Body Positivity has had its ups and downs lately! There are so many differing opinions on the role and usefulness of movements like this one. Some say it’s been co-opted by big business; others think it focuses too much on appearance, and some don’t identify with it because they cannot imagine ever being at peace with the way they look.
You may agree that we need to normalize real bodies to combat negative body image; however, you also may struggle with the idea that female beauty is still seen as a priority in campaigns for body positivity. Here are my step by step thoughts on this debate and how we could make progress.
Step 1: Normalize Real Bodies
We cannot get from A to Z without taking steps in the right direction. No matter what you say or do, you will never please everyone, but that shouldn’t mean that we do nothing. We have an opportunity right now to change the way women feel. If we change the standard, the ideal image of what a woman should look like, we can begin to normalize real bodies. How do we do this? By demanding that industries, who profit off of insecurity, start advertising responsibly. What could this look like? Well, for starters, we could put up label warnings for digitally altered images as they did in France and maybe at some point, we could ban digitally altering bodies altogether. Advertisers could use women of all shapes and sizes, and we could finally begin to see consistent, real diversity in the media. This has to be mandated because the diet and beauty industry is not going to do this willingly. Marketing products to insecure women is simply far too profitable for them!
Step 2: Real Beauty is Not Vain
Women are controlled by being taught that they are not beautiful enough and, simultaneously, not good enough. Living life as a woman is to live in constant contradiction. Be this, but not too much. Be that, but not too little. Society tells women that they are to be beautiful objects of desire, but when we see them checking themselves in the mirror, primping and taking selfies, we think of them as vain. We pit women against each other because we’re taught that our life’s purpose is to be beautiful, and it’s a big competition without any winners. The tall, skinny blonde hates herself just as much as the short, fat brunette. If we all saw a representation of ourselves in the media, wouldn’t we feel more beautiful? If women start to see proper representations of who they are in the media, wouldn’t they begin to feel less ashamed of who they are? If there is a version of all of us somewhere used to promote something, wouldn’t there be a better chance that we would actually like the way we look?
Step 3: Desensitize Real Beauty
If we start to see more representations of women in the media, our society will begin to become desensitized to different versions of real beauty. The more we see those bodies, the more our fears around those bodies will start to diminish. We will become used to real bodies, diverse characteristics, and normal features like stretch marks, scars, and fatness will be pleasing to our eyes, or rather our minds. Beauty won’t mean just one thing. That’s not to say that we won’t find certain people more attractive than others; it just means that an unrealistic representation of beauty won’t impact the development of our desires. Would our choice of attraction become less based on appearance and more on the other factors like smell, proximity, similarity, and time spent with each other?
Step 4: Embracing Real and Challenging the Sexualization of Women
Redefining beauty could be beneficial to women’s mental health, but women still would be viewed as sexual objects. This is, in fact, one of the arguments against body positivity. Women’s bodies have been long commodified and sexualized, both in the media and in all the other social institutions. When women are objectified, they are valued only for their sexual appeal, as if their sole purpose is for others’ sexual use. Right now, we live in a society that continues to sexualizes women and use gender identity to persecute them on many different levels. Female sexuality is shocking; the control of women’s bodies by men is not. When women have autonomy over their bodies, the viewer has less or no power over them. When female artists and activists create art depicting female sexuality, they tell the world that women are sexual and beautiful, but they do not sexualize them. Female sexuality is just a small part of who women are. The part of them that embraces their attractions, feelings, and behavior towards other people. It is deeply personal, and it is shaped by both your experiences and cultural standards. We need to normalize not only diverse, real beauty, but also sexual autonomy. Dr. Aubrey Daniels said, “We change the culture if we change the behavior.” If we change the behavior or the actions of industries (by way of laws and guidelines), we CAN change the culture.
There is no easy path to get to where we need to be, but I have hope and ambition that the future looks a lot different for women than it does now. It might sound implausible, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. Just look at how far women have come and tell me that we can’t one day imagine a world where our daughters are happy with the way they look, and it’s the least important part of who they are. That is my dream!