my team, “We can’t expect people to do something for us if we don’t do it ourselves.” So, my team and I were the first features for Body 365. From this point, once people saw what we were doing, we started getting better responses.
- Why Body 365? Why not a campaign from which you could profit?
Because why profit off people’s stories? We just want to be a platform where individuals can share their stories. I don’t want to make money off of people’s feelings and lived experiences.
- So far, Body 365 has nearly 130 posts on Instagram, each profiling a new individual. How do you search and secure people to feature?
At first, it was me asking friends to please take part, but eventually, we got busy enough that other people started reaching out to us. We had a month-long waitlist and were scheduling people for shoots four to six weeks in advance. Eventually, Garrett Clayton, former Disney Channel star, Adam Ramzi, adult entertainer and Deepa Prashad, blogTO and Family Channel Host participated in the Body 365 campaign. It’s really been so amazing!
- Do you have anything else to add?
Love your body, every day.
Thank you, Mikael, for sharing your story with A Quarter Young. Until next time!
To learn more about Body 365, like them on Facebook and follow them on Instagram. Interested in sharing your story with the Body 365 movement? Email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org for the opportunity to commemorate your in-this-skin experience.
The feature photo is courtesy of Mikael M. Melo.