When we hear the term “body positivity,” it’s hard to figure out where any negativity could stem from. After all, the movement is centered around being positive. What could be so wrong about that? Over the last few years, the body positivity movement has become more powerful and present than ever before, combatting unrealistic beauty standards both on social media and in commercial society—and yet, it seems like people are still missing the point.
Let’s get one thing straight: The strides that the fashion and modeling industries have made to be more body-positive and size-inclusive are both admirable and important. This past NYFW, I saw an array of stunning plus-size and mid-size models in runway looks that flattered their silhouettes beautifully—as opposed to many previous, lazy attempts by designers to earn their coveted inclusivity points by simply dressing larger models in oversized frocks that drowned them and hid their shape.
Even influencers are feeling the effects of the movement, with many more empowered to post unedited photos on social media. It turns out that they, too, have rolls on their stomachs! But when we step back and take a hard look at the movement for what it is, it’s apparent that all we’ve done is broadened the scope of what is considered “desirable” to the rest of society. Can the body positivity movement really be about self-acceptance when it’s so dependent on the approval of others?
Can the body positivity movement really be about self-acceptance when it’s so dependent on the approval of others?
All bodies should be celebrated, the movement asserts. But the unasked question is, by whom? Finally marketing a plus-size body as sexy and hot is progress, but it inadvertently still ties a person’s value to their physical appearance. Big and small and everything in between is beautiful—but wouldn’t it be better if we all could all agree that our beauty doesn’t have to define our worth?
Sure, we may be stepping away from the toxic “skinny = beautiful” standard, but we still live in a society that is obsessed with commenting on people’s bodies. Are unretouched photos of celebs really groundbreaking enough to still be making headlines? We applaud celebrities for showing off cellulite or posting a makeup-free selfie, instead of just stopping the dialogue altogether and allowing people to express themselves with zero appearance-based judgement.
Sure, the body positive moment so far has helped society to accept a certain level of curves, but the inclusivity ends there. In failing to celebrate the true diversity of the human body in all of its forms and abilities, the movement currently leaves room for racism, ableism, transphobia and classism.
Our bodies are hardly the most exciting thing about any of us.
Our bodies are hardly the most exciting thing about any of us, so it’s disheartening to watch them regularly be commodified and judged. Moreover, the body positivity movement is so focused on this wishy washy society-approved brand of self-love that it negates any room for body indifference or acceptance. Instead of being told our differences are not flaws, we are told to “love them anyway.”
There’s a big difference between being told you should love your stretch marks in spite of how they look versus acknowledging that stretch marks are not a flaw. It’s okay to not be brimming with body positivity every day. You’d be a lot kinder to yourself if you simply focused on being at peace with your body—even the parts you don’t love.
I want so badly for the genuine acceptance of all bodies to stop being just a trend, and I’m hopeful that we will eventually achieve a reality where this is no longer an issue. To do so, we must stop adjusting the idea of a desirable body and instead make the intentional effort to normalize any and all bodies. Doing this requires real work, rewiring our brains to reject the idea of attaching our worth to our level of attractiveness.
It certainly won’t happen overnight. I’ll admit, I still have some work to do myself. But how we choose to part with the body positivity movement’s problematic approach and instead emphasize body neutrality and self-love will ultimately come down to us—and us alone.