The Student
How to tackle the evolving nature of the body positivity movement
by Lydia Lowe, 6/12/18

The body positivity movement seems complex and ever-evolving, with the term becoming more and more of a buzzword. Whether vaguely aware of it or an active participant in the campaign, it can be difficult to keep up with the variety of discussions that are happening surrounding the issue of beauty standards. It can seem overwhelming to attempt to understand the many perspectives for and against the movement. Recently, there has even been a move away from the term ‘body positivity’ and a discussion about how representative the movement has become.

The meaning of the original concept of body positivity has been forgotten as it is more widely used, or misused. The movement actively emerged in the 1960s with the goal of reclaiming the word ‘fat’ as descriptive, rather than insulting and thereby fighting against size discrimination. However, the term ‘body positivity’ is now more widely appropriated, becoming a trend used commercially and on social media. Therefore, more inclusive alternative concepts have emerged to reinforce that no one should be shamed because of their body.

For example, the concept of fat acceptance is preferred by many people who believe that the term ‘body positivity’ has been appropriated by people who fit beauty ideals and that a narrow idea of what it means to be plus-size has emerged. Although many clothing brands have been embracing diversity among their models, some still only show women who conform to beauty standards. Most plus-size models still adhere to accepted beauty standards as curvaceous and ‘pear-shaped’, an inaccurate representation of most plus-size women.

The fat acceptance approach focuses on fundamentally changing the societal attitude of which body type is an ‘acceptable’ size and putting an end to fat-bias. This goal differs to that of body positivity, as it establishes a difference between feeling personally at peace with your body and the need to change a dominating social outlook on, and treatment towards, a certain body type.

However, this has proved to be controversial, as critics have argued that this idea can lead to obesity being ‘normalised’ or promoted. Advocates of fat acceptance have responded by highlighting that this is not their aim, but rather it is to create a society where no one feels guilty or shamed for their size. This has become increasingly difficult with food companies promoting certain foods as ‘clean’ or ‘guilt-free’ and fitness bloggers providing unattainable ‘fitspo’. The danger of this kind of language and lifestyle promotion comes from their inaccessibility and the fact that everyone has a unique body, which responds differently to food and exercises differently. In fact, many fitness promoters endorse the opposite of what body positivity stands for, as they suggest that the only type of bodies that should be embraced are toned and muscular.

Another alternative to body positivity is body neutrality or body respect; many women feel that these terms are more attainable as they do not mean loving everything about your body. Instead, this movement promotes the idea that self-worth and confidence should not come from the body, to highlight that beauty being ‘more than skin deep’ is not just a cliché. This concept can be seen in the ‘I Weigh’ campaign started by Jameela Jamil, which encourages people to focus on celebrating themselves not for their bodies, but for values such as kindness and achievement.

This does not mean that body positivity only creates a negative impact, or that it is wrong to love your body, but it is important to be mindful that not everybody finds this possible. With more generalised meanings surrounding ‘body positivity’ and a lack of clarity about its goals, these alternative terms offer a clearer and more attainable mindset for many people, and a new way of thinking about the body.

Image: D. Sharon Pruitt via Wikimedia Commons