So, is body positivity the new body shaming? Short answer. No. Right, case closed guys, we can pack up. Good job all round. Lol, okay. I'll bite. Because while body-positivity at it's heart is well, positive, it's not perfect and still, at least in the wider populas version of it that's been co-oped by brands – it still sells a very commercially palatable form of the female body.
It's easy to see the appeal of the body positive movement. The core message behind it is simple, easy to understand. “All bodies are good bodies.” “All bodies are bikini bodies.” It's about inspiring acceptance and love, and learning to appreciate and care for your body because by it's very existence it is deserving of love and humanity. Simple right? We aren't just our big old meat suits - but that doesn't mean we don't embrace that part of ourselves too. Body Positivity has inspired thriving online communities with women sharing their journeys towards loving themselves, even if it's not always easy.
From Tess Holliday's @effyourbeautystandards instagram, to @joannathanigah's illustrations, to the positive mantras from @bodyposipanda there has been a distinct move towards showing towards increased visibility of different ideas of what can be beautiful. And that's kind of awesome right? Stretch marks, cellulite, swollen bellies and bony knees, everything is up for discussion, everything is beautiful. It's hard to argue with the over-whelming good this movement has done. It's about feeling less isolated and taking ownership of your body.
However as with anything, there's bound to be some problematic aspects. Brands have commercialised body-positivity as a marketing tool. While seeing more diverse bodies in the media is amazing (and seriously, let's see more of this, MUCH MORE), body-positivity does not exist in a vacuum. The vast amount of body diversification in the media remains to still showcase a euro-centric form of beauty. It's still the small waist. It's still toned. It's still sanitised and safe - a pasteurised beauty. You can be curvy, but not fat (because of course, that's still the worst thing a person can be right?) and in the same sentence have Real Women Have Curves. Where do you even begin to unpack this fuckery? Fat isn't a swear word, and the only requirement to be a real women? To identify as one. Of course there is opportunity and space for nuanced discussion within the body positivity movement, it's just for the most part it's not what we're being sold. Marketing may be getting more sophisticated, but the overall real tangible change is one we need to make together.
There is nothing wrong with having personal preferences – though I feel culturally we should always be examining why we have them – but this can easily become another form of policing women's bodies. From comments on how much make-up you should wear, to embracing your “curves” - this is still a form of telling women how they should look and ultimately taking away from their own autonomy. You should feel this way about yourself or you're a bad feminist/person/women. Okay, cause that sounds constructive.
Overall, the body positivity movement fosters a sense of acceptable and connectivity the world over. It challenges brands to be better, to do better - and more importantly,teaches us that there is more than one way to beautiful. They celebrate gender queer, fat, skinny, muscly and any other adjective you could possibly think of to describe a body. They embrace love and humour here that is powerful and intimate and really, we could do with a great deal more of that in the world. The body-positivity movement isn't the enemy here – there's still enough Photoshopped images of bodies out there to fight, brands that only make clothes for one type of body, and people who will continually tear people down for how they look. Ultimately we need to embrace the change and keep telling people to fuck their beauty standards.
Illustration: Joanna Thangiah