In 2006 beauty brand Dove brought the body positive movement into the spotlight with their Evolution commercial showing a model getting made-up, photographed, photoshopped and printed onto a billboard. They followed this up with their enormously successful Campaign for Real Beauty and tapped into this idea of beauty as a source of confidence not anxiety, resonating with millions of women globally.
Search #bodypositive on Instagram and you’ll get pictures of people of all shapes and sizes, showing off their bodies at various angles or in weight loss transformation comparison photos.
The body positive movement didn’t start with Dove, but since then it’s achieved some great things – it’s made a wider range of bodies more acceptable and visible in media, it’s expanded the idea of beauty to encompass more than just the traditional standards of beauty and encouraged people to love their bodies as they are.
But while we’re seeing a wider variety of bodies as more acceptable in mainstream media, all it means is that instead of objectifying the kind of body we’ve been told is traditionally beautiful, we now objectify all kinds of bodies. And we don’t need mainstream media to do the objectifying anymore, we‘re objectifying ourselves all over social media.
Thanks mostly to Dove it seems the main message of the body positive movement has boiled down to the idea of feeling like you look good.
This raises the question, is it a fundamental flaw that the crux of this movement has been reduced to encouraging people to gain confidence from how they look?
There’s no argument that body image and self-esteem are intrinsically linked. It naturally follows that if you like the way you look you’ll feel better about yourself. The beauty, fitness, health and wellness industries recognise this and endlessly play on this ‘look good, feel good’ connection.
However, it seems we’ve forgotten that self-esteem, confidence and empowerment is more than believing your body looks good and we need reminding that it’s about believing you are good, capable and worthy regardless of how your body looks. More than that, we need to take it a step further and recognise the idea of self-worth needs to be separated from the idea of superficial beauty.
While it’s great to be #bodypositive, shouldn’t we aim to exercise, eat well and look after ourselves, not just for the purpose of looking good but to be able to do the things we want and remember that the way we look is often a reflection of the function for which we use our bodies.
Promoting body acceptance, body confidence and freedom from body shame with body-focused photos and tirades about feeling beautiful and worthy is all well and good but at the end of the day, it’s still focusing attention on bodies and not quite furthering the cause of promoting ideas of self-esteem, self confidence and empowerment as being more than the superficiality of how you look.
It’s time to focus on what we can do with our bodies, rather than on what we can do to make our bodies look better.