Body positivity is a social movement rooted in the belief that all human beings should have a positive body image, in doing so it challenges the ways in which society presents and views the physical body. The movement advocates the acceptance of all bodies no matter the form, size, or appearance. The goal of the movement is to address the unrealistic beauty standards and to build the confidence of oneself and others. The body positivity movement addresses the unfeasible about self-acceptance, beauty, and self-esteem. The movement sets forth the notion that beauty is a construct of society, and poses that this construct should not infringe upon one's ability to feel confidence or self-worth. The idea surrounding the body positivity movement is centered around the notion that people need to love themselves to the fullest, accepting their physical traits.
Body positivity has roots in the fat acceptance movement as well as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. Body positivity differs from fat acceptance in that it is all encompassing and inclusive of all body types and body shapes, whereas fat acceptance only advocates for individuals considered to be obese or overweight. The movement makes clear that neither fat-shaming nor skinny-shaming is okay, and that all body types can and should be celebrated. Body-shaming of all types has been shown to yield detrimental long-term psychological effects such as negative body image, depression, anxiety, as well as eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and body dysmorphia. The shift of fat activism from a niche movement to a mainstream platform, activists recognize that size is just one of the many ways that our bodies are judged by other. The movements is working with fat acceptance, racial justice, trans and queer inclusivity and disability.
History of the Body Positivity Movement
Victorian Dress Reform
As part of the first wave of feminism from the 1850s-1890s, there was a movement called the Victorian Dress Reform Movement that aimed to put an end to the trend of women having to modify their bodies through use of corsets and tightlacing in order to fit the societal standard of tiny waistlines. The majority of women participated in this tradition of vanity, but often ended up facing ridicule whether or not they were successful at shrinking their waistline. The practice of tightlacing proved to have many negative health risks, and was also extremely uncomfortable for women who partook. Women were mocked for their egotism if they were not able to shrink their waistline, and they were criticized for too small a waistline if they were successful. This instilled a feeling of defeat in women during these times, as nothing they did seemed to satisfy their male counterparts. As part of the Victorian Dress Reform Movement, women also fought for their right to dress in pants. Acceptance of all body types - regardless of waist measurements - was the major theme of the Victorian Dress Reform Movement, and this was the first movement of its kind.
In 1967 a New York radio host named Steve Post held a "fat-in" in Central Park. He described the purpose of the event "was to protest discrimination against the fat." Five Months after the "fat-in" an author by the name of Lew Louderback composed an essay entitled "More People Should be Fat!" as a result of him witnessing the discrimination his wife experienced as a result of her size. The piece initiated a new movement with goals of correcting fat-shaming, and the belief that being fat is always indicative of being unhealthy. The essay shed light on the discrimination fat people experience in America, and the culture surrounding fat-shaming. Louderback's contribution inspired the creation of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance in 1969 by Bill Fabrey, with the mission of ending discrimination based on body weight. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) was also dedicated to changing the dialogue surrounding obesity and health, and spread awareness of the distinction between being fat and being unhealthily obese. Health at Every Size (HAES) is an initiative that resulted from the creation of NAAFA, and set forth the concept that health is better determined by medical testing - heart rate and blood pressure - rather than empirical observation of one's weight.
Second Wave (1990s)
The second wave of body positivity prioritized giving people of all sizes a place where they could comfortably come together and exercise. There were programs being made specifically for overweight people. A popular program at the time was "Making Waves" which was a weekly fat swim. Home exercise programs like Genia Pauli Haddon and Linda DeMarco's home exercise video series "Yoga For Round Bodies" were also made for those who were not comfortable joining a wellness community. In 1996, an organization known as The Body Positive was created by Licensed Clinical Social Workers Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott as a result of the untimely death of Connie's sister due to an eating disorder. Her sister struggled with eating disorders, and her own self-image. The goal of the organization is essential to reframe the way that women think about beauty standards, and to shift focus from negatively viewing one's own body to fulfilling one's life goals and dreams. The website features a variety of resources to help people do so, from workshops to training to programming on college campuses.
Third Wave (2000s)
Since 2012, and the popularity launch of social media platforms, there has been a heightened presence of the movement. The movement challenged the unrealistic standards of feminine beauty like smooth skin, body size, and avoidance of any imperfections. Model and feminist Tess Holliday founded '@EffYourBeautyStandards', which brought an outpour of support to the body positive movement. After founding the movement, Holliday was signed to Milk Management, a large model agency in Europe as their first model over a size 20; she is a size 26. Instagram has been utilized as an advertising platform for the movement since. Pioneers connect with brands and advertisers to promote the movement. In 2016 Mattel released a new line of Barbie dolls under the name "Fashionistas" with three different body shapes, seven skin colors, twenty-two eye colors and twenty-four hairstyles to be more inclusive.
Psychology around the body positivity movement
The Body Positivity Movement has been ground breaking because of the effect it has on the psychology of a person. The movement encourages the partakers view self-acceptance and self-love as traits that dignify the person. The movement is based on the image Basing their sense of self-worth heavily on their physical appearance, and how good they perceive themselves to look. This is referred to in the field of psychology as appearance-contingent self-worth, and can be highly detrimental to an individual's body image. The degree to which one feels proud of their physical appearance is referred to as appearance self-esteem. People who fall under the appearance-contingent self-worth umbrella put great effort into looking their best so that they feel their best. This is only good when an individual feels that they look good, but is extremely negative and anxiety-inducing when they do not.
The psychology of the movement goes beyond feeling good. The movement is also recognized as an important part of physical and mental well being as it has been found that having a negative body image or otherwise known as body dissatisfaction has been linked to a range of physical and mental health problems like disordered eating, depression, body dysmorphic disorder, and more. The movement started spreading to create awareness around the difficult illnesses that some suffer like Anorexia and Bulimia; the movement is shedding light on subjects that brands and bigger companies refused to talk about. Big retailers like Aerie are acknowledging the power of influence they have on Behavioral advertising and the positive impact this could have for a new generation.
Body positivity and inclusion
The body positivity movement focuses largely on women, because of the fact that societal beauty standards apply more prevalently to women than they do to men. Men do, however often face similar societal pressures as women to fit a mold of a certain prototype of the "ideal" masculine man. Qualities that fit that mold are a broad upper body, muscular arms, shoulders, pectoral muscles, etc. Men may face anxieties similar to women, and feel pressure to maintain or shape their bodies a certain way to fit the mold, and can certainly struggle with body image. Men and boys struggle with body dysmorphia and eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa as well, though this is often less publicized. Body positivity remains largely concerned and discussed with regard to female populations, but still applies to people of all genders, ages, ethnicities, sexual preferences, religions, and sexes.
With the body positive movement more brands are starting to use it to their advantage like Aerie, while others like Dove have supported body positivity movement through campaigns preaching body positivity, female empowerment and body-acceptance for a long period of time. A long-running body positive brand is Dove, in 2004 they started a campaign known as "Real Beauty." The campaign commercials and advertisements depict women of all ages sizes and colors. They also partner and raise money for eating disorder organizations. Dove's website for their self-esteem project features a little boy, which is a nod to male body positivity. Some of their core aims are to transform the idea of beauty so that people's relationships with their bodies are good, and that they are sources of confidence and happiness rather than anxiety and stress.
Aerie is a popular American women's underwear company. In 2017, they launched a campaign called AerieReal that promised not to retouch or photoshop their models, encouraging body positivity and body-acceptance despite features such as cellulite, stretch marks, or fat rolls. They have also started featuring body positive influencers in their photo shoots. Aerie has begun including plus sized models into their advertising campaigns and has launched plus sized clothing for larger women use plus-sized models such as Ashley Graham.
Social media is a powerful medium through which societal trends are conveyed to the general public. Although social media has been used to push societies beauty ideals some influencers are now using it to challenge them through image related empowerment and inspiration. There are extremely influential users that preach body positivity such as AerieReal model Iskra Lawrence, and more. Many hashtags have been created in the wake of the body positive movement. Some examples are #IWokeUpLikeThis, #EffYourBeautyStandards, #HonorMyCurves, #CelebrateMySize, #GoldenConfidence, and #ImNoModelEither.
On the other hand, social media also serves images of swimsuit models and other users who tend to fit the societal standard of the feminine beauty ideal, which may perpetuate for people who have appearance-contingent self-worth to continue their exhaustive efforts to look their best. Body activists are combatting this by turning the media against itself with by taking two different approaches to promote self-acceptance to their audiences alike.
In 2018, the University of East Anglia released a report saying that the "normalization of plus size" was damaging to people's perceptions of obesity, made overweight and obese people less likely to attempt weight loss, and undermined government initiatives intended to overcome the problem.
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