The body positivity movement encourages women, of all different sizes, shapes and colours to love their bodies. The movement inspires women to practice self-love – undeterred by body shaming and all the harmful, unattainable and unrealistic expectations and standards of beauty placed upon women in this looks-obsessed world that we live in. It also teaches women that they are more than just their bodies.
The body positivity movement says #effyourbeautystandards because #allwomenarebeautiful. It says – I’m choosing to love and embrace my figure, jiggly bits, weight, stretch marks, cellulite, blemishes, body hair and natural hair DESPITE what society tells me is/is not beautiful.
As someone who ABSOLUTELY adores the body positivity movement, lives by it and actively encourages friends to practice it – I’ve never really stopped to think about how much effort and time it takes to practice self-love under the model of body positivity.
To ask someone to love their perceived ‘flaws’ instantaneously can be very difficult. Not all women can just magically become body positive, especially when women are conditioned to hate themselves; when women are told that they need to look a certain in order to be happy, that they must have perfect hair, skin, eyebrows, lips, lashes, jaw structures, boobs, butts, legs, thighs and VAGINAS (YES – labiaplasty is not uncommon). Literally every damn aspect of our bodies ‘could be improved’ according to society’s standards. And on top of that women are constantly pitted against each other in this ‘who wore it better culture’ instead of ‘they both slayed culture’. IT’S EXHAUSTING.
So, not only is it already difficult enough for women to love themselves. But – sadly – even when women do practice body positivity they can be criticised and shamed by other women. Ashley Graham built the #BeautyBeyondSize hashtag, and has championed the body positivity movement. In a Lenny Letter, she explains that while she is a curvy woman, she is criticised and shamed for going to the gym and accused of selling out when she looks skinnier. Graham says that she isn’t just representing ‘plus size’ women, she’s there for “all women who don’t feel comfortable in their skin, who need a reminder that their unique bodies are beautiful.”
The thing is, can we as a society really view our unique bodies as ‘beautiful’? Our ‘imperfections’ as beautiful? And by extension – can we learn to view our own ‘imperfections’ as beautiful? I sure hope and believe so, but I ask this because when actress and comedian, Amy Schumer posed for the Pirelli Calendar in 2016, she was called ‘brave’ rather than ‘beautiful’ for showing her body as it is. And I think that this ‘brave’ over ‘beauty’ response by people is extremely telling. It suggests that maybe we as a society have been so conditioned by what society deems is beautiful, that society is unable or unwilling to see the beauty in our ‘imperfections’, even with the body positive movement gaining significant traction. (But hey, isn’t that why we have the body positive movement – because FUCK what society thinks is beautiful).
I wonder though, does the body positivity movement place too much of a focus on our physical appearance? The body positive movement may teach women that they are more than just their bodies, but does it really do that?
Lately, this idea of ‘body neutrality’ has emerged and could change the way we view our bodies. According to Christine Morgan, CEO of The Butterfly Foundation, a foundation that supports people with body image issues and eating disorders, explains that body neutrality is “changing the conversation and taking the focus off judging your body. It’s looking at your body as being an instrument that propels you through life, not one that equates you as being good or bad or successful as a person.” According to Melissa A. Fabello, body acceptance activist and Co-Managing Editor of Everyday Feminism, “body neutrality is freedom from the obsession with our bodies entirely.
According to Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, author of Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives, “body love, beside the fact that it’s a high standard, is it’s asking women to regulate their emotions, not just their bodies”. I guess, it’s no wonder that some women who try to practice body positivity still find themselves struggling to love themselves and experience fluctuations in how they feel about their body. According to Cassie Mendoza-Jones, author of You Are Enough, body neutrality is “a feeling of acceptance of where you are in your body journey today, a way to feel comfortable in your skin without feeling as though you’re investing all your waking time and energy into eating well, exercising and thinking about your body.”
I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard about body neutrality until recently and it immediately reminded me of writer and artist, Rupi Kaur‘s stunning quote:
I really do wonder whether the body positivity movement places too much of a focus on our physical appearance. But, I think that’s the wrong question. I believe women are just trying to find happiness in their own skin and rid themselves of the hate and shame they have been conditioned to feel in this highly superficial world. Whatever means by which a woman needs to do that, is something I will support.
Arguably, body neutrality and body positivity can still co-exist. Some women may reach a point in life where they just accept who they are and are almost indifferent to the harsh beauty expectations placed upon women. Some women may feel that embracing their bodies and at the same time knowing that their bodies do not define their worth, is what gives them happiness. It’s a matter of whatever works for you. Whatever makes you feel beautiful because all women deserve to feel beautiful.
Featured Image: Instagram (Curvy Craves)