Body positivity was supposed to free us from the beauty myth. It failed.
I wish someone had told me two decades ago that I do not need to be positive about my body; that I do not need to transform self-hatred into self-love to be whole; and that I am already whole.
I'm here on this World Eating Disorder Action Day 2022 to tell the warriors, survivors, influencers, and marketing managers that it's time to stop with the body positivity talk.
For a very brief moment in the early 2000s, when Dove started showing us a range of "real beauty" body types and telling us to love the skin we're in, we were told to feel empowered by these images.
It was marketing lie.
Yes, a lie. A rouse. A scam. You see, if you hate your body, you will spend mad amounts of money trying to unhate it. This is great for marketers, but as feminists worked to flip the script of the beauty myth (ie., pushed for diversity in media representation of women), advertisers saw a new opportunity to get women to hate themselves even more, but with glitter this time.
As girls and women were actually gaining strides in real life, backlash occured. Instead of pursuing the narrow goal of looking like a photoshopped runway model, which was a goal so many could never attain and we were finally waking up to that fact, they gave us the illusion of empowered choice: You can love the skin you're in!
But also loving the skin you're in means treating it with products to prove you love the skin you're in, okay? Okay...
What's the problem with body positivity?
Body positivity is another rendition of the beauty myth.
You see, marketers discovered there is money to be made in telling women who were raised to hate their stomachs, thighs, breasts, hair, skin color, etc. that they should be deeply ashamed for feeling that way.
D E E P L Y A S H A M E D
How dare we be so hard on ourselves! Didn't we know any better? Hadn't we seen the campaigns?
Self-love and body positivity became just another way to shame women who weren't "there" yet. For those who grew up in this time, we were split between being told we should have washboard abs but not too many muscles, pushed into the thigh gap generation at the same time as seeing different body sizes in different roles on the big screen, and then we were told if we don't feel positive about our own body as it is right now, we must have more (expensive and endless) self-work to do.
Let's teach girls and women there is an ideal image of beauty but let's reframe that a bit so it's more inclusive to all girls and women (from white, upper class, pin-thin to love the skin you're in) . Sounds great. Instead of working to chisel away your flesh into the latest beauty myth mold, you were now suppose to transform the mindset into that of the latest campaign du jour.
Body positivity was supposed to be free us from the beauty myth. It failed.
Why? Because it is still based on some ideal way of being in your body, objectifying it, and presenting it in an ideal way. Do you ever notice how many body positive influencers are filtered af, doned in the latest and most expensive trends, wearing the latest trends of hair and makeup, and still fitting into this aesthetic (which has now been glamorized by social media to the detriment of us all)...
The message is that if you don't love your body in a world that now "allows" your body to be loved, you are doing the self-confidence, empowerment thing wrong. The problem is you. #selflove
But they can help, right? The marketers add slightly more diverse images that do little more than virtue signal to those groups, including persons with disabilities, that you better be beaming light from those skin pores- that people who truly love themselves celebrate their bodies (cellulite, wrinkles, rolls, and all). While I am ALL FOR accepting these aspects of our bodies, I do not ascribe to the myth I must love my cellulite or be positive about body parts in order to feel empowered in my own life.
For the Eating Disorder Community
Many ED warriors and survivors also deal with self-harming, suicidal ideation, and body dysmorphia. Chronic pain is another interesting overlap. Trying to go from these dark states to a place of positivity is like taking a leap across an ocean of internalized stigma, shame, and legit psychiatric disorder. So many of us start drowning along the way, feeling like we are the problem.
When we fall short, ie., when we do not feel positive about the body we live in, it feels like another way we are not measuring up to society's expectations. It feels like another reason to buy products we don't need to signal how healed, how whole, how empowered we are.
This body is just what I exist in. It has been bigger, it has been smaller, it has been younger and it is getting older. As it changes, I wish for myself and for all others who have grappled with their own minds to see their body as a neutral space. Neutrality breeds acceptance and this has done more for my level of self-love than anything else.
It is okay if you don't love your body (ESPECIALLY DURING ACTIVE RECOVERY). The goal should be to stop the war with yourself, end of.
It is okay if you don't feel comfortable showing certain parts of your flesh. You do not owe anyone body positivity to prove recovery.
It is okay if you don't want to celebrate a body you're still learning to inhabit.
It is okay to turn off the drive to fit into this Instagram aesthetic of what body positivity looks like.
Body neutrality says, "I accept you as you are." No judging, no fixing, no flaunting, no celebrating, just are. THIS IS A MASSIVE ACCOMPLISHMENT. YOU DO NOT NEED TO PUSH FURTHER. Nothing to prove to yourself or others. Nothing to hide or to show. Body neutrality wants you to the stop the internal war between negative and positive and just be.
What a terrifying thought for marketers.
If you want to know more about my eating disorder recovery story, you can read all about it in Ana, Mia & Me: An Eating Disorder Recovery Memoir. I wrote it at 17 and during active recovery and then added some recovery notes for preventing relapse. You can find it here on Amazon.