I had an encounter with a social media account in the past few days that really got me thinking about body image in the media and what the body positive movement is missing in its message. What happened is that recently a swimwear brand that I followed on social media posted an image that I found absolutely deplorable. The image was a girl’s chest and abs with Snapchat writing across that read “don’t get fat, you’ll get stretch marks and die”. I literally stopped in my tracks and took a screenshot of the image to look at later and make sure I hadn’t misread anything. A brand that markets swimwear blatantly fat shaming their tens of thousands of followers? I had to be wrong. Unfortunately, I was not. That image was there, and it is burned into my mind. I mentioned how deplorable I found the post, and how disappointed i was with the brand on my personal Instagram account which has less than 300 followers (significantly less than my yoga one). Instead of responding in any meaningful manner, the brand blocked me. This is coming on the heels of me reading an article about a Playboy Bunny who Snapchatted a picture of a naked woman at the gym in order to fat shame her. My initial reaction: “What is wrong with people?!” And then I started thinking about why certain people (I often call them mean girls) lash out through social media when they didn’t need to post anything at all. Even if lashing out is passive aggressive like the swimwear brand instead of blatant like the Playboy Bunny. Why do these mean girls do this? After ruminating on the matter for some time, I reached a conclusion-the recent popularity of the body positive movement has brought more figures of all different shapes and sizes to the forefront. This is amazing, but it also makes people who haven't accepted themselves starkly aware of that fact. These people are the ones who fat shame and tell the super skinny girl to go eat a burger. They haven’t accepted themselves, so they lash out at others. The journey to self acceptance is a topic I plan on tackling in depth at a later date. For now, I’d like to ask a question about the body positive moment to all of you and hopefully get some good feedback.
Body image in the media has always been tricky. The images that are portrayed follow what society’s beauty trends of the moments are. Back in the 90s, the epitome of beauty was the waif like model. In the later part of the 2000s, it became all about the booty. Now, it’s all about being body positive. So what we see nowadays are women everywhere embracing their curves and being confident in who they are, as they are. I think that’s amazing that the media is embracing women of all kinds. But often when we become highly polarized in one direction, we foster groups that become highly polarized in the other direction, such as the mean girls I mentioned above. It’s wonderful that models come in real sizes and women no longer only aspire to be thin to be beautiful. But this all begs the question, “why is blind body acceptance the goal?”
For me and my body, self acceptance has been a long road. I’m medium boned by build, and have a very small torso so changes in weight show very quickly in my upper body. I spent years fighting my genetics and trying to starve myself into the skinny I thought was beautiful. Lots of self work and self love later, I’ve changed how I approach self acceptance. I don’t fixate on the image in the mirror, and pick out my flaws, or weigh myself daily. I ask myself not if I’m thin enough, but rather if I’m healthy enough. And that’s my biggest problem with the body positive movement of today. Rather than encouraging health, it encourages embracing the physical form ignoring not only the mind-body connection that humans naturally have, and ignoring that while all people are beautiful, not all bodies are healthy. We need to move away from seeing the form of the body as the standard for beauty and move towards encouraging people to be healthy in their minds and bodies. Instead of focusing on what we look like now, we should be thinking about how the shape of our bodies will contribute to, or take away from our health in the long run. This is true for the overweight and the underweight, even though the underweight and thinner people are often left out of the body positive discussion.
I’m not saying everyone in the world should go and join and gym or run miles every day or that everyone needs to go vegan. What I am saying is that the body positive movement and the way the body is portrayed in social media in general ignores the overall picture of health and sends the message that our beauty is defined by our bodies. Yes, you can be overweight and beautiful. But are you healthy or is the added weight compressing your joints? You can also be skinny and be beautiful. But you can be thin and malnourished like I was when I had an eating disorder. Embracing your body doesn't mean being lazy about taking care of yourself, it doesn’t mean ignoring your health. What it means is that your shape does not define you. The overweight girl is no less beautiful than the underweight one, and to say anything different is wrong. Embracing your body should go hand in hand with protecting your body, which is why I think we need to take the body positive movement that one step further. #healthybodypositive Health needs to be a focus and priority for all of us.
So how do we make a change? First stop following bullshit instagram and twitter accounts that fat shame or skinny shame people. We can’t let that behavior become the norm or in any way condone it. Second, stop focusing how you look externally and start focusing on how you feel internally. Focus on your health and your love for your body will increase exponentially. Don’t fixate on the body, fixate on creating the positive.
Below are links to two other blogs that expand on these issues a bit more.
I'm Cheryl. I moved to Los Angeles from Vermont in late June of 2015, gave up the path I'd spent years planning for, and started down a road to a happier, more fulfilling life. Goodbye suits and courtrooms, hello bare feet and yoga mats. I know I don't have all the answers, but I'm slowly starting to get the hang of things. :) I'm just taking things one day at a time, trying to figure out how to live my best life and help others do the same.