Body positivity, as a concept, has been around for some time. Humans are arguably happier when they like the body they’re in. But in more recent years, “body positivity” has become a movement, seeing a boost in popularity and recognition thanks to social media.
The history of the movement differs depending on who you ask, but the most common summary of the movement is one of self-love. Accepting and being kind to your body, no matter how it looks. That’s something we can all get behind, right? When I was a teenager, I had conflicting views about my body. I’ve always been overweight, or pudgy, or chubby, or fat, or whatever word was en vogue at the time. Even in early adulthood, I still felt conflicted, because I never really hated my appearance, but at the same time, I had a feeling I should. It feels ridiculous typing it out, but I felt like there was something wrong with me for not hating my extra weight. It didn’t help that many of my friends and peers had opinions they didn’t hesitate to vocalize, too. So often they would suggest things like, “You’d be so much happier if you shed some pounds.” They would say it in a tone that I knew was not meant to be insulting, but I still found it hard to explain to them that my weight wasn’t what was making me unhappy. Rather, it was them insisting that it should.
Now that I’m older, I realize that their seemingly negative reactions to my self-confidence were not a judgment of me. The cold hard truth is that body positivity is not yet widely accepted. Many people still base the majority of their self-esteem on their appearance and feel as though there are right and wrong ways to appear. In a 2016 study, researchers found that men and women are almost equally self-conscious about their appearance and weight. Out of the 6,000 people surveyed, only 24 percent of the men and 20 percent of the women claimed to be “very to extremely satisfied” with their weight. “The study authors suggested our exposure to the media, as well as our individual levels of neuroticism, have an impact on our body confidence,” reports Huffington Post UK. Self-love is not based off what others think or feel about you, but instead how you feel about you. The good news is, body positivity is gradually making its way into the mainstream and encouraging people to stop doing some deceptively simple things, like obsessing over that dreaded weight scale and dieting. So, how is body positivity growing? Via the internet, of course. Social media is doing something crucial to the movement, it’s building a community of like-minded individuals to help spread the word. To dig further into how exactly the internet is affecting the movement, I spoke with Naomi Finkelstein who runs social media for The Body Positive, an organization dedicated to spreading body positivity awareness and educating the masses on what it means to be liberated from self-hatred. The way she puts it, body positivity means: “A way of living that gives you permission to love, care for, and take pleasure in your body throughout your entire life span.”
“A community was allowed to build. People started putting their lives on the internet, and speaking from their experiences, and posting pictures of themselves. People in greater numbers saw themselves and their thoughts being reflected. We live in a society that works so hard to try and be like the images we see,” she tells me. According to Finkelstein, community is essential to body positivity. In fact, The Body Positive lists community as one of the five core competencies in their “Be Body Positive Model”. Community is something I wish I had had when I was young and battling my feelings. Social media, while often feeding into the flurry of body image issues, has simultaneously created a space for people to connect who may not have a positive community at home. As more people are able to share their experiences of learning to love and respect their bodies, the movement is given more credibility as well as a stronger voice. For those who feel like they’re talking to a wall when trying to explain body positivity, this may be just what they need in order to tear that wall down. After all, why be against self-love? My goal, now, is to remain the way I am: healthy, without the guilt of eating the occasional donut, and happy, without being swayed by the opinions of others. Body positivity is different for everyone, and that’s what’s beautiful about it.
Body positivity is different for everyone, and that’s what’s beautiful about it.