“If you want to be positive to your body, work out and eat well.” A seemingly innocuous statement, the idea that this is all it takes to be #bodyposi is a common one. But the body positivity movement is more than just the traditional diet and exercise route to getting the body you love. It’s the idea that instead of working towards an improved body that you can love, you can learn to love the body you already have.
The body positivity movement, as described by everydayfeminism.com, “Is the idea that all bodies are good bodies.” Part of the way this movement works towards its goal of creating better representation of diverse bodies is by critiquing mainstream media for its lack of said representation and by encouraging people to use their own bodies as representation via social media.
On Twitter, Instragram, and Tumblr, people have the ability to control their image and how they showcase their own bodies and thus representation is no longer limited to mainstream media. With body positive hashtags, people can find communities of people sharing their journeys to self-love, no matter their body type.
This is an important way for people to be able to reclaim their bodies, considering how frequently mainstream media polices appearances, and shames those who do not conform. However, it would be a mistake to assume that social media is free from this surveillance as well.
As second year student Nikita Roy says, “Because the Internet is permanent, people can always look back and say, ‘You used to be overweight.'” The so-called immortality of the Internet means that people are not only subject to the policing of their current appearance but also to a critique of the way they looked in the past – and for some just beginning their self-love journey, this can be extremely discouraging.
To reconcile these two aspects of social media, second year student Nayab Rahim says, “Social media is what you make of it. If you go on there just to make mean comments, that’s the side of it you are going to see. But if you look at the side dedicated to loving yourself, you are going to see the positive side of it.”
Sometimes, however, you don’t have to go looking for mean comments and critiques: posts featuring rude people saying offensive things go viral all the time and are unavoidable.
Take the quotation that began this article. It was taken from “Dear Fat People”, a video made by YouTuber Nicole Arbor, which went viral last year. The video sparked enormous controversy about the comments Arbor made mocking and shaming not only people who are overweight, but also the entire idea of body positivity. Many people took issue with the way that Arbor tried to spread her message, including Rahim, who says that “[Arbor] chose the negative way of getting her message across. The way that she promoted her message could push people to unhealthy ways of losing weight, like eating disorders. Instead of being derogatory, she could have promoted better lifestyles.”
In the video, Arbor perversely claims that her facetious comments resulted from her love of people and her desire for them to live long lives. What Arbor does not take into account is the quality of life people lead when they have low self-esteem and are constantly working towards a body that will never be good enough.
This is the crux of the body positive movement: you will never reach the body ideal that mainstream media, people in your life (like Arbor), and even a voice inside your head, which is encouraged by all these other voices, tell you that you should have. But this is not something to be sad about. Instead, you can be free from trying to fit inside their narrow ideals by learning to love the body you have.
Even mainstream media is coming around to body positivity. This year’s Pirelli calendar, often known for its salacious pictures of models that have bodies that fit the ‘norm’, took a drastic change. Instead of half naked women gracing each month, the calendar photographed by Annie Leibovitz, features women not known for their adherence to traditional beauty standards – and most of them are clothed, showcasing their successes rather than their appearances.
The two that were not fully clothed – Amy Schumer and Serena Williams – are both women with body types outside the ‘norm’ set by the conventional mainstream. Schumer has been outspoken about Hollywood’s tendency to only cast certain body types, as evidenced in her Critic’s Choice Awards acceptance speech, and Williams has spoken out against critique of her own body.
This represents a shift in mainstream media that is accepting of a more diverse range of bodies, and it’s all because of online body positivity activism. #bodyposi isn’t just a hashtag anymore – it’s a reality.