As a thick and curvy girl, I think the body positivity movement is amazing in the way that it advocates for women with different body types to feel confident and be free of self-hatred and doubt. My body type has never been considered the "norm" in any sense. Now, there are plus-size models that I can look up to. It definitely encourages me to try to not be so harsh on myself. Growing up, I didn't have that and I struggled for a long time. Young, adolescent girls that once hated their reflection can now see the beauty inside and out, and that shows that we've made phenomenal progress.
However, I do solemnly believe there's a line between encouraging people to love themselves no matter what the scale says, and flat out promoting an unhealthy lifestyle.
The Body Positivity Movement, itself, is about promoting the idea that people should have a positive body image despite what society and pop culture has to say — and again, that's great. Everyone deserves to love themselves, no matter their shape or size.
My concern is that despite anyone learning to love their reflection, people aren't seeming to acknowledge or even accept the fact that this movement will be toxic to their health in the long run.
1. People who are heavier-set refuse to accept the detrimental reality.
Thanks to the body positivity movement, people are starting to become more confident in their bodies and exude more happiness than ever before. Still, there poses an issue that can't be ignored — one's health.
Newsweek published an article designated to the coverage of a research study conducted in England. Their introduction of the matter, that I believe sums up the study pretty well, expressed my thoughts in a way that I only wish I put into words myself:
"...what feeds the soul may endanger the body."
The study showed that out of an estimated 23,000 participants, of which were overweight or obese, created an underestimated perception of their weight differently than that of the reality. To be precise, according to the data, 60 percent of men and 30 percent of women underestimated how much they weighed. The study also suggested that,
"People who misperceive how much they weighed were 85 percent less likely to attempt to lose weight than those who recognized their weight status."
Of course, there are varying factors such as socioeconomic status, as mentioned in the study as well. Julia Malacoff, a writer at Shape.com made an observation about the study that I found intriguing and is quite true. People within the less privileged socioeconomic status are the ones that are more likely to underestimate their weight than those in a higher socioeconomic status. While having access to resources and a certain sum of money is great and works wonders for some, the majority of people aren't as fortunate — and if you do fall into the latter of the categories, it would make sense that you'd be more overweight.
Thus, this is where body positivity, learning to love your body the way it is, and not caring what the scale says comes into play — sometimes the body positivity movement and its message is the only resource some people have.
That being said, with this attitude, people are more than willing to forego what the scale — and science for that matter — say and don't acknowledge how it'll affect their physical health in the long run.
2. It's taking a toll on people's physical health.
The body positivity movement may encourage people to love what's on the outside and make unconventional body types the "norm" that should be accepted and respected, but the reality of it all is that if people don't take care of themselves on the inside as well, there's really no point. There's more to think, or not think, about than clothes sizes, the number on the scale, how other people see you in public, or how good you look in that Instagram picture with #bodyposi in the caption.
The fact of the matter of physical health is reflected in something that Aditi G Jha, M.D., has previously stated in an interview,
"Central obesity is the number one factor associated with diabetes, hypertension, and infertility."
To which Psychologist Deb Thompson Ph.D., piggybacked and said,
"Obesity is clearly recognized by world and national health organizations as a leading risk factor for disease and death. The body positivity movement's denial of science is troubling."
While, yes, the movement is meant to promote a positive view of all body types, research has shown that the Body Positivity Movement is contributing to increased cases of being overweight and/or obese. You can also develop other health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke, fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, kidney disease, and so on.
We've been told time and time again, mostly in regards to relationships, that it's what's on the inside that counts. This is the same concept. You may be OK with, accepting, and loving toward what you see in pictures and in the mirror, but are you really OK with the health risks that follow?
3. Social media makes the situation worse, especially for young women.
The body positivity movement has no doubt been more prevalent in recent years than before. Thanks to social media, people of all ages can be exposed to a great number of "body positive" influencers on Instagram, Twitter, and now TikTok, and the demographics of each of these sites are quite large.
Out of all these sites, Instagram is the prime place for the influencers to share their message about body positivity with a confidence-exuding photo and an inspirational caption. One influencer, Megan Crabbe (aka @bodyposipanda), shared a video in 2017 of herself dancing proudly in her underwear that went viral. For me, this was the first time I had seen even a glimpse of the body positivity movement and I've followed her ever since. Her page, and others like hers, are the pages I refer to when advocating for the positive side of body positivity.
Other influencers, such as Ana Onselen, Isabella Rosee, Amber Diaz, and even Lizzo, are what I refer to as the negative side of body positivity. By no means am I saying that everyone should look like previously mentioned Megan, a Kardashian, Jenner, or any other influencer with a smaller body type. However, deliberately admitting that you're fat and don't care, or appear not to at the very least, and showing no intention of trying to improve your lifestyle and health makes matters worse. This only allows me to revisit my point that there's a line between loving your body and promoting an unhealthy lifestyle — especially when you're a prominent influencer of young minds.
Women, from young adolescents to young adults, can be especially impressionable when it comes to their bodies and as we well know, it's a love-hate relationship. Social media, in general, is a toxic outlet for youth because everyone is constantly comparing themselves to one another in order to seek validation of any kind. Though we post confident pictures with inspirational captions telling young women to "love yourself the way you are," that's hard to achieve when our first instinct is to compare and contrast and ask every "why" question imaginable.
4. It takes a toll on one's mental health, and not always in the best way.
The times before and during one's body positivity journey takes a toll on one's mental health, as there are many challenging aspects involved. I do acknowledge that there are body positivity success stories in which people, especially women, are significantly happier with themselves and their bodies. If you genuinely love what you see when you look in the mirror, that's a great thing and it does wonders for your mental health! However, not everyone can achieve this.
Studies show that up to 84 percent of women, and 43 percent of men, aren't happy with their physical appearance and this can lead to eating disorders, self-esteem issues, and depression at a lot greater pace — all of which largely affect teens and young adults.
While the body positivity movement is about learning to love yourself the way you are, no matter the shape or size, it doesn't change the fact that it takes work and can be exhausting — no one's denying that. A therapist that has vast experience in treating eating disorders and weight issues, Kimberly Hershenson, even spoke up about the issue with body positivity.
"I find body positivity an unrealistic expectation. People in general struggle to 'love their bodies'. Someone who has struggled with body image issues cannot suddenly change from body-hatred to loving how they look."
This is the majority of what we see on social media, which contributes to my previous point. Influencers can write all the inspirational captions they want under their #bodyposi pictures, and maybe be transparent about their journey every once in a while. However, as the audience, we only see the beautiful highlights instead of the ugly truth. For young adolescents that don't know any better or are unaware of beneficial resources, the journey may be perceived as easy or just posting a couple of confident pictures to look the part in hopes that they'll eventually feel it. Thus, creating a downward spiral of self-doubt, low self-esteem, depression, and other mental health issues that just stack one on top of another.
As someone who's experienced in the field with body image issues, Hershenson's method seems like the more viable approach that verges on the journey of self-love rather than just learning to love your body.
"...thinking of your body as neutral. You don't have to love it or hate it - it's just a body, and the self is so much more than just its outer packaging."
Still, there's a journey to be made with a lot of obstacles to face, but just dipping your toe into the water and gradually seeing improvements is better than just diving in only to drown, simply because the situation wasn't broached in a beneficial way.
5. The health of our younger generations is at stake, and we need to step up.
Obesity is a growing epidemic, especially in the United States and in children. As new generations are welcomed into the world, we expose these young and innocent ones to our bad habits, especially when it's regarding what we put in our mouths, how much, and not relaying the importance of self-love and their health.
As previously stated, obesity can cause multiple health problems, most of which can result in an untimely demise if not addressed appropriately or in a timely manner. Thus, it's putting young lives at risk for serious medical conditions at a very young age. The CDC states that,
"The prevalence of obesity was 18.5 percent and affected about 13.7 million children and adolescents. 13.9 percent among 2-5 year olds, 18.4 percent among 6-11 year olds, and 20.6 percent among 12-19 year olds."
Aside from us exposing our bad habits to our young ones, there are other factors involved; one of which, largely, is socioeconomic status, as also previously mentioned. Research has shown that the prevalence of obesity decreased with the increasing level of education of those running the household. Prevalence was among 18.9 percent among children and adolescents aged 2-19 in the lowest income group, 19.9 percent among those in the middle-income group, and 10.9 percent among those in the highest income group.
There's a reason that the saying "little pictures have big ears" exists. Children pay attention to everything we do and say, and they inevitably start playing "follow the leader" at a young age thinking that if mom and/or dad does it, it's OK. This only supports what I previously stated, mostly about young women, is that young minds are extremely impressionable.
We need to be careful and mindful of our younger generations and how they perceive health and self-love. Start enforcing good habits and attitudes when they're young because otherwise, they're in for a world of hurt when it comes to their mental and physical health. Let's do better with our kids. They don't need to torment themselves in any sense, and they certainly shouldn't learn how to do so from us.
I know that the Body Positivity Movement is supposed to be, well, positive. However, there are aspects that I firmly believe that people don't acknowledge, which has the potential to make situations worse. While I support the idea, on one hand, I have to question it on the other because I personally don't think the approach or ideology is complete, and it can be harmful to a lot of people struggling with body image.