(photo by Patrick Hendry via Unsplash)
Ooh, unpopular opinion time. Because if there’s one thing that seems to have really become “in” over the past few years, it’s body positivity: loving your physical form exactly as is, basically giving a big ol’ middle finger to society’s established norms of acceptable beauty, weight, and body shape. It’s a nice idea on paper, but IRL, although I now feel better than ever about my body, I’m over the body positivity movement. Here’s why.
“You’re perfect as you are” sounds nice, but it’s a myth.
Put down your pitchforks, and think about how inherently shaming this statement can be. Body positivity was supposed to take us away from the endless judging of our bodies, telling us we needed to fit an ideal to be worthy, but it’s bred a new kind of body judgment: the prohibition against change. The fact is, not all women feel perfect as they are, and forcing this trite Tumblr-worthy phrase onto women isn’t helping them.
There are lots of women who love themselves but who also feel more perfectly “them” with a little weight loss, or a little weight gain/more muscle, or a boob job, or more makeup, or whatever the hell else they prefer. These changes can be driven by health or personal preference, but they point is, it’s no one’s business but their own, and telling them that they’re somehow not loving their bodies or not good feminists if they choose to change their appearance is just wrecked.
I 100% acknowledge that if you’re changing something about your body because some jerk told you to, that’s different. But I’m so over the critiques of models who lose or gain weight, all the debate about whether working out or getting plastic surgery is “anti-feminist” (hey, Kristen Stewart!), or all the social media posts pitting girls who wear tons of makeup against girls who don’t. Whatever you choose to do with your body—change it or leave it—is your own damn business. If someone tries to shame you with a faux-body positivity message of “you need to love yourself exactly the way that you are!” then they’re missing the point.
I’m tired of being told to love my flaws.
I don’t think my stretch marks are “tiger stripes” or that my jiggly tummy is cute, and I call bullshit on the idea that I have to love these flaws in order to be happy or to be a good feminist. They are the markers of a real body, one that has carried me through twenty-eight years of ups and downs and serves me well on a day-to-day basis, and I appreciate my body for all that it does. But this obsession with beautifying our flaws is patronizing at best, and at worst, just introduces a new way to shame ourselves when we look in the mirror and feel less than amazing. It feels like you’re somehow betraying yourself by not being wildly in love with how your stomach looks on a particular day. And it subtly reinforces the idea that physical beauty is still our #1 indication of value and that if you can’t look in the mirror and see beauty in every corner then you’re somehow doing it wrong.
Acknowledging the facts of my body—“no, I do not like how these shorts highlight the cellulite on my thighs, so I will wear a different pair”—and having a kickass day do not need to be mutually exclusive. Acknowledging a flaw does not mean I have to “fix” it by applying a label. (Let’s not forget the folks who struggle hardcore with body dysphoria, too.) I do not feel so obligated to present as beautiful on a daily basis that I have to rename and accept all my flaws before I feel allowed to have a good day. And speaking of that…
I never knew I had so many flaws before.
Hip dips. Mermaid thighs. Tiger stripes. Back fat. That weird way my tummy folds over in my yoga pants when I sit down. I didn’t really pay much attention to all of these little flaws in my physical makeup until they became trending hashtags on Instagram. I get that some women find these little social media spiels empowering, but personally, they just lead me to spend even more time analyzing and critiquing in the mirror. Things that were NBD a year ago are suddenly omnipresent in my vision.
Body positivity is reinforcing our fixation on physical beauty.
I love fixing up for a day out. I’m here for the feminist power of the selfie. But I wonder if body positivity doesn’t sometimes lead to even more fixation on how we look each day, to the detriment of other things. We’re spending so much time in front of the mirror (and the smartphone) embracing our physical bodies, but what about the rest? Take an art class, practice meditation, volunteer for a cause that’s important to you. Love your body, but don’t fall back into that old trap of basing your identity as a person on how you relate to your physical form. All of this pressure to love our bodies and identify as beautiful reinforces the idea that our true value lies in our bodies, not in our hearts or minds.
Body positivity has a long way to go toward being inclusive.
Body positivity has a bit of a niche poster image as being for white women of a certain weight and shape. The problem is when celebrating your personal body type leads to shaming others. We’re all familiar with comments like “real women have curves” which implies that if you’re skinny your body is not valid enough to protect it from shame and debate. (Never mind that body positivity is supposedly about fighting body shaming.) Plenty of people want to jump on board with “being thick” (hello, Rihanna fans) but ignore the cultural connotations surrounding women of color and weight and the generally problematic assumptions about “curvy women” and beauty standards. And as much as we continue to evolve in 2017, there’s still little representation for “other” communities, such as trans folk or Muslim women who choose to cover up instead of stripping down.
If we’re really going to make this a positive movement, we need to acknowledge the need for intersectionality within. Until we do, the phrase “all bodies are beautiful” should come with an asterisk and footnote attached.
If body positivity has helped you, I’m not hating.
Learning to accept your body is a long road. I’m not 100% there yet, and I don’t know if I ever will be. I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, either. And if the body positivity movement has helped you to let go of negative self-talk and feel more comfortable with yourself, that’s great! I’m not hating. I also do think that there are some great women out there in the BoPo community, like Misty Copeland and Jessamyn Stanley, who are promoting body positivity in a way that encompasses much more than just physical, visual self-worth.
But I do hope that we’ll acknowledge this is not a movement without flaws. It’s not a movement that is helpful for all women. And it’s not a panacea for the modern woman; physical self-love is only one very small puzzle piece. Maybe if we can admit those issues and work to fix them, we can more closer to true body acceptance and self-love. In the meantime, I’m not interested in following BoPo on my Instagram. It’s not helpful for me (and in many cases I find it harmful), and I would rather focus on my own journey of healthy, happy self-acceptance than fitting in to a social media stream.