When you think of what is considered an attractive body, what do you think of? For girls, do you think of a Victoria’s Secret model? Perhaps someone with curves, like Kylie Jenner? Guys, do you think of a muscular male model, with a six pack and defined biceps? Society has us convinced that this difficult to achieve goal of beauty is the norm.
This is why the body positivity movement is important. I hope to convince you that there is a very present problem with the heightening amount of negativity surrounding our bodies by looking at some of the roots of this problem in social networking sites and cultural values, and offer the solution of accepting the body positivity movement.
First off, I need to convince you that there is a problem with how low our body acceptance is as a culture. I am someone that is considered by society as being “fat.” I am a size 14, and we live in a world that starts plus size modeling at a size 6. Living everyday life being bombarded by the idea that I am lesser-than my slimmer peers has driven me to unhealthy behaviors in the past, and I am not alone. According the National Eating Disorder Association over half of teenage girls have taken part in unhealthy weight control endeavors such as crash dieting, fasting, vomiting, and overusing laxatives or diet pills. And it is not just a women’s issue, in an article for Sex Roles, Sarah Grogan states that although poor body image and body objectification is higher in women, nearly 35% of men experience body dissatisfaction. Words that should be considered simple physical descriptors have turned into things that have weighty connotations. People are literally dying because of what size they are and what that means to them when they look in the mirror.
Now we can discuss the societal roots of the low levels of body positivity. In an article for Acta Dermato-Venereologica, Lucia Tomas- Aragones and Servando E. Marron explain that a person’s perception of their attractiveness is largely determined by their social experience and prevailing cultural values. Our social experience is something that we get through our interactions with others. Think back to High School, and think about whether you ever saw someone being criticized about their body. It could have been by their peers, or even in the way that we were taught. In most health classes in Georgia today, it is still part of the curriculum to teach that if you can “pinch an inch” anywhere on your body, that you are advised to lose weight. Maybe you saw some being bullied because they were too fat or too skinny. Maybe you were bullied because of your body. In our social experience today there is no way to win in terms of body image. I want you to think about the connotations you have with the word “fat”. Common ones include disgusting, lazy, someone who does not take care of themselves. Now think of the ones with the word skinny. Traditionally, you would think of some positive attributes, like beautiful or healthy. But increasingly we are being steered towards a new set of cultural values surrounding unrealistic body goal where no body shape goes uncriticized. Being perpetuated by people like the Kardashians, the new preferred figure is one with cartoonishly large breasts and butt, and with a waist so cinched the term hourglass does not seem to be extreme enough to describe it. It is causing even thin girls to come under fire, with memes going around social media saying things like “Real Women Have Curves”. Men are constantly fed images of male models with huge arm muscles, chiseled abs, and such extreme ideals as the craze over “v” shape of overly defined lower stomach muscles. The worrying thing is, these cultural ideals no longer stop at just pictures fed to us by celebrities or the media, either. In an article for Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, Mark Flynn conducted a study into the implications of the way our peers present themselves on social media and how it relates back to our own body image. He found that levels of body satisfaction are likely to be reduced when we are exposed to the body ideals of our peers, and the highly edited way that we present ourselves on these platforms. The trends of the “instagram model” and “selfie culture” are creating a society where we present ourselves in unrealistic ways, from snapchat filters that automatically slim your face while putting on a flower crown on your head to apps where you can easily carve your body into the shape you want it to be. We are the ones that are most affected by these unrealistic goals for our bodies, but we are also the ones that are perpetuating them.
Keeping this in mind, lets talk about the body positivity movement. In recent years, this movement has gained popularity, but it is still a controversial topic. At the core, body positivity is the idea that everyone should be allowed to have whatever body type they want and should not be judged by others for it. However, when this is applied many find issues with it. One of the issues is the capitalization of brands on the fact that many celebrities, such as Ashley Graham, have built their platform on the body positivity movement. Just recently Urban Outfitters used a plus size model, Barbie Ferreria, in an advertising campaign, when they do not even sell her size in their stores. We cannot make this movement based on fake ideals; we have to really begin to be wholly inclusive. Another issue brought up often is the fact that it promotes unhealthy behaviors. If someone is obese, should they be accepted, or will that just allow them to continue to deteriorate their health? By saying its okay to be ultra-thin, are we promoting the idea that anorexia is okay? The thing is, that is not what the movement is about. If you saw a stranger smoking a cigarette, would you think it was okay to go over to them and take the cigarette out of their hand and remind them that their health is at risk? I hope the answer is no. So how is it considered okay in our society to insert ourselves into the health matters of others when it surrounds their weight. The fact is, not having body positivity is creating health risks like eating disorders and heightening depression rates. What the movement stands for is acceptance, and that is something that we need to integrate more of into our community.
I want to offer a solution, and it is a simple one. We must use the core of the body positivity movement to create a society that is accepting of all body types. In an article for Developmental Psychology, Rachel Andrew, Marika Tiggemann, and Levina Clark say that body appreciation in adolescents correlates directly with decreased yo-yo dieting, increased physical activity, and decreased alcohol and cigarette usage when they are older. They describe someone who is body positive as someone who practices body acceptance and who has a broad conceptualization of beauty. It is obvious the positive effects that body acceptance has on our culture, and we can achieve body positivity for all. All we have to do is be more accepting of one another, and stop promoting unrealistic body ideals for everyone.
To conclude, I hope that what I have shared with you today has inspired you to embrace a more body positive mindset. All in all, no matter what body type you have, I challenge you to tell yourself that your body is beautiful next time you look in the mirror. We are the ones that can change the overtly negative body culture we live in, and we can start that by believing it ourselves.
Andrew, Rachel, Marika Tiggemann, and Levina Clark. "Predictors and Health-related Outcomes of Positive Body Image in Adolescent Girls: A Prospective Study." Developmental Psychology 52.3 (2016): 463-74. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.
Flynn, Mark A. "The Effects of Profile Pictures and Friends' Comments on Social Network Site Users' Body Image and Adherence to the Norm." Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 19.4 (2016): 239-45. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.
Grogan, Sarah. "Promoting Positive Body Image in Males and Females: Contemporary Issues and Future Directions." Sex Roles 63.9-10 (2010): 757-65. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.
National Eating Disorders Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.
Tomas-Aragones, Lucia, and Servando Marron. "Body Image and Body Dysmorphic Concerns." Acta Dermato Venereologica 217 (2014): 47-50. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.