Body positivity

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Body positivity is acceptance and appreciation of all human body types.[1][2] It is a social movement rooted in the belief that all human beings should have a positive body image, and be accepting of their own bodies as well as the bodies of others.[3] 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.[3]

Body positivity has roots in the fat acceptance movement as well as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.[4] 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.[5]

The movement posits that neither fat-shaming nor skinny-shaming[6] is okay, and that all body types can and should be celebrated.[7] 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 anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and body dysmorphia.[7]

The body positivity movement has accumulated much following and support due to an increased online presence of the topic, with popular websites such as Bustle and The Huffington Post featuring entire sections to articles discussing body positivity, and related topics.


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.[8] 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.[9] The practice of tightlacing proved to have many negative health risks, and was also extremely uncomfortable for women who partook.[9] 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.[9] 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.[8] 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 it's kind.[8]

In 1967 during the second wave of feminism, author Lew Louderback composed an essay entitled "More People Should be Fat!" that initiated a new movement with goals of correcting fat-shaming, and the belief that being fat is always indicative of being unhealthy.[10] 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, which was dedicated to changing the dialogue surrounding obesity and health, and spread awareness of the distinction between being fat and being unhealthily obese.[10] Health at Every Size (HAES) is an initiative that resulted from 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 ones weight.[10]

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.[11] The goal of the organization is essentially to reframe the way that women think about beauty standards, and to shift focus from negatively viewing ones own body to fulfilling ones life goals and dreams.[11] The website features a variety of resources to help people do so, from workshops to trainings to programming on college campuses.

Psychology of body positivity[edit]

Some people base their sense of self-worth heavily on their physical appearance, and how good they perceive themselves to look.[12] 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.[13] The degree to which one feels proud of their physical appearance is referred to as appearance self-esteem.[12] 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.[12]

Body positivity and gender[edit]

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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[14] Men and boys struggle with body dysmorphia and eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa as well, but not nearly as much as women and girls do.[16] 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.[17]

Brand influence and social media[edit]

Brands such as Aerie, Dove, and many others have supported the body positivity movement through campaigns preaching body positivity, female empowerment and body-acceptance.

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.[18]

Soap brand, Dove, has an ongoing campaign called the Dove Self-Esteem Project also referred to as Dove Real Beauty. The website for their self-esteem project features a little boy, which is a nod to male body positivity.[19] 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.[19]

Social media is a powerful medium through which societal trends are conveyed to the general public.[20] Social media may both be a source of body-image related stress and of body-image related empowerment and inspiration, all depending on the users whom an individual chooses to follow. There are extremely influential users that preach body positivity such as AerieReal model Iska 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.[21]

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.


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.[22]


  1. ^ Dalessandro, Alysse. "15 Influencers Define Body Positivity". Bustle. Retrieved 2018-05-08. 
  2. ^ Bustle (2015-11-18), What Is The Body Positive Movement?, retrieved 2018-05-08 
  3. ^ a b Dalessanda, Alysse. "15 Definitions of Body Positivity Straight From Influencers & Activisits". Bustle. 
  4. ^ "A Short History of 'Body Positivity'". 
  5. ^ Ospina, Marie Southard. "11 Influencers Discuss the Differences Between Body Positivity and Fat Acceptance". Bustle. 
  6. ^ Woolf, Emma (August 5, 2013). "Why is skinny-shaming OK, if fat-shaming is not?". The Guardian. 
  7. ^ a b Bansal, Nimisha. "Why Skinny Shaming is Just as Bad as Fat Shaming". She the People. 
  8. ^ a b c "History of Body Positivity". Passion Blog. February 26, 2018. 
  9. ^ a b c "Tightlacing". Wikipedia. 
  10. ^ a b c Kight, Dagny (July 1, 2014). "Uncovering the History of Fat Acceptance: Lew Louderback's 1967 Article". Powerful Hunger. 
  11. ^ a b Sobczak, Connie. "About The Body Positive". The Body Positive. 
  12. ^ a b c Krauss Whitborne, Susan (July 26, 2014). "10 Ways to Feel Better About How You Look". Psychology Today. 
  13. ^ Adams, KE (December 23, 2017). "Exploring the relationship between appearance-contingent self-worth and self-esteem: The roles of self-objectification and appearance anxiety". Body Image. NCBI. 23: 176–182. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2017.10.004. PMID 29055772. 
  14. ^ a b Oltuski, Romy (August 10, 2017). "Do Men Have a Place in the Body Positivity Movement? Because They Want In". InStyle. 
  15. ^ Lee Yang, Eugene (March 19, 2015). "Men's Standards of Beauty Around the World". Buzzfeed. 
  16. ^ Striegal-Moore, Ruth (July 1, 2010). "Gender Difference in the Prevalence of Eating Disorder Symptoms". International Journal of Eating Disorders. 42 (5): 471–474. doi:10.1002/eat.20625. PMC 2696560Freely accessible. 
  17. ^ Schuster, Sarah (March 1, 2018). "7 Badass Men Making it OK for Guys to be Body Positive". The Mighty. 
  18. ^ "AerieReal". American Eagle. 
  19. ^ a b "Our Mission". Dove. 
  20. ^ Goodyear, Samantha (May 1, 2014). "The Power of Social Media". The Huffington Post. 
  21. ^ Dallessandro, Alyssa (April 30, 2015). "11 Empowering Body Positive Hashtags That Inspire Us to Love Our Bodies and Everyone Elses Too". Bustle. 
  22. ^ Muttarak, Raya (22 June 2018). "Normalization of Plus Size and the Danger of Unseen Overweight and Obesity in England". Obesity. 26 (7): 1125–1129. doi:10.1002/oby.22204. ISSN 1930-7381. Retrieved 28 June 2018.