Is Body Positivity the Only Solution to the Obsession With Our Bodies?
If you spend time on Instagram or other social media platforms, chances are you've come across the term Body Positivity. If you haven't, maybe you've seen before & after pictures, which call out the weight loss of a person as a success. Whether or not these kinds of messages sparked an emotion within you, they do send messages to our subconscious, and over time these messages shape our own views and behaviors.
The marketing messages we have been exposed to from a very young age idealize thin bodies. We internalize these messages over time, and if our own body image does not align with the societal ideal this can lead to mental health issues like eating disorders and depression.
Plenty of studies prove that children already feel like their bodies should look different than they do. This shows that one's body image is influenced from a very young age, and mostly so by parents, friends, and media (Common Sense Media). The problem with that is that the images we are exposed to through mass media are very homogenous. There is no representation of marginalized body types, which further perpetuates the ideal (of a thin and often white) body.
That's what gave rise to the Body Positivity movement. But what does Body Positivity actually mean?
What the body positivity movement strives to do, is increase the representation of marginalized body types in media and therefore widen the understanding of a 'normal' body in society. It actively challenges the beauty ideals of society and sees all bodies as equally valuable.
By showing bodies of all sizes, genders, colors, and physical ability, it wants to accurately depict the diversity of bodies within our society, since the media shows only a tiny fraction of body types and creates a favoring of often unrealistic body features. The underlying credo of the movement is that all body types should be seen as beautiful and worthy to be celebrated.
There are certain popular beliefs, which the movement is trying to dismantle, for instance that overweight people are always unhealthy, or at least less healthy than thin people. This is simply not true, because a thin person can lead a much unhealthier lifestyle than an overweight person. You just can't tell someone's lifestyle only from looking at them.
Many bigger bodies face discrimination in their daily lives and their health issues are not taken seriously by doctors, who call out their weight as the single source of all their health issues. Thin people don't face the same level of discrimination, even though they might have a much unhealthier lifestyle than any bigger person. The truth is:
Not all fat bodies are unhealthy, and not all thin bodies are healthy.
Even though the body positivity movement has increased the visibility of more diverse body types and empowered many people, it hasn't managed to solve the problem of body image issues in our society fully. It also led to harmful behavior on the other extreme, where body positive influencers have been shamed by their community for losing weight, without the followers even knowing the reason for their weight loss. Even if their goal wasn't to lose weight in the first place, or to fit into society's beauty standards, the influencers faced rejection because some people felt personally offended.
Aside from those counter-productive behaviors, I think Body Positivity is a good step in the right direction, but it still puts too much emphasis on the body.
The solution? Body Neutrality.
Body Neutrality is based on the claim that you don't have to feel positive or negative about your body. You don't have to love your body, you just have to make peace with it. It's based on the understanding that your value is not dependent on your body or appearance. The focus should not be on how you look, but instead on who you are and what you do.
While I think it's difficult to completely ignore appearance (since for most of us it's the first thing we notice about a person), I believe we (as a society) need to make an effort to disconnect one's value from one's appearance.
In terms of body weight, I think we shouldn't even put the focus on being healthy, but instead take the focus off bodies altogether and stop passing judgment. We should let everyone make their own choices without judging them for it. Everyone should be able to do with their bodies what they want, and we need to understand that no person is more or less valuable just because they possess certain physical features.
As with many topics I write about, I don't think there is a clear right path. It's a matter of becoming aware of the narratives our culture instilled upon us, and making the choices that feel best to us.
How can you cultivate body neutrality?
Be grateful for what your body does for you every day, for instance, that your heart is beating and your lungs are breathing to keep you alive. If you struggle to feel grateful for your body, active self-care can help to change how you feel about it. The simple act of treating your body well can help you appreciate it more.
While self-care looks different for everyone, some examples of what you can do are: taking a bath, movements like yoga or going for walks, massaging your body, or giving it rest. The goal of self-care is not to improve your appearance, but to give your body what it needs to function at its best and make you feel good.
Be aware that it took a lifetime to instil a critical body image in most of us, so it won't turn into a positive one over night. Accepting your body takes patience.
It also helps to have role models, who embrace a body neutral mindset and can show you how this looks in real life. If you're active on Instagram or other social media platforms, make sure you unfollow accounts that make you feel more critical about your body and follow positive examples.
These are my favorite Instagram profiles related to body positivity/neutrality:
bodyposipanda (picture 1)
mynameisjessamyn (picture 2)
carson_tueller (picture 3)
theheartadvocate (picture 4)
thebirdspapaya (picture 5)
Do you think we will ever be able to abandon unrealistic beauty ideals and value people for who they are instead of how they look? Let us know in the comments.
I am not an expert, I just researched this topic from a place of personal interest. If I used incorrect terminology or expressed something incorrectly, please feel free to let me know.