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The expression ‘body positive’ is seen everywhere — in advertising campaigns, social media, and bookstores… Self-acceptance and self-love have become mantras that are relentlessly repeated. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve come to love ourselves more!
The Body Positive Movement was born in the United States during the 1990s. Following her sister’s death due to an eating disorder, Connie Sobczak founded ‘The Body Positive’ with the help of Elizabeth Scott. The aim of the movement was to encourage self-acceptance — not to belittle anybody, whether large, small or ‘outside of the norm’ (such as those suffering from alopecia, albinism, and so forth).
On paper, it all sounds great! But in reality, it’s a little more complicated.
Initially, the movement had a positive impact and opened new doors. Skinny top models with bronzed, satin skin relinquished their cover girl status (for the most part), and gave way to models such as Thando Hopa, the first albino woman to grace the cover of Vogue. The same (r)evolution was seen on the catwalks: plus size models, like Ashley Graham, were finally able to walk the Fashion Week runways — it was good.
Instagram also revisited the ‘body positive’ concept
More recently, social media outlets have taken over the movement and have largely diverted it from its original intention. On Instagram, the ‘body positive’ hashtag is used at least 18 million times. However, upon a closer look, it is a far cry from the diversity and kindness that we would expect to see.
Type #bodypositive on Instagram — on a grid of twelve posts, six images show young men and women flaunting their sculpted, super-healthy bodies in over-edited shots; two other images have positive mantras. The reality is, that the acceptance of ALL bodies, including the natural ones, is not going to happen. “On Instagram, the online ‘body positive’ movement considers it normal when chicks use ‘#bodypositive’ when they’re a size 10, have hourglass figures and zero stretch marks. It’s not until they bend themselves into a lotus position that a minuscule bulge might appear on the side of their stomach. And these are the images that caption, “Look, I’m body positive.” No, you’re perfectly normal, so stop! Just enjoy being normal. It’s not helpful to contort yourself just to create an imaginary bulge,” protests Daria Marx(1) in episode 34 (season 1) of Lauren Bastide’s La Poudre.
Linguist Stéphanie Pahud(2) agrees: “The ‘body positive’ movement will certainly not be enough to keep individuals away from the desire to conform. Besides, being the social animals that we are, the latter is also a response to our inherent need for recognition. We must stop confusing ‘loving oneself’ and ‘feeling validated’ to protect ourselves against the side effects of such a directive: “They also create limiting views: some variations of the ‘body positive’ movement suggest that there is such a thing as a ‘natural’ body. Inviting people to ‘become yourself’ or ‘accept yourself as you are,’ feeds into a fixist identity concept. But our body is sensitive to the friction of the world against our skin, and it is constantly being (re)shaped by our experiences.
Love oneself at any cost?
The ‘body positive’ movement quickly reached its limits as a benevolent concept, and has developed further limitations. For example, as we are now supposed to accept ourselves as we are, it is frowned upon to judge our stretch marks, bulges or bald heads. This becomes even more complex for those who suffer from psychological issues. There are many who face increasing discomfort due to this trend. They are forced to self-love, but they just can’t do it. Instead of being able to distance themselves from this struggle, the ‘body positive’ movement continues to place the body, and its relationship with others, at the forefront of the debate. This paradox is perfectly illustrated in the second episode of season 2 of the series Euphoria. As she evaluates her romantic relationship, Kate (Barbie Ferreira) realises that she hates herself. When a bunch of super ‘body positive’ girls comes along, they remind her of her strength and her power and urge her to love herself. Under the guise of benevolence, this scene is actually extraordinarily violent and clearly demonstrates the toxic nature of this paradox.
By creating labels for people who do not fit them (or simply do not wish to fit them) we no longer know which way to turn. There is proof in Barbie Ferreira, who found herself propelled to the rank of a ‘body positive’ icon when all she did was claim the right to dress as she wished. The singer Adèle, a self-proclaimed spokesperson for the movement, was later strongly criticised for losing weight. So, what is the answer? “It seems to me, that to be more constructive, positive and important, to take into account that we matter, regardless of our contours, looks, and our ‘styles of flesh’ we need to create conditions in which we can live with our vulnerabilities. We must not lull ourselves into the illusion of impeccable, fanciful perfection,” explains Stéphanie Pahud, shifting the problem away from narcissism.
To love yourself for who you are, and not for who you seem to be – could this be the key to self-acceptance? You have two hours!
(1) grossophobia activist, co-founder of the “Gras Politique” collective and author of Fat is not a bad word: chronicles of ordinary discrimination, published by Flammarion
(2) author of Chairissons-nous, published by Favr’