The Concept of Body Positivity Has Been Appropriated, And That Sucks.
What is Body Positivity?
The concept of body positivity – being accepting and against the marginalization of all bodies – should come to us instinctively. Most of us believe in one of the most basic tenets of human decency: that all people should be treated equally regardless of color, race, sex, religion, etc. Still, many people just don’t get the memo about the fact that weight and appearance should be a part of that too. This isn’t a new thing: larger bodies have been discriminated against for decades. So, body positivity was developed as a social justice movement by the fat acceptance movement in the 1960s as a way to garner awareness of and end the marginalization of people in all bodies.
Body positivity today focuses mostly on challenging our perception of the typical beauty standard for women (although there is a body positive movement for men) – white, thin, symmetrical, privileged. In other words, that everyone has value, everybody’s body is worthy, even if it’s not conventionally ‘attractive.’
Okay then, that’s great!
Except something isn’t right with a lot of what passes for ‘body positivity’ today.
The Changes of the Body Positivity Movement
The thing is, body positivity wasn’t created as to sell clothes, get ‘likes,’ or attract people to your bikini shots. But social media is full of posts by influencers – RDs included, unfortunately – that are taking body positivity and twisting it to promote themselves. I highly doubt the people who spearheaded body positivity had conventionally attractive, thin, or muscled girls in bikinis talking about cheat days, or showing their ass in workout gear in mind when they thought up the concept.
All of these Instagram posts used the #bodypositive hashtag:
Tone deaf AF. And note to you: acknowledging your thin privilege doesn’t make it any better.
Influencers and Body Positivity
Like cultural appropriation, these influencers are appropriating the term to further their own agenda without respecting its origins. And the fucked up part is that while cultural appropriation is frowned upon, body positivity appropriation is celebrated.
When models wear turbans on the Gucci runway, people are shocked and horrified (rightly so).
But when a thin, privileged person posts a ‘body positive’ video of her butt in a thong bathing suit and talks about how her ‘fat jiggles,’ she gets 3000 likes.
What. The. Fuck.
It’s all just a triggering, passive aggressive stab in the back of body positivity. And worst of all, it steals body positivity from the very people it was created to help. I think that if you post photos of your white, privileged, conventionally attractive body in a bikini while talking about your ‘fat’ and your ‘body positivity,’ you, dear, are part of the problem.
Newsflash: it’s not body positive when you’re doing it for ‘likes’ or because you’re desperate for approval and Instagram fame.
I’m fully aware that for phrases like body-positivity, over time, there can be a metamorphosis of meaning. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing. But in this case, it is: we’ve cheapened it into a marketing tactic.
Beauty and Fashion’s Take on Body Positivity
The beauty and fashion industry is also on the hook for the appropriation of body positivity.
While it’s nice that companies like Dove and Lululemon are using larger sized models in their campaigns, I still think there’s a dark side to it all. Meaning, they’re not doing it because they want to help de-marginalize certain bodies: they’re doing it to earn money.
Many clothing companies who use larger women in their ads still use conventionally attractive models. Knix has a lot of really gorgeous, not-that-fat models who show their stretch marks, but okay, really? Is that supposed to be groundbreaking?
Aerie has gone all out on their ‘real’ campaign, seriously, all out….with genuine unretouched models who have ‘fat bulges’ and ‘loose skin’ but are still, well, come on. See for yourself.
So when young girls look at the ‘real’ Aerie photos, they’re seeing ‘real,’ average girls?
What? Uh, no. These girls are models.
In Aerie’s defence, the company offers sizing up to a 24, and their campaign does feature non-models in some of their social posts. One has an ostomy, another has an insulin pump, and one has a prosthetic leg. So the company appears to be getting it.
But the majority are not. Most put out a size XL as their largest offering, use Ashley Graham in their ads, and call themselves ‘body-positive.’ Um. No.
There are some awesome body-positive retailers out there who use models who are diverse in color, size, age, and appearance and have a wide range of sizes.
Even though most of them use the ‘plus-size’ designation, which, WHY do fat people need their own section….but anyhow.
Some of my faves are:
I can imagine that for those people who fall under the umbrella of the original meaning, our current usage of the term ‘body positivity’ is like someone shaking their hand, then turning around and stabbing them in the back. Because fat shaming, fat phobia, and weight discrimination still exist in so many forms, and none of the ‘body positive’ influencers or companies that I’m referring to (there are many more who are actually using the term for good) are doing anything for the cause. They’re just making things worse.
Companies who talk the talk should walk the walk. Thanks, Victoria’s Secret, but your bras aren’t for EVERY BODY. And making clothes in sizes that go beyond XL (maybe start with not having asshole CEOs who denigrate fat people, like Abercrombie) would be a step in the right direction.
If someone who is conventionally attractive wants to post a million bikini shots of themselves on social media and put #bodypositive in the caption, they should probably think about where they’re coming from.
On second thought, we all need to think about where we’re coming from in terms of using phrases like body positivity. Do you really know the meaning of the term? Where it came from? What its real meaning is? It’s essential that we stop stealing meaning from terms like body positivity, and that we recognize and honor their origins. To not do that hurts the people who they were made for.