I enjoy observing social media, because it depicts social trends and movements very well. Recently, I have observed the Body Positive Movement, which triumphs thanks to models like Ashley Graham, Iskra Lawrence and Chrissy Teigen who show their cellulite, stretch marks and unretouched pictures. You see, it is rather a female issue connected to the wish for more empowerment. These women ask for more acceptance of natural “flaws” and the representation of a greater variety of women of all ages, skin colours, sizes, etc.
While I do believe that this is a crucial message to many people who are suffering from bullying, a low self-esteem and self-acceptance, that it is important to appreciate yourself the way you are, the whole body positive movement for curvy, muscular, tall, short, skinny, spotty, old, black, white, Asian or handicapped women in the end boils down to the self-centred and self-righteous logic: you gotta be pretty as a woman, because pretty is the highest value you can score. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t intend to play down the risks of bullying, lacking acceptance and self-confidence like anorexia or depression, but the entire focus on being attractive feeds self-doubt and concerns about the own image. What “attractive” means in the end is a matter of personal preferences and cultural influence.
What bugs me the most isn’t the effort many people put in improving acceptance (again, I think this is a helpful development), but that it actually ends with this point and this is being labelled successful feminism. The claims are often similar to the phrase “All bodies are beautiful” and women are taught to feel sexy and comfortable due to their appearance, instead of any personal trait they have. Frankly, by criticising the mainstream media to be shallow, yet more superficiality is created by repeating the pattern on another model – yes, you are beautiful, be proud of that quality. We are still circulating around beauty the whole time, perpetuating the value of the outer appearance.
Challenge time and the environment instead your wrinkles and weight
I see two difficulties with the mantra of beauty: first of all, beauty changes. There are many reasons to this – pregnancy, change of lifestyle, change of metabolism, age. At least the effects of time are inevitable. If your entire self-confidence is built upon the notion that you are beautiful, wouldn’t it be necessary to deal with yourself with every wrinkle and every stretchmark appearing and renegotioate the image of yourself? You won’t have the same body and face in your 50s, which you have in your 20s – is your self-confidence then about to collapse because you had grown to accept a particular image of yourself, which, as a matter of fact, isn’t timeless? Dealing constantly with your self-acceptance is exhausting and it consumes far too much time and energy. In my point of view, this can be avoided – which leads me to the second challenge I see:
Body positive doesn’t equal personality positive. This is my biggest issue with the body positive image. The premise is that as long as you accept yourself as pretty, you’ll be fine, you’ll be a fully respected member of this society as if reaching an overall top score on the f*ckability scale was the only thing that matters. But seriously – what kind of empowerment is that? Many body positive activists are so focussed on the appearance that they completely forget to plant a seed where it is needed the most: respect for the actual qualities of a woman. Imagine how much more potential could be unleashed! I would like to see the activist say something in the sense of: “Yes, accepting and loving yourself is important, but it’s only the first step – you can be creative, determined, ambitious, entrepreneurial, engaged into any topic you like and actually contribute to the improvement of your environment by your actions.”
I hardly see this happening. What I see is people being self-centred, justifying their weight or size to others, although your size is only your personal business, and – I know it’s hard to admit that – attempting to be desirable for potential partners. Perhaps the accumulation of hashtags like #BodyPositive on Instagram and Twitter might change the perception of some people, but instead of posting selfies, this great mass of people could do something which is useful for society or at least their environment. Becoming involved in sustainability projects for instance, or creating art, building a career in politics, opening an own business, teach, support legal rights – if they were only as many personality positive people as body positive ones. The only sector gaining from this new confidence is actually the fashion and beauty industry. And Instagram.
Of course, the looks will always play a role – it is proven that attractive people face less hurdles in many areas of everyday life, but this isn’t the things which activists should foster by repeating the importance of looking cute if the goal is to achieve more fairness and equality. Wouldn’t you start staring at men’s foreheads if they launched a big social media campaign for the acceptance of gradually receding hairlines – something like #SexyBeyondHair?
Women in 2016 – which share do we want to hold?
I wonder if there are really so many women who want to be remembered after they leave this world with the words “she was so beautiful” instead of “she was so sharp/ brilliant/ dedicated/ loving/ caring/ strong/ funny”. If so many women continue to define their worth by their looks – and in the end this is what body positive image tells you: “you are attractive although you don’t look like a model” – they won’t bother to fight injustice where it is needed, for instance by promoting extended child care to avoid the long-term wage gap.
Face it: attractiveness isn’t a long-term solution to anything. If you attract a guy only with your looks, he will replace you once you start to age or gain weight. If you benefitted in your job only from your good looks, the bonuses will end in your late 30s unless you have actual qualities. If wanted to end sexism, it won’t happen by taking seductive pictures of yourself on social media. Yes, you need a strong self-confidence to survive all the criticism (and yes, everyone single person on this planet is challenged by criticism), but by focussing so desperately on your looks, you will perhaps be a member of the pretty girls club, but nothing more. Is that the greatest accomplishment one can achieve? I’m not sure. So let’s add #PersonalityPositive to #BodyPositive.