Belly fat, thigh gaps, fat asses (no no, not fat, ‘thic’), thunder thighs, cellulite: our western society is obsessed with our bodies and how imperfect they are. With 91% of 5000 women surveyed reporting they were unhappy with their bodies, attaining a ‘better’ figure is often an important goal for people. We have to have that ideal body in order to be happy and beautiful, right? Diet culture is designed to tell us that our bodies are not good enough. Too fat, not toned enough, ass not thick enough, too many stretch marks, you name it. We are sold tips, tricks, fad diets, detox teas and food plans so that we can finally become ‘the best we can be’. What we’re not told is that 95% of diets fail, and we are told to blame ourselves when they do. As a result, we can push ourselves far past our mental and physical limits trying to lose weight or change our bodies, only to be told that we are still not good enough, and a lot of the time, our bodies aren’t naturally designed to look like the bodies we’re told they should look like.
Unfortunately, students are often sucked in to this culture of negative body image. With cooking for yourself, drinking and late night Dervish runs, weight changes during university can be common. In some cases, this can lead to becoming dissatisfied with our bodies and losing valuable confidence, self-worth and self-esteem. This then becomes significantly worse when negative body image begins to affect our social life, academic life and mental health, with the development of eating disorders not being beyond the realm of possibility. Luckily, however, there is an answer. As bittersweet as it is, the past few years has seen a growing number of people struggling with body image coming together in order to support each other. You may have seen the hashtag #bodypositivity being used, especially on platforms like Instagram. You may have seen people who don’t fit the societal body ideal proudly say how they have made peace with their bodies, rejected the lessons of diet culture, and learned to love themselves. Such a community of people (to varying degrees, as the term is an intrinsically layered and complex one) have come to be known as being ‘body positive’.
But what exactly is body positivity? A political movement began a few years ago which provided a safe space for marginalised bodies, who were often discriminated against in society. Since then, their message has expanded (in some eyes, diluted) exponentially to include people of all shapes and sizes who have decided to reject society’s obscene beauty standards and attempt to love their bodies, cellulite and all. For this reason, there is a distinct difference between body positivity as a political movement, fighting for the voices of marginalised people, and body positivity as a personal journey to body confidence and self-love. Rather than ‘promoting obesity’ as some like to complain, the body positive community provides acceptance and support to people of all shapes and sizes, and endeavours to break the stigma of ‘fatphobia’. It challenges the concept of an ‘ideal’ body, which not only frequently changes according to fashion trends, but is only achievable through the right genetics. It allows us to accept that our bodies are okay the way they are and that we do not need to punish ourselves with restrictive routines in order to finally achieve happiness.
Body positivity can be a lifesaver for those suffering with their appearance. It can help us reject the diet mentality, make peace with food/over-exercise and stop obsessing over our ‘flaws’. What’s more, the community can provide support and a safe space for those suffering or recovering from eating disorders. Probably the most special aspect of body positivity is that one can be a part of a supporting and empowering community, who are all working through their negative body issues and spreading positivity. So, if you are reading this and are currently suffering from low body confidence, you’re not alone. Low body confidence can be a major factor causing self-dissatisfaction, anxiety and, in some cases, depression while at university. But body positivity could help you out. If you’re lucky enough to love your body already, that’s fantastic! But maybe spread the word to anyone you think may be struggling.
Fighting diet culture and learning to accept your current body can be a difficult journey and require a lot of hard work, yet it is more than possible. If you’re interested in learning more, search the hashtag #bodypositivity on Instagram. Just be aware of ‘fitspo’ people co-opting the term and twisting its meaning in order to justify their weight loss, which might not be a good thing if you’re stuck in a diet/self-hate cycle. You can also follow accounts such as @bodyposipanda who is a great example of a body positive babe. Body positivity did wonders for my mental health, and with any luck, it could help you too!