Women, much more than men, are unhappy with their bodies. This can affect our health, our relationships, and our lives.
From loss of self-esteem to disordered eating and exercise patterns, the consequences of focusing on our weight and what our body looks like can be extremely harmful.
This is why helping women overcome body image issues is so important.
The body positivity movement is as diverse as women themselves. But the most popular school of thought, advocated by many businesses, non-profits, and instabloggers alike, aims to build body confidence by challenging beauty stereotypes. “All bodies are beautiful” is the mantra.
Old bodies. Fat bodies. Hairy bodies. Disabled bodies. Queer bodies. Bodies of colour. Bodies that are menstruating. Bodies with disease. All bodies are beautiful.
This is great—in fact, it’s revolutionary.
For decades, the standard of beauty widely represented on television, movies, and popular magazines has been someone who is very thin, not to mention tall, white, young, cis gender, blemish-free, hair-free, and surgically (or digitally) enhanced.
Appearance-based messages mean we remain focused on appearances. We stay fixated on our bodies.
Even in women’s “health” magazines, feeling healthier has usually meant getting thinner, which, of course, has meant looking better. This ideology that defines and promotes health according to weight loss or weight gain is anything but healthy.
Not just because it’s scientifically inaccurate (as studies show that activity level, rather than body weight, is the reliable indicator of a person’s health), but also because of the variety of serious mental health issues these kinds of associations can promote.
Without even knowing it, we begin to connect our BMI or waist line with success or failure. We learn, unconsciously, that only particular body types are acceptable. Slowly, but surely, we come to hate our bodies. And then, we hate ourselves.
That is why messages that fight back against singular ways of imagining the body are so important.
There are countless campaigns, such as The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty and Vancouver’s Raw Beauty Talks, which feature diverse women of varying sizes, shapes, and colours without makeup and filters, that are attempting to alter this narrow picture of what beauty looks like.
There are also hundreds of hugely popular bloggers spreading this message on Instagram. Some share side-by-side photos to demonstrate that there is no such thing as a flat tummy all the time. Others show off their varied bikini bods, encouraging women to shed the shame we often feel during bathing suit season.
Most admit to struggling with body confidence in the past and speak very courageously about their journey, stressing the need to accept our bodies the way they are. Cellulite, stretch marks, thick thighs—women are finally able to see natural, filter-free bodies in all their glory.
Women in our society have been valued mostly for their bodies, treated as sexual objects rather than complete human beings.
If this helps to empower you to feel body confident, great! Many people love and relate to these images and stories.
But I can’t help but think that despite best intentions, this type of body positivity—where we tell women to stop worrying about how their bodies look while posting images of how our bodies look (something I’ve done myself)—keeps comparison to a maximum.
Appearance-based messages mean we remain focused on appearances. We stay fixated on our bodies. Whether we realize it or not, much public discourse on body positivity remains stuck in the paradigm of loving our looks, rather than loving ourselves.
This is problematic because, historically and to this day, women in our society have been valued mostly for their bodies, treated as sexual objects rather than complete human beings.
What are the implications for women? We grow up believing that our value is tied to our looks and our sexual appeal. That our beauty is the most important thing about us.
The best thing I ever did for my body confidence was to STOP focusing on my body.
We didn’t come out of the womb hating our reflections. The world taught us to. The best thing I ever did for my body confidence was to STOP focusing on my body. We are so much more than what appears on the outside.
We are brilliant, hilarious, bold, fearless, thoughtful, kind, strong, determined, courageous, resilient, generous, expansive, and inspiring. Our aesthetics do not define us.
Getting the focus off our bodies is the powerful message behind Beauty Redefined, a research-backed non-profit working to help improve women’s self-worth (their handle on Instagram is @beauty_redefined).
They present a very different perspective on body positivity. They believe “our power lies in being able to SEE more than bodies in ourselves and others, and then to BE more than ornaments to decorate the world.” “See more, be more” is the mantra.
That, to me, is the secret to developing total self-love—and to liberating ourselves from the social forces that try to dictate and control our bodies.
This article was originally published in Find Your Pleasure.