The term ‘Body Positivity’ started to explode in 2017, with over 4.3 million hashtags of #bodypositive, and 1.36 million of #bodypositivity on Instagram.
For anyone who grew up being slightly different than everyone else around them, loving how you look can be difficult. Even as adults, when we are outliers of what the media presents as the norm it can be difficult to find self-acceptance. It is why so many New Year’s resolutions involve our bodies — losing weight, getting into shape, etc.
Why is body positivity so important?
When teenagers join social media platforms there is an opportunity for them to become exposed to a variety of different people. People who look different than them and people who look similar. For anyone whose ethnicity or appearance is not reflected back by their physical community, the online community can give them a sense of belonging.
Especially for teenagers who are going through puberty and all the awkward physical changes it entails, there is often a feeling of disconnect from your body. It is no longer the childhood body you’re familiar with, but it does not reflect the bodies that you see online, or even the older students at your middle or high school.
So many issues can result from not accepting our bodies — eating disorders, self harm, body modifications/surgery.
Over 30 million people — of all ages and genders — suffer from an eating disorder in the USA.
In 2016, over 66,000 cosmetic surgical procedures were performed on teenagers (13–19) in the USA, and an additional 160,000 minimally invasive procedures.
Teenagers especially need body positivity, the knowledge that what they look like is beautiful. And that they don’t need to attempt to fit into the mold of ‘perfection’ that they perceive through social media. It is a false mold.
So many of those images are photoshopped, taken at the right angle, or the models themselves have done something to their body (Examples: waist cinchers or surgery). Even if they are not, they are images of fully developed men and women, who perhaps as part of their paid profession take measures to look as appealing as possible, or the photos are part of a large photo shoot with post processing and are not simple, quick snapshots.
Current body positivity
Currently, the topic of body positivity is mainly focused around weight. There is an association of being overweight with being unhealthy, or that your BMI determines your health. However, the measurement of BMI is flawed, and people like Tess Holliday are out to challenge the idea that being heavy means you’re unhealthy or aren’t beautiful.
When teenagers enter social media it is so important for them to seek out diversity. So often platforms want to show you what you like, and once they have an idea of what you might like, they will often only show you more of the same to try and make you happy. They determine what ads or pages they should suggest to you based on your habits. If you only like and comment on pages of people with a common esthetic, you’re going to be suggested similar pages, reinforcing your ‘norm’ and never presenting you with opinions or images that are contradictory to that norm.
Where it needs to go
Body size is a great first step for body positivity, but it still has a long way to go to be an inclusive movement. There are many reasons people dislike aspects of their body that have nothing to do with their weight. Not all teenagers who have a negative self-image are overweight. They might have alopecia, vitiligo, or are disabled.
Not all people with body issues are women. There is an overwhelming focus on female body positivity, and less on males. The body positivity movement needs to create a safe space for males to talk and be supportive of one another.
Digital media can be an amazing tool in helping people find their confidence. It can help them feel more comfortable being in front of a camera. It can connect them to a community who is supportive and encouraging. It can provide them with opportunities to showcase their unique beauty. It can help them find international recognition if their goal is to break into the modeling world, music or film industries.
To help people gain confidence in themselves, we need to change how we talk about others. We need to come back to the value of respect. The internet has created this sense of anonymity, where people feel like it’s okay to make comments about others appearance. As if those comments don’t hurt, as if they were “asking for it, by putting the images online for all to see.”
The societal core value of respect that is held up in the real world, where we would never make hateful comments to strangers on the street, needs to be reflected in our digital spaces as well. We need to respect and appreciate diversity, and make our conversations reflect that.
Body Positive Role Models
Here’s some of the people we think are taking amazing steps to helping spread body positivity to be more inclusive:
Images of masculinity have always centered around fit sports players, tough hip-hop artists. Teenage boys are under pressure to workout, to gain weight, to have washboard abs. Role models like Dexter Mayfield help show boys that they do not have to fit into that mold.
For many people their insecurities are about a permanent aspect of their bodies. Yulianna Yussef has congenital melanocytic nevus — covering her body in large birthmarks. But she hasn’t let that stop her from wearing what makes her feel good, and helping others understand what nevus is.
“On my social media feed I try to post fancy photos that showcase how confident I am about my birthmarks, self acceptance and how I’ve learned to live with my giant Nevus.”
For so many women their hair is their power. Part of their personality. While there is a huge increase in the variety of hairstyles for women, it is a choice. When that choice is taken away from you it can be devastating. Whether it’s losing hair through chemo treatments, or only losing it in patches because of alopecia.
We love Corinne Labbé because she’s chosen to embrace this part of herself and even make it a big feature of her photos, hoping to empower others.
On a mission to show the world that beauty has many faces, Winnie Harlow made international waves as a contestant on America’s Next Top Model, and has gone on to model for worldwide brands (Swarovski, Sprite). Her vitiligo isn’t something she could easily hide growing up and faced constant bullying and name calling. She’s taken them on, faced her insecurities, and is showing the world who she is.
Kaitlyn Dobrow has proved that confidence 100% comes from attitude. She’s proving that being an amputee isn’t stopping her from loving herself and life, and even creates amazing makeup tutorials.
Loving our bodies can be hard when we are presented with unrealistic representations of perceived perfection. Our children are confused when they become exposed to advertising and media and their bodies do not fit into the mold that is presented to them as what they ‘should’ look like.
The body positivity movement has made some huge strides towards helping people feel more confident in their skins. And big brands are taking notice of this and changing the way they show representation. From committing to never photoshopping, to using a wide range of age and ethnicity in their campaigns, to the first male CoverGirl spokesmodel.
With more focus on a wider range of people, really talking about body issues and helping people find support, and not celebrating the idea that skinny equals perfect, we can help take the unnecessary pressure off ourselves and our children. When we love ourselves, our children are more likely to love themselves too.