Everyone deserves to feel good in their own skin. Having a positive body image (irrespective of how shapes and appearances are defined by society and popular culture) is crucial to living a healthy life. But it’s easier said than done when we’re constantly being told what’s attractive and are force fed images of naturally tall, slender, fresh faced people everywhere we go. That’s what the body positivity movement is trying to change…

What is ‘Body Positivity’?

Body positivity is a movement that involves challenging negative and unrealistic social constructs of beauty standards and promoting the acceptance of all bodies. This is done with the hope of making individuals feel confident and to help them better understand the influence of media messages.

The body positivity movement emerged in the 1960s when society decided to combat the culture of ‘fat-shaming’ and the marginalisation of people based on their appearance and weight. Then from 2012 onwards, people started to advocate the message that even when your body type changes (which will inevitably happen), you should love your body no matter what.


Social Media’s Influence

Social media has played a massive part in terms of educating others about the movement’s aims and values. The body positivity movement has helped women feel more confident about themselves and it is argued that mediated content can drive them to reach this level of confidence. People can use digital media to help them regain their confidence. Whether it can help them find a supportive and encouraging community or allow them to display their unique characteristics, social media has the power to really impact an individual.

In a recent study, psychologists wanted to determine how many posts, using the body positivity hashtag (e.g., #bodypositivity), delivered highly positive messages regarding body image, in attempts to understand the motive behind the movement. By examining the posts on Instagram, the researchers noted that, alongside the theme of appreciation of various body types, several of the body positivity accounts had contradictory messages. Self-acceptance messages can sometimes appear alongside or within weight-loss-related posts. Even where individuality is celebrated, beauty and slimness are idealised.

Embrace Your Individuality

Body positivity is sometimes seen as controversial since it indicates that women should do whatever they think they need to in order to feel good about how they appear. Unfortunately, popular messages suggest that those who are slimmer, and fitter are happier, healthier, and more attractive. This coincides with examples in popular television of overweight women being (stereotypically) depicted as unintelligent and unable to develop romantic attachments. Under the pretence of feeling ‘body positive’, this idealisation of slimness may lead to people engaging in unhealthy behaviours such as excessive exercise or harsh diets.

Mervyn Reid-Nelson, a body confidence photographer based in London, mentioned how “we all look so different from one another but aim to look like one another. It’s a vicious cycle,” and we appear to have an insatiable need for what others have. He also explains how “with social media being our main source of inspiration for many aspects of our lives, this need has been exacerbated.


The True Meaning Behind the Movement

Many individuals must try to understand that they don’t have to attempt to fit into the ‘ideal’ mould that they see on social media since it is a misleading image. Many of these photographs have been edited, captured multiple times, or altered in some way, in order to look ‘perfect’.

Marketing that has concentrated on beauty has distorted the body-positive message. The initial intent was to critique society for promoting a value system that determines which bodies are beautiful. Every culture has its own set of beauty standards, which has a particular impact on a person’s image because the ideal model is usually impractical.

The notion of beauty is a shared and fluid social construct: as a community, we decide what is and is not attractive right now. Body Positivity, on the other hand, has always embraced the phrase ‘all bodies are beautiful’, but all bodies are not created to be beautiful. The objective should shift the focus away from beauty and focus more on authenticity. The fundamental principle is that all bodies are worthy, not beautiful.

Simultaneously, it’s important to remember that being body-positive doesn’t imply romanticising obesity or other health problems, neither does it imply that the movement encourages these bodies to remain as they are; rather, Body Positivity encourages society to acknowledge the existence of those bodies.


Body Neutrality

While the body positivity movement celebrates all bodies that go beyond what is socially accepted, it overlooks the reasons why so many women have such a difficult and brutal relationship with their bodies in the first place. Hence why, some within the movement want to move towards a new era of body neutrality and “proud ambivalence”, where they aim to restructure the world so that people understand how vital it is to find peace with one’s body.

Jameela Jamil, who appears on the television show The Good Place, is frequently referred to as one of the faces of the body acceptance movement, which she claims is a misconception. She acknowledges, however, that the movement is not for everyone and, and that many individuals feel excluded from the body positive discourse.

Jamil implies that she is a supporter of body liberation and body neutrality. This approach entails removing your body from the centre of your self-image. She emphasizes that she has the luxury of adopting such a position since she is not harassed because of her physique. Others, particularly those who are targeted by the body positivity movement, do not have the luxury.

Everybody needs a body

In addition to this, the body positivity movement makes a person’s physical appearance one of the most significant aspects of their self-perception. It disregards any other aspects of a person’s identity that are more significant than how they appear. Jamil’s viewpoint, which suggests that individuals should discontinue using their bodies to determine their self-worth and self-perception, may be a better, more inclusive approach in this regard.

When you go through Instagram nowadays, you’ll notice that the body-positive hashtag is more empty than inspiring. Those who started out in the radical body-positive group have suffered as a result of the co-opting of the body positivity message. Stephanie Yeboah, a ‘fat acceptance’ advocate, notes how she feels “too dark or too big to be in a community that we created […] It just feels like it’s reinforcing all of these identity politics that we have been trying to dismantle over the past eight to 10 years, unfortunately.

Body neutrality grew in popularity as more individuals became repelled by the commodified form of body positivity. It appeared to offer a contrast to body positivity for individuals who did not initially feel represented by the movement. Many hold the idea that body positivity urges people to love their bodies no matter what they look like, whereas body neutrality focuses on what your body can do for you rather than what it looks like.


A Long Way to Go

The Body positivity movement still needs to be more inclusive in order to appreciate everybody’s differences. For example, women are not the only ones who struggle with their bodies. Female body positivity receives far more attention than male body positivity. The body positivity movement must offer a secure environment for men to talk about their feelings and support one another. Moreover, having a negative self-image might not always have to do with weight but could be related to other things such as having alopecia, vitiligo, or a disability.

Many social media accounts are solely dedicated to displaying an idealised physical image, but you can eradicate this noise by aiming to focus on self-care and appreciation. For example, the first step towards a liberating way of thinking can be to remove accounts from your social media feeds that make you think negatively about yourself. You’re less likely to feel good about yourself if you’re continuously comparing yourself to others. Follow accounts that stimulate your curiosity and leave you feeling uplifted.

While many of us may find it difficult to love ourselves, it’s worth noting that some people tend to confront the obstacles they are exposed to more head-on than others. Whether you believe in body positivity, body liberation, or even body neutrality, remembering this and actively striving to build a more inclusive way of life is essential to creating an inclusive and rewarding society.