Those with social media will know of the body positivity movement and its online growth over the last five years. However, rather than promote absolute acceptance of all bodies, the movement has been co-opted and manipulated into something entirely toxic while its message is becoming lost to interpretation.
‘Body positivity’ originated as a political movement in 1960s America, not a social media trend or an influencer niche. This campaign was absorbed into the radical feminist movement that expanded in the period. The feminist movement consistently acted against the idea that women’s bodies are marketable and fashionable. Yet now the format of body positivity in this day and age is almost entirely online.
The first issue with today’s body positivity movement is its complete lack of diversity. It would seem natural that a movement dedicated to promoting an untraditional definition of beauty would be accepting of a multitude of body types. Yet, despite the concerted effort of some famous and outspoken individuals such as Lizzo, the movement remains lacking in people of colour. Plus-size models are overwhelmingly white and there remains a pay gap between white models and their co-workers in campaigns. Equally, there is significant underrepresentation of LGBTQ+ women within body positive campaigns. It would seem that ‘diverse’ women are allowed so long as they are only diverse in their size.
Furthermore, the body positivity movement is almost entirely female despite the continued effort of men and non-binary individuals to gain influence. Whilst the social pressure on appearance comes from the historic strength of patriarchal structures and marketing, the repercussions are a distinct pressure on men to fulfill certain requirements in their physique. I must admit, though, that I too maintain the belief that the focus of the movement should be on destigmatising women’s bodies, as it is the root cause of these social pressures; but this does not mean that men should not voice their need for liberation on standards of male appearance.
The second issue is the movement’s fundamental problem: body positivity has become the very thing it wanted to destroy. The movement started in opposition to patriarchal female beauty expectations. It was entirely against the marketing of women’s body types and now it simply promotes a new, alternative body to be marketed. It is only a matter of time before this ‘body positive’ trend goes out of fashion and is replaced. The movement should instead oppose the cyclical nature of bodies coming in and out of fashion entirely.
So, has body positivity morphed into the capitalistic marketing of larger bodies? In short, yes. But this argument is NOT made to support one body type or another. The current body positivity movement is equally as exclusive in the bodies it deems beautiful. The movement has positioned itself in opposition to diet culture and such opposition naturally results in hostility between individuals with different body types and the institutions and industries promoting these different body types. Yet it is important to understand that this is misplaced anger on an individual level – smaller and larger women are not enemies.
It is impossible to grasp the extent of societal pressure on women. Only with collective experience can action be taken to bring about permanent and meaningful change and stop the continuous marketing of women’s bodies. Whilst it is important to understand the movement should benefit most those who have suffered from societally prescribed beauty standards, the removal of beauty standards all together will improve the lives of everyone.
Thus, the body positivity movement currently has the wrong name: it is not genuine, universal positivity. It pushes the idea that larger body types are beautiful – which is wonderful and absolutely true. But the enemy is the pressure is to have a beautiful body full stop. The idea that women’s bodies come in and out of fashion and that one must fight to fit into any beauty standard is what is inherently damaging. What we as feminists should be fighting for is the abolition of any notion that individual appearance and body type has significant value and meaning in society