At the 2018 “Woman of the Year” Summit, actress Lili Reinhart posed the following question in an emotional speech about body positivity and mental health: “How can my body look so different over the course of one day and why do I feel like I need to apologize to the world for my ever-changing self?” Reflecting on her position in the spotlight, Reinhart said she “became hyper-aware of [her] changing body.” “I could see the difference in my shape in photos and wondered if anyone else was noticing,” she said. “I felt this strange, constant struggle of having to live up to the expectation of the appearance that I had already established to the world.” Reinhart’s sentiments about body fluctuation extend beyond the realm of media and entertainment.
In emerging conversations of body positivity and body neutrality, Western beauty standards have been unraveled to reveal the many unattainable myths within. Stars like Jameela Jamil have been at the forefront of those conversations, advocating for the beauty of all body types, skin colors, gender identities and for body neutrality — for women to be validated beyond the appearance of their physical selves. Still, I find that one myth within those same Western beauty norms has gone largely unaddressed: the idea that a woman’s body should be unchangeable and should look perfectly the same under any circumstance.
I’m a 22-year-old cis-gendered woman and my body fluctuates all the time — probably dependent on a long list of factors such as stress, hydration, whatever medication I may be on, my period and my mental health. By most cultural and medical standards, my body type is considered thin, like Reinart’s, and I recognize the insurmountable privilege I have because of that. Still, my body fluctuations have severely deterred my self-confidence.
My body obviously looks entirely different in the morning when I’ve just woken up versus right before bed after a long day of full meals and sitting at my desk. Growing up, I had convinced myself that my “morning body,” with no water or food in me, was my “regular” body. It’s taken me a long time to understand that there is no “regular” really. I look way different after I’ve eaten a couple of bagels compared to the way I look after a SoulCycle class. But I am just as healthy and worthy in both cases. It’s natural for my body to fluctuate and change, over a day, over a week, over a year. I am a living, breathing being and my body is undoubtedly impacted by the world it lives in, which is truly a beautiful thing.
Still, on a daily basis, I feel as though I am bombarded with images of perfectly beautiful, skinny and unchanging women. I assume that the way Bella Hadid’s body looks on her Vogue cover spread probably isn’t the same way it looks after sitting on a long international flight and eating a ton of pretzels. As cliché as it is, celebrities are people too! I could guess as well that even Bella Hadid doesn’t feel perfect all the time. But that’s not comforting in the slightest.
For one, the fact that people like Bella Hadid or Lili Reinhart, objectively beautiful by all standards of Western beauty, may have been made to feel less than attractive is upsetting. Though the logical side of me understands the fallacy of those Western beauty norms and what stereotypes they perpetuate, I think a part of me still buys into the fantasy. Sometimes, I still find myself believing that stars look just as flawless and beautiful all the time, and I feel as though I should too.
When those celebrities’ bodies do go through noticeable changes or fluctuations, naturally, we’re bombarded with breaking news about it. Take this one as an example: “Post-Rehab Flab! Demi Lovato Put On A Dangerous 50 Lbs” from the National Enquirer. Or on the flip side, “Adele Can’t Stop Making Waves With Her New Skinny Look!” from Demotix, or “Britney Spears Is as ‘Skinny as a Needle in This Mismatched Bikini!” from heavy.com.
The list of these headlines is endlessly triggering. You might remember the comments on Kim Kardashian’s weight at the 2016 Met Gala or seen some more recent media buzz about Adele’s weight loss. Whether these stories are painted with positive messages or an overstepping concern for the celebrity’s health, the fact that there’s even news about it at all proves that some of us, or a lot of us, still believe that it’s not normal for women’s bodies to change.
On a biological level, for the most part, woman’s bodies will inevitably change throughout our lifespans. Some of us will menstruate, some of us will have babies, some of us will go through serious hardship, some of us will get surgeries or go on medication and some of us might even become men. When we confine our bodies to one “normal” unchanging standard, then we are restricting ourselves from so much more, and, moreover, from being anything other than a woman (another myth — that all people born with female anatomy will physically and emotionally identify as women forever).
Body neutrality provides liberation from all of this pressure. By definition, it relieves us from focusing on our body’s appearance, or its fluctuations, at all. Instead, body neutrality advocates for seeing our bodies for what they truly are — our homes, changing just as much as our environment does.