Published on 1st July, 2022 by Shar Gupta
For much of history, certain body types and sizes have been considered most acceptable by society. This usually involves thinness, muscularity, skin colour, or specific body shapes.
These messages of what is considered an attractive or appropriate body type and size can be detrimental for those who do not fit these specific ideals. These expectations can lead to poor mental health, body dissatisfaction and unhealthy behaviours around food and exercise.
The body positivity movement directly challenges these ideas and encourages people to accept their bodies just the way they are.
With society pushing more and more for body positivity, many people are learning to love their bodies more. But is this the right direction we should be going? Let’s look at both sides and explore the concept of body neutrality as perhaps the next step in taking a more balanced approach.
Body Positivity has been a growing movement over recent decades that focuses on equality and acceptance for all body types and sizes. The main goal of this movement has been to challenge unrealistic beauty standards that contribute to low self-esteem, depression, substance abuse and eating disorders.
The framework of body positivity emphasises that all people deserve to have a positive image of their bodies, regardless of how society and popular media represent the “ideal” body shape, size, and appearance.
The body positivity movement has a long history, dating all the way back to the Victorian Era, when as part of the first wave of feminism, “dress reformists” challenged the existing norms of modifying bodies through the use of corsets and tightlacing and fought for more practical and comfortable clothing. This linked with feminist movements to change the position of women in society, allowing for greater social mobility, the ability to work, and physical movement and comfort.
Although these dress reform movements were largely involving middle-class women in Western Europe and the United States, such changes were taking place in Asia as well, for example in Meiji-period Japan. Shimoda Utako, a Japanese educator and activist, advocated for dress reform and opposed Chinese footbinding, as she judged that women were significantly restricted by restrictive garments.
The Fat Acceptance movement in the 1960s and the growing awareness in the 1990s of the dangers of chronic dieting helped the movement along to the point where now, the current form of the body positivity movement exists largely in reaction to the increase in social media culture.
There has been countless research done into the psychological impact of social media representations of beauty on people’s self-worth and self-esteem. Young girls and teens are particularly vulnerable to harmful messages of the unrealistic standards of feminine beauty like smooth skin, body size, and no imperfections.
Social media feeds are filled with people presenting themselves in the best possible light, and Photoshop and photo-enhancing filters are a common way in which photos are edited to fit these unrealistic standards. This creates a distorted sense of reality and perpetuates the cycle of unhealthy body image standards.
An increasing trend in social media is the posting and promoting of body positive content to combat the harmful culture of unrealistic beauty standards. The body positivity movement is on the rise, and this is already having a positive impact, especially on young people.
Pros of Body Positivity
This brings us to the concept of Body Neutrality, which focuses on reducing the link between physical appearance and self-worth and instead promoting focus on what your body can do for you.
Body neutrality encourages:
We all have our own unique relationship with ourselves and with our bodies. This is a lifelong relationship which will have its ups and downs.
For many, body positivity includes important and helpful messages that can help combat years of harmful messages about our bodies. It is important to challenge unrealistic body image standards and to recognize the negative self-beliefs we may hold about our bodies and ourselves due to these external forces.
However, it can be a challenge to go from “I hate my body” to “I love my body” and a body neutral focus can be a much more accessible framework to reducing negative thoughts and feelings as well as increasing acceptance of your body.
Perhaps try incorporating elements from both body positivity and body neutrality when they make the most sense to you. Some suggestions:
From dress reformists of the nineteenth century to the Instagram filters of today, body image and body positivity continue to be topics of importance in regard to our mental health and wellbeing. It’s time to include body neutrality to strike a healthy balance in how we think about our value as human beings and our relationship with our bodies and ultimately with ourselves.
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