America is obsessed with beauty, albeit a narrow definition of. It is no secret that we live surrounded by photoshopped images of famous stars, and television ads that promote the “next great diet!!!” Social media has made it that much easier to expose ourselves to these images and thin-ideal culture, and can lead to hours spent in the impossible to win comparison game.
This is where the body positivity movement comes in. In the last several years, campaigns such as Dove’s Real Beauty campaign or Aerie’s decision not to alter their models’ bodies have madeattempts to begin to change the culture of comparison, and to spread the idea that we are all beautiful the way we are. That we don’t need the photoshopping and airbrushing and leg stretching and waist narrowing that goes into so many of the photographs that we see. Instagram has also seen the rise of body positive models, larger bodied models who share inspirational posts about flaunting your body, no matter what its size.
I fully support these initiatives, and believe that the work they are doing to change beauty standards and ideals are fantastic. But I think it could also be worthwhile to take a step back, and consider what is inherently wrong with this movement as a whole. This movement may seem like a counter-revolution to the pervasive diet industry and messages that we are bombarded with on a daily basis, but, at the core, the message is the same:
Our bodies define our worth, whether in a positive or negative way, and thus should be a focus of our time and energy. Whether hating on or loving our bodies, the body is still placed on a pedestal.
When someone passes away, no one stands up at their funeral and says “Wow, Aunt Gertrude had such an amazing body. That’s what I’m going to remember her for the most.” We celebratethe individual’s accomplishments: their kindness, generosity, patience, humor, and a variety of other traits that made them who they are. Bodies are temporary, ever changing and adapting to the season of life we are in. A woman’s body is supposed to change as she gets ready to have a child, just as the practicality of a man maintaining his athletic high-school body is limited when faced with the demands of life. And yet the body is always emphasized as an indicator of our value. If we are placing our value into something so temporary, what happens when our body begins to change? Does our worth change along with it? What happens when your body changes in a way that is deemed negative by the beauty standards society sets? Then does your worth as a person diminish with that? What if you fit the standard? Then does this mean you are a better, more successful person than another who wears two sizes larger? I would argue not.
Both men and women struggle with body image issues, but many of the campaigns are geared towards women, as women have historically been expected to care about their appearance more so than men.
The body positivity movement perpetuates the idea that a woman’s body in particular determines her worth. As the body positivity movement emphasizes all the ways women can love their bodies, it takes away the emphasis on the accomplishments that women all over the world are achieving. Why should women feel like they have to focus on their body at all? For all the moments spent either hating our bodies or loving our bodies, think of all the time that could be spent celebrating the ways that we as women contribute to society. Our intelligence, creativity, insightfulness, and all the other traits that allow us to make a difference in this world are lost when the body is the focus of our time and energy.
All this said, I am not trying to diminish the force of change that companies such as Dove can be. I am certainly not walking around telling people it’s okay to hate their bodies. Bodies are wonderful things. They let us do so much, from running a marathon to driving a car to work everyday. They let us interact with others and provide a holding place for the tangible and intangible things that make us human. At the end of the day, they don’t define our contributions to society or our value as a person.
So what if instead of either hating our bodies or over-glorifying them, we took a neutral stance? Began to appreciate them for how they let us do all the things we love, without tying them to our value as a person. What if we stopped making them such a priority, whether that focus is positive or negative? What if we just viewed them as a holding place or container for our thoughts, feelings, and ideas? As Damian Marley once said, “the body is just a vehicle, transporting the soul.” This vehicle should be respected and listened to, nourished with some vegetables every now and then, and allowed to recover through sleep and relaxation.
Just as your car is a neutral vehicle to get you from one place to another, your body is ultimately just a vehicle to get you through life. It’s the “passengers” in the car, your ability to love, and feel, and plan, and dream, that matter.
The great paradox is that to change the beauty ideals that lead to the comparison and poor body image seen in so many men and women, there still needs to be ome ovement. But what if, one by one, clothing companies just began including different body types and sizes in their ads, without drawing attention to these shifts? Drawing attention to changes like these suggests that it’s not normal to allow a size ten be modeled next to a size two, and have both be accepted. But when these changes happen naturally and seemingly overnight, it creates a culture where this is not something to be discouraged or celebrated, but just simply a fact.
When we begin to place our value in who we truly are, rather than in our bodies, it allows us to dedicate ourselves to our passions and connections.
When we do that, what we look like matters less than what we do. And at the end of the day, what we with the body we were given is where our true beauty lies.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Etta Eckerstrom
Etta resides in Nashville, TN. Etta is earning a degree in psychology and public health from Vanderbilt University. She hopes to one day become a psychiatric nurse practitioner, and work with people with eating disorders.
Etta is excited to intern with Project HEAL as a treatment assistance program intern because she can help have a direct impact on people who are struggling. She is passionate about empowering others, body positivity, and mental health awareness.
Etta's favorite ice cream favorite flavor is chocolate.