Emotional Health

How Do I look? The Body Positive Movement

Helen of Troy, the first celebrity beauty known as “the woman who launched a thousand ships,” was deemed the cause of the Trojan War. Cleopatra, another woman of great power who is also widely remembered for her beauty, also sparked her share of international disputes. From the dawn of recorded history, beauty has equaled power for women, even queens.

Feminine attractiveness has the ability to attract men, who traditionally have held most, if not all, of the power in society. The recent failure of the United States to elect its first woman president occurred, at least in part, because some voters were uncomfortable with the idea of this. Hillary Clinton was widely and cruelly criticized head to toe: from her hair to her glasses to her ankles, throughout her career. But things are changing, as we have made gains in the workforce. No longer entirely dependent on men for financial support and general safety, women are freer to make choices independent of men’s wishes.

While all of this was happening, our preoccupation with our bodies and weight has spun out of control. Instead of freeing us, our new independence has tied us, now more than ever, to the concept that an ideal woman must attain a certain level of (agreed upon) beauty.

While the media and the digital age have contributed to this, it is also understood to be a backlash against women’s independence—one that we as women ourselves have bought into. This is in spite of the fact that more American women are overweight or obese than ever before. Susie Orbach’s landmark book, Fat is a Feminist Issue, (she famously treated Princess Diana for her anorexia), was one of the first to try to break this cycle.

But progress has been very slow. Instagram and Facebook are full  with pictures of people looking their photo-shopped best, reminding the rest of us that better looking is, well, better. There is a movement that has sprung up to help combat these trends, however, called “Body Positive.” It is meant to be a response to the widespread “fat-shaming” that is both ubiquitous and widely accepted. Propelled by pioneers like the plus size model Tess Holliday (a proud size 22), “The movement has become a growing force on Instagram in particular, acting as a countermeasure to the millions of posts of tiny tummies and thigh gaps propagated by the thousands of traditional models who dominate social media.” Instagram allows us “to cultivate our own experiences,” Ms. Holliday said, who has a new book, The Not So Subtle Art of Being a Fat Girl. “Prior to Instagram, you just saw whatever online. Now you can follow people that are into body positivity, feminism, radical body love, artists. People that inspire me,” she said.

Instagram and Snapchat have been revealed to have very negative effects on women’s body images. Striking back, Instagram has tried to emphasize the idea of community support and safety and the concept of “inclusion.” The New York Times writes,

“Hashtags like #bodypositive, #bopo, #bodyacceptance and #effyourbeautystandards — the one created by Ms. Holliday in 2011 — have been added to millions of posts, carving out a digital space where everyday people can share photos of their bodies and stories about body image.

Body positivity is more than weight acceptance, though. It is about accepting one’s body as it is, regardless of what is deemed socially acceptable or beautiful: from the external like acne, body hair, cellulite and stretch marks, to the more complex like physical disabilities or disorders.

By relying on images, Instagram opens the door to change in a way that transcends language and age.”

Start the conversation