Danae Mercer built an Instagram following of 2.3 million by exposing social media techniques that create idealised images of women. Here she talks to Eve Boggenpoel about how she overcame anorexia, learnt to love herself and how you can do the same.

Danae Mercer on her healing journey

‘My healing journey took quite a few steps. To start with, Creighton University (my university at the time) booked me in with a nutritionist, a therapist and a nurse, multiple times a week for around a year. This helped me start to claw my way out of the dark hole that was my eating disorder. Then, I really leaned on sports at Cambridge University to help continue my healing journey. I joined the modern pentathlon team. For the first time in my life, I began viewing my body not through the lens of how it looked, but for the incredible, powerful things it could do. I saw other women doing the same. We all ate to fuel movement and moved to be stronger. It was amazing.

‘It took a long time to be comfortable in my skin – and, if I’m honest, sometimes I’m still on that journey. But that’s one of the things I’ve learned along the way: self-love isn’t a “place”, it’s more of a “process”. Now, sport and working out help me maintain a healthy relationship with my body. Exercise is my “me” time – a place where I connect with myself and turn off the outside world – and that’s crucial for feeling confident. But we have to choose it every single day. And when it’s hard to love ourselves, we can still respect ourselves through eating, moving, resting and tuning in to what we need.

‘Body confidence is realising that, no matter how you feel, you are still worthy. We all will have good days and bad days, moments where we like the mirror as well as moments where we look and go “ugh…’’. But even as those emotions go up and down, we are still deserving. We are still powerful. We are still all the incredible things that make us “us”. As such, we deserve to eat, to rest and to treat ourselves with kindness. That’s body confidence to me.

Danae Mercer on the self-love community

‘I am so thankful for the community I have. One of my favourite responses came to me back in 2022. It was from a father of a girl. She had started to pick apart her body, and to compare herself to what she was seeing online. The dad sat down with his little girl and spent over an hour going through my page. He used my videos to show her how much of what you see online isn’t real, and to really start a conversation around posing, filters and editing, etc. By the end, he told me, they both were crying. I’m grateful he DM’d me his story, as it’s something that really touched my heart. In fact, a big goal of mine for 2024 is to work more with schools to help raise self-confidence in young girls.

‘A huge obstacle women face when starting to focus on self-love is toxic partners. I get so many DMs from women who have men breaking them down, men making them feel terrible, men saying awful things. And I get it; I’ve been there myself. But my gosh, if there’s one thing that crushes confidence, it’s when the person who is meant to love us tears us apart instead.

‘It’s easy to say, “leave that awful man!”, but it took me more than two years to leave mine. So, what advice would I give? Listen to yourself. Really listen. You know in your heart of hearts if this love is hurting you. You know you deserve better. You know you are worthy of kindness and someone who doesn’t break down your body. So, listen to that inner voice. And trust that one day, you will feel like you again. You just have to start taking baby steps in that direction.

Danae Mercer on social media and AI

‘If you’re just beginning your journey of self-acceptance, start by curating your social media feed. It sounds simple, but our brains are like sponges. We soak in things without realising it. If all we’re seeing online is “perfection” and pages that make us feel bad, then these things will impact our mental health and crush our self-love journey before we begin. So, start there.

‘I’m very concerned about AI, too – as I think we all should be. It’s going to change the world and what we see as reality in drastic, sometimes dangerous, ways.

‘I’m equally horrified by AI influencers. You have people like Aitana Lopez who aren’t real, but present femininity as hyper-sexualised. They show an unachievable beauty standard – because they aren’t real. And yet brands are already choosing to work with these AI influencers. This is what our children will grow up comparing themselves to, and that’s hideous.

‘I’m a global ambassador for Women’s Best, an incredible brand that wants to help make women feel more confident – however they train. I’ve been working with them doing wellness events, and I’m really excited to keep driving the program forward. I was recently at a Women’s Best event with Isabel Gothard (@isafitlife), a fitness influencer. She was in the process of cutting [a fat-loss phase] before her first big bikini competition. Being around her was amazing, because I felt inspired by her drive and her determination, and yet… if she were to “slip up” or fail (she didn’t, but just imagine), I’d remind her that it’s okay; that her body is just wrapping on the beautiful vessel that is her soul; that goals are great, but our worth doesn’t fluctuate alongside them.

‘We spend every single day with ourselves, so we must always come back to kindness and love. I’d tell Gothard this, and it’s the same thing I’d say to Women’s Fitness readers: be gentle to you. Every single day.’

Catch up with Mercer at instagram.com/danaemercer or @danae_mercer on TikTok.

Strike a pose

Mercer reveals how a simple change of pose can alter someone’s appearance online: