Body Positivity – force for good, or just a backward compliment?

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Anyone with an Instagram account understands that it is near impossible to escape the body positivity movement. Influencers such as @em_clarkson, @chessiekingg, and others reposted on @womenshealthuk regularly share ‘imperfectly perfect’ images to encourage feeling comfortable in your own skin. Their captions are long and often explain their journey to body confidence. On these posts, young women comment, and express how much these posts have led to their acceptance of their natural body. Often, their comments explain how these posts have made them feel more confident. There seems to be nothing but positivity about body positivity!

In 1996, a psychotherapist and eating disorder survivor coined the term’ body positivity.’ Yet, our understanding of the term evolved over the past ten years, thanks to various movements challenging women’s unrealistic body standards. At its core, ‘body positivity’ intends to inspire women to accept and even love their bodies for how they are. There is an encouragement to be confident about every figure, rather than focus on typically aspirational female body shapes; the classic ‘Victoria Secret’ stick-thin model figure with a big bottom, big boobs, and a tiny waist.

At its core, ‘body positivity’ intends to inspire women to accept and even love their bodies for how they are

Women are exposed to this ‘ideal body’ more than any other body shape. However, it must be noted that the ideal figure is nearly impossible to achieve, without the ‘benefit’ of plastic surgery, and sometimes rib removal, like so many of these models seen in issues of Vogue have had. Additionally, this idea of an ‘aspirational’ body figure continually evolves, making it near impossible for women to feel comfortable in their own bodies. The body positivity movement seeks to solve this problem, by encouraging no individual body type to be normal, but every body type.

The movement does seem to be working. This is clear from the comments on posts such as these, where hundreds of people claim to have changed their mindset on their own body, after seeing other people’s body’s quirks, and a diverse range of body shapes on their social media. There is a need for accounts such as this, to encourage more people to post their normal selves, rather than a picture-perfect image all of the time. But is there a need for the comments?

All I know is if I were to post a photo of myself in a bikini on Instagram, and people were to comment, “love your confidence” or “thanks for showing body positivity” or “you have made me feel more confident in my own body,” I would be utterly offended, and deeply embarrassed. Although comments like this are, I hope, meant in a supportive way, I feel like it is a kinder way of saying, “I don’t want your body type,” or “if I looked like you, I wouldn’t have posted a photo of myself at the beach.”

it may be more challenging to see the good they are doing

While these comments are acceptable and even encouraged on certain accounts pages, such as @em_clarkson and @chessiekingg, they are just offensive, or at least can easily be taken the wrong way on regular people’s accounts. Sometimes, when people have similar body types to these influencers, it may be more challenging to see the good they are doing. These influencers are for everyone; tall and short, large and small, and everything in between. Rather than encouraging weight loss, or exercise for anything other than endorphins, they focus on loving yourself or learning to. Particularly in the New Year, when adverts and posts are filled with weight loss recommendations to ‘start the year off right.’ 

Perhaps, we will know that this movement has been entirely successful when society accepts all body shapes without body positive social media accounts. Accounts such as these promoting body positivity are needed for now. It is nice to see their comment sections filled with love and appreciation. But, when these comments are seen as, or in some cases are, backward compliments, we will know that the body positivity movement’s goal has been achieved.

Image credit: Solen Feyissa via UnSplash

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