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How to own your identity, label free

A woman in a red bikini standing on a dock near boats, questioning her identity.

Having an identity crisis is just one in a long line of personal struggles many of us face. For decades, the social norm has been to fit into a particular category, with little fluidity or room for movement. Straight, gay, black, white, fat, skinny – all labels that work to define a fixed identity.

And therein lay the problem. Because what if you’re not straight, you’re not gay, and you’re not bi?

What if the TV stars, icons and influencers who cover our screens, look or sound nothing like you? Does that make you an oddity? Where the hell do you fit in?

Yet now for the first time ever, the tide finally seems to be turning. Roll your eyes at terms like gender fluid, but if it helps someone find their place in the world and finally understand all the crazy emotions they’ve been going through, then where’s the issue? Women of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and sexualities are being represented through the likes of Winnie Harlow, Megan Crabbe, Ashley Graham and Adwoa Aboah, whilst for men, the perception of traditional masculinity – being a lad, watching the footie, drinking beer – is no longer a one size fits all. More and more, men are being encouraged to speak out about their mental health, are being shown that sexuality isn’t a stereotype, or are seeing themselves represented through main stream media. Just look at the success of Black Panther – a $1 billion hit with a predominantly black cast.

Because really, Is there anything more beautiful than just being yourself? We don’t think so, and neither do clothing brand River Island, who we recently partnered up with to travel to the idyllic Amalfi Coast. The purpose of the trip? To meet with a handful of social media stars who have had enough with archaic convention, and who are advocating the self-love mantra by being the truest, most honest versions of themselves.

A group of people showcasing their identity on the beach.

Not afraid to call bullshit and saying (and showing) how it really is, body positivity campaigner Sonny Turner, is the kind of girl every girl wants to be, for all the right reasons. She’s part of a new breed of models and influencers who are truly representative of how women think and look.

“Times are changing and I think the power of social media has allowed people to see that different types of beauty are beautiful and are worth representing as well,” she says.

A young woman enjoying the beautiful beach scenery in Europe.

Youtuber Jon Barakat agrees. Finding fame through the YouTube channel he runs together with his boyfriend Dan, Jon is the kind of role model every young boy struggling with his sexuality needs in their life: “the truest form of bravery is being yourself. I think kids these days struggle with coming out and it becomes this massive thing in their head. The struggle to come out can be quite difficult because they think their life is going to change. They think that people will view them differently but in actual fact, life is exactly the same when you get older and when you come out it just gets better.”

A man with a backpack on a cliff overlooking the sea contemplates his identity.

These guys ooze confidence and self-belief through the content they create, but was it always this way?

“I used to hate going to the beach or going on holiday, I’d always be covered up,” says Sonny, “Wearing a bikini is such a big deal for some people, but now people message me or send me pictures of themselves wearing a bikini and say I’ve inspired them to wear what they want. When I get these messages I’m like “yes, I’m doing my job properly.”

“I’ve been called every name under the sun and stereotyped my whole life.” Jon adds, “I’m a musical theatre actor, I’m gay, and I’ve always had girl friends growing up. I was never one of the lads and I think those stereotypes can be so damaging.”

A group of people are bravely jumping into the water off a cliff, showcasing their fearless identity.

Loving your body whatever shape you are, being happy in yourself and not feeling like you have to conform to a label isn’t an easy process, and doesn’t happen overnight.

Identity is a journey we need to learn to embrace, and honest representation of real bodies, real issues and real people, is what will help get us there. Sure we have a way to go, but with positive, and more importantly real role models like Sonny & Jon leading the pack, it seems the future is bright.

The Travel Project travelled to the outrageously beautiful Amalfi Coast with River Island, as part of their “My Summer Story” campaign. To find out more, and to shop the looks of Sonny, Jon and more (or just shop in general), head here.

Psst, why not also check out Contiki’s Simply Italy trip if you want a slice of that sweet Amalfi life for yourself…

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