If you’ve been around the internet a while, you’ve probably heard of the body positivity movement. On the face of it, it sounds great – a movement all about embracing the natural shape of people (mainly women, but men too), without shame or feeling that they should change just to make society accept you. But there have been a lot of different views on the body positivity movement over the years, and today we wanted to take a look at why some people think it’s great, and why some people aren’t so keen on the idea.
What Is The Body Positivity Movement?
Of course, before we can look at both sides of anything, we need to know what it is. In this case, the body positivity movement is a social movement rooted in the belief that all human beings should have a positive body image. It also works to challenge the ways society presents and views the physical body, with the goal of moving away from harmful (and sometimes unattainable) stereotypes and instead showcasing women in men in their natural, beautiful state.
The movement, which has gained a lot of traction over the last decade, actually started in the 1960s as a step towards ending fat-shaming. The founder of the movement was Lew Louderback, who kick-started everything by publishing a paper called “More People Should Be Fat.” In his essay, he critiqued the way fat people were treated in America, explaining the discrimination that he felt in the workplace and out in the world. He even advocated for “plump” women to appear in magazines, and to normalise the physical appearance of very normal women. Just two years later, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance was created, and the whole movement began in earnest.
The whole idea of body positivity was created to help people with marginalized bodies (including fat, queer, trans, bodies of colour and more) feel entitled to self-love and confidence in their own appearance. By making people in these categories feel accepted, normal and loved, you can significantly improve their mental health. In fact, studies have shown that poor body image is linked to poor mental health, and an improvement in body image can cause an improvement in mental health. So being part of the body positivity movement and feeling like your body is normal, beautiful and accepted as it is can do wonders for the self-esteem and mental health of the population.
The body positivity movement has also been responsible for some major changes in the worlds of fashion and marketing. Brands are now moving away from the heavily photoshopped, airbrushed and super-skinny models of old, and instead are opting to use models of all shapes and sizes, showcasing a more natural side of beauty. This can be seen everywhere from makeup brands using models with acne scars, visible pores or rough skin texture, right through to clothing retailers using real plus sided models (not just models at a size 12) to demonstrate their products. This is a huge step forward in the fashion world, and it’s something that has empowered a lot of women around the world to feel confident not only buying products they previously felt unable to, but to wear them confidently as well.
One of the biggest criticisms of the body positivity is that it could be deemed as unhealthy. Many people have claimed that the body positivity movement does nothing more than celebrate obesity, providing a convenient excuse for those who are living unhealthy lives. It has been labelled as unhealthy, promoting dangerous weight levels and generally spreading a dangerous message. While this was certainly never the idea behind the movement, it’s evolution over the years has shifted from ‘everyone has a different body type – that’s normal and should be accepted as long as you are healthy’ into ‘you can be whatever size you like and no one should judge you for that’. Drastic factions of the movement have taken to shaming anyone who chooses to diet and lose weight – believing it to be the expression of the psychological toll of fat shaming and not a genuine desire for health or change. We are still public health research showing that we are still in the grip of an obesity epidemic, and some of the blame for that has been laid at the feet of the body positivity movement. So while the ideals for the body positivity movement aren’t bad, there is some criticism around the impact it may have on the health of the population.
Another of the key criticisms of the movement is that body positivity is the wrong term – it really should be ‘fat positivity’. This is because over countless years the body positivity movement has been less than kind and even exclusionary towards those at the opposite end of the spectrum – thin people. Whether this is just thin people naturally or those suffering from mental and physical disorders like anorexia, bulimia and body dysmorphic disorder, the body positivity movement has been clear – this is not the place for you. This skews things a bit, as the original message of the movement was designed to be around acceptance of natural and beautiful, whatever those dimensions happened to be. This lack of acceptance of anyone who isn’t plus size has sparked a backlash against the whole movement that is still being dealt with today.
So, where do you come down on this? Is the body positivity movement an empowering, positive thing, or has it gone too far in the other direction and become something potentially harmful? Or is it like most things in life, and has been taken to extremes on both sides, when in reality the ideal is somewhere in the middle? At Elle Courbee, we believe the latter. Body positivity and acceptance of who you are will always be better for your mental health and confidence – but there should be no shame attached to wanting to change or improve yourself, if that is what will make you happy. We would love to know what you think, so please drop us a line in the comments below.