Note: the following article discusses potentially triggering issues concerning body image
By Emilia Dunne
What comes to mind when you think of summer? Holidays, beaches and bikinis? For some, these thoughts bring feelings of excitement. For others, they bring the dreaded realisation that they forgot to achieve that ‘summer body’ on time.
Summer can be bittersweet due to the constant battle between enjoying the fun, and being conscious about body hair, fat and sweat patches. This battle also seems to extend to social media, with the dichotomy of two trendy terms: body positivity and body neutrality. Either one is a great attitude to adopt this summer. However, neutrality may be the healthier mindset in the long run.
Body positivity is an attitude that promotes loving and embracing your body for what it is right now. ‘Fat activism’ started in 1969 with the first-ever ‘fat rights movement’. To improve how society was treating his wife, a New Yorker created the National Association to Aid Fat Americans, now the longest-running fat rights organisation.
Body positivity has since become a monumental movement, spreading to all corners of social and traditional media. Undoubtedly, this attitude is inherently good as it fights the dangerous narrative that you have to be white, good looking, able-bodied and perfectly toned to be beautiful. It has also led to better representation for all types of bodies in the media and has called out bullies. However, the obsession with bodies and trying to love them is inadvertently driving us crazy.
It’s impossible not to think about your body constantly when the world is transfixed on how we look. I am flooded by reminders of my body. Instagram posts, models plastered on shop windows and creeps staring on the street because I’m wearing shorts. Body-positive activists intensify this craze by shouting that through all this, we should be actively loving how we look and, if we don’t, we’re bad feminists. It’s exhausting. Wearing fewer clothes due to the heat even gives rise to comments about my body, none of which are solicited.
Comments like “love your cellulite!” are backhanded. We weren’t thinking about it before the media started telling us that not only should we be acutely aware of it, we should also actively be expressing love for something that is an entirely normal part of being a woman. The same goes for things like stretch marks and curves. This narrative seems backwards as it continues to highlight the obsession with bodies, especially women’s bodies, and implies that everyone should have an opinion on them.
More recently, the term ‘body neutrality’ has appeared on social media. This attitude is about being at peace with your body, rather than giving it excessive importance and relevance in your feelings about yourself. It prioritises the body’s functionality, rather than its appearance, and explains that you do not have to love or hate your body. Instead, it suggests that you simply accept and respect that it’s there to keep you alive and moving.
Having no opinions on your body is liberating. Adopting this attitude makes time and space for bigger and better things, like enjoying the summer with friends and family, as we should be doing. Neutrality could do wonders for diverting the world’s fixation on looks towards other domains. It could even limit the amount of hate and (positive or negative) content on ‘beach bodies’ that pollutes the media.
I am fed up with the craze surrounding our looks, and I believe many others feel the same. Hence, I hope body neutrality is the new trend of summer ’22. After a chaotic couple of years, and with exams having come and gone, we all deserve to have a magnificent time. So, this summer, let’s enjoy the good weather, our friends, and Love Island and leave our bodies alone. They deserve it.
Illustration credit: Victoria Cheng