What would you do and how would you spend your time if you stopped caring how your body looked?
I grew up in a culture where you could be criticized for anything- a culture that would urge you to eat sometimes out of respect, and other times shame you for weight fluctuation. Growing up, I saw clothing, fitness, and weight loss ads that would target women constantly and promote diet culture heavily, as opposed to loving and accepting our own bodies. As I began to gain weight and become an adult, it was common for women to compare themselves to others as the media does so exuberantly. If we weren’t fixated on beautiful, tall, and skinny girls, the only “bigger” girls the media would fixate on were “thick” women who had curves in the right places. I quickly realized I didn’t look like the fair skinned girls on tv as a minority, and I wasn’t a skinny size 0. (Most women aren’t!)
More commonly, I’ve heard and seen women complain about how their body looks and bond over self-depreciating comments rather than connecting over uplifting, encouraging narratives. The health and wellness industry has grown immensely within the past few years, and in my opinion, it’s been a manipulation tactic for many brands to monetize insecurities on women and force us into believing we are never “enough”.
After becoming a parent, I wanted to set a good example for my daughter. I constantly think about body image and promoting a healthy self image for her, and how fitness advertisements also reach our younger audiences, and how it affects them during early stages of development or puberty. I think it’s efficient to look at statistics and studies that involved teen girls and younger women and how their physical appearance is connected to their worth. I vowed to never talk about diets or dieting in front of her (I don’t diet anyway, so this makes it fairly simple.) Dieting, to a young child, implies that there’s something wrong with one’s body that needs to be altered. When she sees women around her who are already fit-looking and unhappy, it can cause her to grow up and feel the same way about her own body.
I never talk negatively about my body, and I don’t own a scale or weigh myself and show any type of dissatisfaction. She sees my rolls, and we smile and laugh about it. She gets nutritious meals, but knows she can indulge in desserts as well. I do not limit her food intake nor do I punish her by taking it away. I want her to have a happy, healthy relationship with her body and know that everybody deserves to be loved and is worthy at all times.
When I started social media, it wasn’t long before it turned into a highlight reel of everybody’s most photographic moments and best achievements. It’s not new, and it’s not Instagram’s fault- we’ve always filtered ourselves to perfection either online or in person to share the best sides of ourselves. In some cases, like job interviews and academic environments, it’s expected. A new wave of influencers began to tackle the fitness world and suddenly, leggings, abs, and toned muscles are all that filled my feed and explore page.
So much so, that sharing a photo that bore stretch marks or fat rolls would be so completely out of the norm. Some would applaud me for posting bikini photos after having a baby, telling me “Wow, and you’re so confident about it too!” As if somehow I should be hiding behind sweatpants or keeping those photos to myself.
This Insider article explains why it can be harmful to call somebody “brave” for posting their body on social media:
“You’re so brave!’ (much like ‘you’re so confident/inspiring!’) is code for ‘you’re so brave because you’re living in a body that I would never want to have, taking up space that’s not for you to claim,”
Isn’t it insane we live in a world where it’s deemed courageous to show off your body? It’s no wonder people hide behind filters, use photoshop and Facetune to alter their photos. Hey, I’ve done it too!!
A few of these cited articles are from a research paper I did for my Argumentation and Research course. My research question was: How do social media and advertisement narratives on fitness and weight loss impact women’s mental health and lead to body dysmorphia?
I wanted to look at both advertisement photos taken by the brand as well as social media posts taken by influencers and creators themselves. According to Deighton-Smith in “Objectifying fitness: A content and thematic analysis of #fitspiration images on social media”, the author shares:
“Given the ubiquity of #fitspiration on social media, concerns have been raised regarding its focus on themes of weight loss, high proportion of thin-idealizing imagery, and problematic dietary advice. Such themes previously found in more traditional media types (e.g., TV and magazines), have been linked to negative body image and disordered eating.”
I think it’s clear that my question was answered quite early on in the paper. Photos of one body type only can be very harmful to a wide range of women. Less than 5% of women have the Victoria’s Secret angel supermodel type, and it isn’t realistic at all. Even in their campaigns, they show only one body type- and there is no diversity in skin tone, either. The brands who attempt to be diverse still only stick to showing a skinny model and a plus-sized model. But when they choose a plus-sized model, she is conventionally beautiful with curves in the right places. This shows us that there are still good curves and bad curves. Acceptable ones, and not so acceptable ones.
When going through my postpartum phase at a young age of 19, I was targeted with advertisements and marketing strategies to help me “bounce back” into my pre-baby weight, as if my saggy skin, stretch marks- oh, and newborn baby weren’t enough to make me love my baby, the same body that housed and naturally fed an infant. Having a baby at 19 also makes you compare your body and lifestyle to that of others in your age group. It also forced me to mature as a woman and a mother. I realized that the time we collectively spent thinking about how our bodies look when we’re sitting, exercising, clothed and unclothed, and even during sexual intercourse, the more time we would enjoy actually living our lives. Some women feel as if their fashion style isn’t their true style, but are forced into it because of the lack of options and variety in their available sizing. Women also hold back due to fear during sex and other intimate activities because of the way their body looks.
There are some amazing body positive accounts, here are some of my favorites:
- Michelle Elman (@scarrednotscared)
- Jordan Daniels (@johodaniels)
- Jessica Demasi (@whollyhealed)
- Megan Crabbe (@bodyposipanda)
- Molly Margaret (@whatswrongwithmollymargaret)
- Dr. Jenn Hardy (@drjennhardy)
The media attempts to manipulate women any chance they get, and as a woman, it can be exhausting to be on the receiving end and hearing the constant nagging narrative that my body is not enough the way it is. Our breasts are too small, or too big, or have too much sag. Our butts aren’t curvy enough, bubbly enough, or they have stretch marks on them. Cellulite. Weight this, weight that. Calories this, macros that. Breast lift, butt implants, lip injections, oh my! It is as if the world is constantly screaming at us to change the way we look instantly, because natural isn’t beautiful. It can be tiring and painful, and leave us feeling inadequate.
I want this conversation to be discussed more openly and normalize all body types, not just one, or two. Complete body inclusivity.
It’s normal for your weight to fluctuate and it’s normal not to have a flat stomach. Women have uteruses that prevent our stomachs from naturally being flat, it’s how we are meant to be created.
During my paper, I interviewed one of my best friends Becca Rook and this was her stance on weight loss and why companies target women specifically:
“Ultimately, it’s all sexist and we live in a patriarchal society, so any way they can make money off of distracting women and convincing them they are not good enough is going to feed capitalism and feed into the patriarchy. There is so much emphasis that when you lose the weight, people will like you and you will be happier with your body. Whether its a mental goal or not, it instills the thought that “one day” I will be happy and it distracts women from living their full potential because the industry constantly wants more, rather than being concerned with our own self worth and power. Its never going to be enough even if you lose some weight- which is why eating disorders are a thing- if you ask most people who lost their weight, they will say it won’t make them happy the way they thought it would. Any intentional weight loss is not body positive. Learning and empowering yourself with nutrition and health is important.”
Even an unhealthy body is worthy, and we have no right to shove our own preconceived agendas down other people’s throats. It took me a few years to be confident in who I am, and that is ever changing, but I am a big advocate for women’s rights and standing up for the way women are treated. Our society and country was built and founded on patriarchal values, and it is important for me to fight for equal rights and the demand that women are treated the same as men, and see themselves as beautiful and worthy regardless of what they look like, who they are, or what choices they make for their body.
If we spent more time thinking about how we could be kinder and more respectful people to one another, and keep our assumptions at the door when applying it to other’s health and bodies, this world could be a much more beautiful and collaborative space for us all to grow and be interconnected with one another.
Fuck beauty standards and love that tummy of yours. You’re radiant.