“Just accept yourself as you are!” the pursuit of positive body image has become a dominant narrative. We're constantly bombarded with messages now from social media that tell us to love our bodies just the way they are, to embrace our flaws, and to strive for a positive body image. While these messages may seem well-intentioned, it's crucial to recognize that the concept of positive body image is a false goal, and here's why.
First, Some History
Body positivity initially stemmed from the efforts of activists in the 1960s advocating for the acceptance of diverse body sizes. Their mission centered on advocating for equal opportunities, fair treatment, proper representation, safety, and respect for individuals living in marginalized bodies. Back then, it was possible to dislike your own body while advocating for better accessibility and policies against discrimination. Conversely, one could also embrace their body without actively supporting justice or equality movements; these concepts were distinct. However, the modern iteration of body positivity on social media has strayed so far from its original purpose that many posting about it seem unaware of its origins.
We should reconsider the concept of body positivity. It's absolutely fine to appreciate and accept ourselves and our bodies, but it's crucial to be practical about what genuine "love" entails. My concern lies in the idea that we're expected to consistently feel a continuous stream of joyful delight and fond appreciation toward our bodies, or that we must enthusiastically welcome every imperfection, every sway, and every inch. This demand is neither practical nor essential.
It Reinforces the Focus on Appearance
The idea of achieving a positive body image tends to keep our focus on physical appearance. This perpetuates the harmful notion that our self-worth is intrinsically tied to how we look. Instead of celebrating our bodies for their functionality, resilience, and unique capabilities, we are encouraged to judge them solely based on aesthetics. This narrow perspective reduces the richness of our self-worth to a shallow and superficial level.
It Promotes Comparison
Positive body image, as it's often portrayed, inadvertently promotes comparison. When we constantly hear messages like "love your body," we may feel pressured to measure our self-worth by comparing ourselves to others who seem to have achieved this elusive state. This comparison can lead to feelings of inadequacy and a never-ending cycle of self-criticism.
It Ignores the Complexity of Human Emotions
Human emotions are complex and ever-changing. Expecting ourselves to maintain a constant state of positive body image is unrealistic and can lead to feelings of failure when we inevitably experience moments of self-doubt or insecurity. Embracing the full spectrum of emotions and learning to navigate them constructively is a more holistic approach to self-acceptance.
It Oversimplifies the Journey to Self-Love
The journey to self-love and acceptance is multifaceted and unique for each individual. Simply telling someone to "love their body" oversimplifies this process. True self-acceptance involves exploring our thoughts, feelings, and experiences, as well as addressing the societal and cultural factors that contribute to our body image concerns. It's a journey that requires self-reflection, self-compassion, and often, professional support.
It Neglects the Impact of External Influences
The relentless pressure to achieve a positive body image often neglects the profound impact of external influences. Media, patriarchy, capitalism, and societal norms play a significant role in shaping our perceptions of beauty and desirability. These external forces can be powerful and difficult to overcome on an individual level. Shifting the focus from individuals to systemic change is essential to combat these harmful influences effectively.
In the pursuit of positive body image, it's important to recognize that it's a false goal that places undue emphasis on appearance, promotes comparison, and oversimplifies the complex journey to self-love and acceptance. Instead of striving for an unattainable state of constant positivity, we should shift our focus to holistic well-being, mental health, and dismantling the harmful external influences that perpetuate unrealistic beauty standards.
Consider Body Neutrality
Body neutrality offers a contrasting approach, alleviating the pressure and appearing as a more manageable and attainable objective. Anne Poirier, renowned for "The Body Joyful," introduced this concept, providing a comforting space to depart from body negativity without imposing the expectation to magically adore every aspect of oneself. Embracing body neutrality encourages us to prioritize understanding individuals as complete humans, shifting the focus of our worth, value, and identity from external appearances to internal qualities. It assists in unraveling the intricate societal norms dictating the significance of various body types, revealing a clear truth: while beauty and attractiveness hold appeal, they don't reveal anything about one's character, personality, lifestyle, or the treatment and life they deserve.
Neutrality grants room for things that previously felt overwhelming to simply exist without carrying heavy significance. Not exactly good, nor bad. These issues aren't cause for alarm or something demanding an immediate fix. They might be mildly irritating, prompting an eye roll or a shrug before moving on, but ultimately, they hold little weight. It empowers you to perceive yourself and the world with clarity, allowing you to reclaim emotional control from unworthy sources.
If you've struggled to cultivate love for your body, attempt this: verbalize or think about your major grievances regarding your body, then follow each with a reaffirmation like "and that's not a problem," "and that's understandable and okay," or "and that doesn't signify anything negative about me."
The idea is that any negative emotions you harbor about your body make sense considering all you've learned and encountered. Body neutrality offers a chance to delve into the origins of your beliefs and emotions. It's significant because acknowledging the validity of feeling critical about our bodies empowers us to welcome compassion for ourselves and our struggles instead of passing judgment.
Struggling with body image doesn't equate to being unintelligent, unreasonable, weak, or misinformed. Refusing to acknowledge our feelings about our bodies mirrors rejecting our bodies outright. To achieve peace and acceptance, we must collaborate with ourselves rather than oppose our feelings. This involves releasing the notion that self-criticism is baseless and should be overwritten with enforced positivity. Embracing our body image struggles with kindness, curiosity, and comprehension is crucial if we hope to dismantle them.