Initially, the body positivity movement aimed to end the discrimination of larger bodied people. The movement preached that we should all love our bodies at any size, and that body diversity is beautiful. As the movement grew, supporters advocated for health at any size and dismissed diet culture and weight loss at all costs. Ultimately, the body positivity movement aimed to empower people of all different body types, and the body positivity movement encouraged society as a whole to become more accepting and inclusive of body diversity. These were the initial goals of the body positivity movement.
But when examining the logistics of the body-positivity movement, I can definitely say that body positivity, as a cultural theme, has become a double-edged sword. It can be extremely influential in both a positive and negative way.
Body positivity has its plus sides. It empowers women to feel comfortable in their bodies and it advocates for more inclusion and equality. Body positivity fights back against weight loss protocols and diet culture in general. The body positivity movement also fights against the media, who still portray impossible standards of what a beautiful body “should” look like. Why are we only seeing women who are between size 0 and size 4 everywhere? With 67% of women being over a size 14, the media really needs a reality check. We really need to start putting an end to thin privilege and develop an awareness and acceptance of bodies of all sizes.
So please, don’t get me wrong, I am definitely an advocate of people of all sizes feeling beautiful and confident in their own skin. Beauty clearly comes in every shape and size, and the body positive movement celebrates this. But I also worry that the movement kind of misses the whole point of the direction in which society could (and should) be headed.
Rather than focusing on self-empowerment, self-confidence, and self-love, we are still putting the lens on bodies. We are still hyper-focusing on what we look like on the outside. Our minds are still consumed with thoughts of how our appearance compares to others, and we still believe that our looks reflect our value as human beings. In some ways, this focus on body positivity leads to an overemphasis on our appearance, and still unintentionally stresses the importance of how “pretty we are. In other words, the body positive movement may accidentally lead us into believing that our worth comes from our looks.
When are we going to start to focus instead on women empowering women? On being good human beings. On striving for more than just “pretty.” For one thing, we have no responsibility to be pretty. And for another, we have so much more substance than just a number or a size. We have so much more value, so much more to give back to the world. Yet we keep trying to focus on our bodies.
And this body obsession can be particularly troubling for people who struggle with body image or eating disorders. Emphasizing that we have to love our bodies can be overwhelming, confusing, and can ultimately steal the opportunity for these people to live happy, thriving, recovered lives. Furthermore, moving from body-hate to body-love can be an especially daunting task for someone who has suffered from body image issues and who has not had a good relationship with his/her body in the past.
And there’s another catch 22 with body positivity. None of us will love our bodies 24/7…that’s just a fact. We aren’t always going to feel 100% perfect in every piece of clothing we put on. Some days we are going to feel sluggish and tired, some days we are going to feel bloated and uncomfortable. Some days we are going to feel self-conscious, and we might feel uneasy just showing up. And if we put our worth into how we feel about our bodies, on these days when we don’t feel body positive, we are going to be let down. We are going to feel down. We are going to feel like we aren’t good enough, or pretty enough because once again, it’s all going to come back to our appearance.
But because body positivity has become such a cultural movement, and because #bodypositive will probably continue to be a trending hashtag, it’s best that we make the most of this movement by taking some action and starting a conversation.
I think we should advocate for the acceptance of all bodies, rather than advocating for “body positivity.” Accepting that your body is just as valuable as everyone else’s body is difficult, and it may not necessarily come naturally to you. In some respects, we essentially need to retrain our brains to believe that all bodies are worthy of acceptance and that all bodies are worthy of praise. We have to unlearn the idea that some bodies are more valuable than others. And putting extra value on some bodies means discriminating against other body types. I think if we can put the emphasis on acceptance of diversity, rather than positivity, we will eventually realize that bodies are just bodies, nothing more, nothing less.
If we share the message that all bodies are equal and that we are all much more than just our bodies, I think the tides will begin to change. And most importantly, I think we can all speak out and advocate for kindness and authenticity. Our minds, our thoughts, what we do and who we are are all much more important than just how our bodies look. We need to speak up and share that our true worth is not reflected in our weight, our size, our curves, or our skin color. How we show up to the world physically isn’t nearly as important as who we are as human beings. We aren’t required by anyone to be pretty. But we should be required by ourselves to be good, kind, compassionate human beings.
The body positive movement isn’t inherently wrong. It definitely has its strengths and it has definitely had a powerful impact on the lives of many people. The message of inclusivity is extremely valuable. The confidence that some people have developed as a result of the movement is powerful. However, I think we can take it a step further. I think we can encourage one another to first accept all bodies. We can teach ourselves and others to embrace body diversity. And once we’ve done this, we can move onto what is even more important: who we are. We can lift each other higher for who we are, rather than what we look like. We can compliment people on their thoughts and actions, on their writing and on their creativity. We can let others know how much we value them as friends and as sisters, as coworkers and as mentors.
The important thing is that we start somewhere. And maybe that “somewhere” is a conversation with a friend. Maybe it’s about telling someone when we are feeling insecure in our bodies, and talking about how we can place value on other aspects of our lives, rather than focusing just on our bodies. Maybe it’s about reassuring our loved ones that we think they are beautiful people all around, not just on the outside. And maybe it’s about realizing that while we advocate for body diversity, we can also advocate for self-love – genuine self-love. Because who we are is much more important than what we look like. And once we realize that we are so much more than just bodies, I think we will know we have done the work.