For a philosophy predicated on inclusivity, the message can feel a little one-sided at times.
By Sophie Hurlock, Xavier University
The body-positivity movement has gained a lot of momentum in the past couple of years, and women are supposedly feeling more confident in their own skin than ever.
The movement claims to want to stop society from judging women based on the number on the scale, and empower ladies of all shapes and sizes to feel sexy at whatever weight they are. While I agree with this ideology, I feel as though the body-positivity movement has moved to the extreme, and now does just the opposite of empowering women.
As someone who used to have issues with body image, although this was not during the time of the body-positivity movement, I feel as though the movement would have done little to help me get through that rough time in my life. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t completely hate the concept, and do think it has some positive aspects, but I definitely believe that the philosophy has room to improve. Here’s why.
1. Body Positivity Overlooks Health
When you think of the body positivity movement, what is the first thing that comes to mind? I know for me that it’s pictures of morbidly obese women, standing in their bra and underwear, holding signs that say “Big is beautiful.”
While there’s nothing wrong with this, and some people may find big to be beautiful, it does support an unhealthy lifestyle, as the image for body positivity shouldn’t be obesity. You may be able to feel sexy at any size, but you are definitely not healthy at any size.
If we no longer portray cigarette smoking as cool because we know it causes lung cancer, why are we trying to make obesity look healthy when we know the health risks associated with it? As more than one third of adults and one in five school children are clinically obese, the nation’s weight issue is more than just an illness; it’s an epidemic.
Plus, the body positivity movement is only adding to the problem, not just by making obesity look like the norm, but by demonizing healthy habits as something that society is forcing women to do in order to keep a trim figure. Eating right and exercising is about more than just having a bikini body; it’s about giving your body and yourself what you need in order to be healthy.
I think that a way the body positivity movement could better itself would be to include images of female athletes, or even everyday women of all shapes and sizes, working out, trying to live a healthier lifestyle.
2. The Beauty Industry Will Never Validate You
When I talk to women who are strong supporters of the movement, many of them say that what they would like to see is representation of “real women” in the beauty industry. While I don’t think this is necessarily a bad idea, I think they aren’t realizing that the beauty and fashion industry profits off of women and men’s insecurities. As harsh as that may sound, it’s true.
All you have to do is look around you at the ads in stores, magazines and on TV to see that this is true. Products promising to make you look younger, slimmer or better rested are marketed to Americans everyday. Even beauty and fashion lines that claim to be “body positive” or “support real women” are guilty of this.
If the beauty industry told consumers that they were perfect the way that they were, the whole field would go bottom-up. The moral of this story is not to hate the beauty industry, but to stop looking for validation outside of yourself, and stop comparing yourself to other people. We don’t need to stop having supermodels walk the runway because it makes people feel bad. Stop comparing yourself to supermodels in the first place.
3. Men Are Ignored
Men are constantly told that the only way to look like a man is to be tall (at least six feet) and built like Chris Hemsworth in “Thor.” And for some reason, it’s okay for a woman to criticize a man based on his height (a factor that he can’t control), but it’s taboo for a man to even ask about a woman’s weight. This is just as damaging to men as telling women they need to look like a Victoria’s Secret models: Both are unattainable goals for the average human being.
But I think the worst thing about men being left out of the body-positivity movement is that eating disorders in men often get overlooked. It’s estimated that 10 million men will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives, and mortality rates for men with eating disorders are greater than women with eating disorders.
4. Only Certain Body Types Are Celebrated
Going back to my first point, if the body positivity movement is supposed to be about celebrating the way people look no matter what, how come the only body I see being celebrated is at the far end of the weight spectrum? Where are all the super skinny, muscular, tall and short people?
I have seen too many articles from “body positive” people that claim skinny shaming is okay or doesn’t exist, while fat shaming is equivalent to mocking someone with a mental handicap.
A few years back, I worked as a waitress at a small restaurant in my hometown. One of the girls I worked with was naturally very thin. One day she was waiting on a table, and one of the men at the table told her she needed to eat a hamburger, because the way she looked was disgusting. Now you tell me—how is telling a girl who’s naturally thin to eat a hamburger any different than telling a fat person to not eat one? If the body positivity movement wants to stay relevant, and truly empower people, they need to start including other body types besides morbidly obese.