Emotional Health

How Do I look? The Body Positive Movement

The actress, writer, and producer/director, Lena Dunham, has been a leader in this movement for younger women, especially. In January she posted a long message to her followers, writing, “Let’s get something straight: I didn’t hate what I looked like — I hated the culture that was telling me to hate it.” Though millions have commented on it, particularly during the early seasons of her hit HBO series, “Girls,” when almost every episode featured a nude or semi-nude Ms. Dunham, unselfconsciously displaying her “imperfect” form, she says, “My body isn’t fair game.”

In our culture it’s hard to “put yourself out there” in any way without attracting negative comments of some kind. Nevertheless, these celebrities (and others) have been brave pioneers in the war on body shaming, helping young women reshape their attitudes and fight the negative self-criticism it fuels.

How can women who are not “millennials” fight this culture? It can be argued that we have endured the worst of it, from Twiggy to Christie Brinkley (who is 63). Originally, People magazine was created as an expansion of the People section (Interesting and Notable People) of Time Magazine.  However it has undergone  a malignant transformation into the gossip rag it is today, spawning imitators that are even worse.

We have also lived through the explosion of the diet industry, as the first diet foods (“Tab” the zero calorie Coke product was introduced in the 1960s) and organizations, like Weight Watchers took off. It is no coincidence that this expansion paralleled the women’s movement.

But we are stuck with years of “brainwashing” that have left their mark, and older women are among the biggest customers for cosmetic procedures and surgeries of all kinds. Learning how to balance our wish to look as good as we can with the exigencies of ageing, including weight gain, is a challenge. In the past weeks we have focused on how hard it is to approach weight control in a healthy way, with the dangers of persistent failure on one side and eating disorders on the other.

As more and more women embrace the idea that it is OK to accept the body you have, things may get easier. We have to be aware that as 21st century women we are especially vulnerable to the distortions of our culture emphasizing that a woman is only as valuable as she is pretty. Health, vibrancy, and wellness can be worthy goals at any age and (almost) any weight. By focusing on the positive reasons for caring for your body (“I want to be well and healthy”), rather than the negative (“I’m fat, I look terrible, etc.”) attention to eating and exercise can be transformed from a punishment to an active act of self-care. And possibly even an act of rebellion.



Orbach, Susie. (1978). Fat Is A Feminist Issue.


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