Most people have likely heard the term “body positivity,” a term that has become more well-known due largely in part to social media. But, the concept of body positivity and acceptance is not new. In fact, it can be traced back as far as 1969. That year, the term “body positive” emerged when a psychotherapist and an individual who had been through treatment for an eating disorder founded the website thebodypositive.org. The site offers resources and educational materials designed to help people feel good about their bodies by taking the focus off of losing weight through unhealthy diet and exercise efforts. Around the same time, people started to rally around the idea of “fat acceptance,” driven by new stories that shed light on negative experiences many overweight people have on a daily basis and that it needed to change. Since then, the term “body positive” and the surrounding movement have morphed, evolving to generally promote loving all bodies.
We say generally, because the movement has changed in a variety of ways, with people that support it highlighting different facets of what “body positivity” means. Some definitions that we found include:
- Appreciating your body in spite of flaws
- Feeling confident about your body
- Loving yourself
- Accepting your body’s shape and size
What is body image?
Having a healthy outlook on your body image is essential in supporting your own mental health, relationships with food and exercise, and personal development. All are important factors that must be addressed in order to maintain overall wellness. But, what is body image? We explored body image through the ages before; here is a more in-depth look at the whole of body image:
One source shares that the four aspects of body image are:
The way you see yourself (Perceptual)
The way you see your body is not always a correct representation of what you actually look like. For example, a person may perceive themselves to be fat when in reality they are underweight. How a person sees themselves is their perceptual body image.
The way you feel about the way you look (Affective)
There are things a person may like or dislike about the way they look. Your feelings about your body, especially the amount of satisfaction or dissatisfaction you experience in relation to your appearance, weight, shape and body parts is your affective body image.
The thoughts and beliefs you feel about your body (Cognitive)
Some people believe that they will feel better about themselves if they are thinner. Others believe they will look better if they develop more muscle. The way you think about your body is your cognitive body image.
The things you do in relation to the way you look (Behavioral)
When a person is dissatisfied with the way they look, they may employ destructive behaviors such as excessive exercising or disordered eating as a means to change appearance. Some people may isolate themselves because they feel bad about the way they look. Behaviors in which you engage as a result of your body image encompasses your behavioral body image.
When you consider these four aspects, having an unhealthy body image can significantly impact your day-to-day life, physical, and mental health. Unhealthy body image affects self esteem, self-acceptance, and impacts outlook and behaviors.
Social media that supports body positivity
Although social media and the internet clearly play a role in people developing negative self-image and of normalizing unhealthy body images, habits, and products, social media also has the potential to play a supportive role in people developing a healthy body image.
These Instagram influencers focus the unrealistic expectations that run rampant in today’s society. They all address the topic differently- some speak to the fact that some people in the spotlight have access to services and products not widely available to the “everyday” person. most importantly, they highlight that the individuals that use those products/services don’t always own up to having used them to achieve their look. What you see isn’t always the reality. Whether that be plastic surgery, a trainer, makeup artists, personal chefs, how people pose in images (it’s all about those angles!), weight-loss products, and so on- there is an ocean of tools that are used to create the image of perfection.
Other body-positive influencers attack the topic from the point of supporting the affective and cognitive portions of body-image. They share positive quotes, information, and resources that can help people understand that supposed body “flaws,” are not so. Changing the narrative is important when engaging in social media- if you know that certain instagram accounts trigger feelings of low self esteem or cause you to engage in unhealthy behaviors, stop following their accounts. Curate your social media feeds to support you in all ways; find topics that interest you, accounts that bring levity to your life, learn new things from reliable resources, and support your body’s well-being. The internet can be just as positive as it is negative, but users do play a role in actively removing themselves from content that they know to be destructive to their well-being.
Here are a few Instagram accounts that we found especially uplifting and supportive of healthy bodies and #bodypositivity.
Anna Sweeney MS, RD, LDN, CEDRD-S
Anna Sweeney is a IAEDP (The International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals certified eating disorder registered dietician. What we love about her account is that it highlights that the body positive movement isn’t just about weight, it is about overall body acceptance that includes weight, skin color, shape, age,gender, physical disabilities, and so many other factors. After all, our bodies are all different, so the topic of bodies should ultimately be an umbrella to hold all our “Earth Suits,” as Anna refers to the human body.
A career in magazines gave Danae Mercer an insight into how many tricks and tools are used to create the supposed “ideal image”. Her account shares these insights in an effort for people to understand that what they see on social media and in printed press, isn’t a casual photo, but the result of angles, filters, clothing placement, lighting, makeup, and so much more. Her posts often have a light-hearted feel to them, always with the underlying message that our bodies are normal- what we see on social media and in the press is not!
Self proclaimed 50% Buddha 50% Beyonce, Neha’s account focuses on #fashionbeyondfigure. She shares great fashion advice, highlights brands that cater to a wide array of sizes, and also includes plenty of body positive quotes and supportive info to consider.
Having lost 85 pounds over 6 years, Brittney Vest shares information about her journey and approaches it from a point of view that it is a journey- and she has every intent of appreciating her body and taking care of it. Brittney shares lifestyle tips that have helped her along her weight loss journey, but that isn’t the focus of her account, but just a portion of what she shares.
Kadeeja Sel Khan
Most of us have likely experienced dips in self-esteem due to our skin. Skin texture, color, body hair, and acne are often overlooked when considering body image, but all can play a large role in how a person feels about themselves. Founder of Live Tinted, a multicultural community and beauty brand, Deepica Mutyala has contributed significantly in creating a space to celebrate all skin tones. Being an entrepreneur as well as an influencer on Instagram and YouTube, Mutyala created products that directly stemmed from the needs of the Live Tinted community—serving to also alter the way people of color look at themselves.
Corporate America plays a role in body positivity
Corporate America is largely responsible for laying the groundwork of an unattainable beauty standard. Responding to the calls for body positive ad campaigns and normalizing the everyday, normal body, several large companies have moved to being more inclusive and using “real” people in their campaigns.
Dove, largely known for their skin products, was one of the first companies to embrace “real” people in their ads, and has most recently taken on The Self Esteem Project, helping young people overcome body image issues and fulfill their potential by building positive body confidence and self-esteem.
Clothing retailers, like Target, are making great efforts to practice what they preach and include people of all shapes, sizes, ages, also including people with disabilities, not only in their printed and TV ads, but also in their in-store displays and mannequins. Some retailers have expanded their size offering. Others now sell clothing that accommodates a variety of health issues (called adaptive clothing), that make it easier for people to take on the every day task of getting dressed. Easier closures, wheelchair suitable, access to ports, and other adjustments to clothing can now be more readily found without requiring custom clothing.
Many brands, including CVS, Dove, Olay, and Fenty have all pledged to not retouch images to remove body hair, adjust skin color, texture, acne, scars, and other real life characteristics that we all have, in an effort to support the body positive movement and normalize, well, being normal.
Despite it all being a step in the right direction, there is a long way to go in the portrayal of the human body being more closely mirroring the spectrum of people that live in our world. Until we reach a place that body positive social media posts, ad campaigns, magazine prints, and other sources are a routine part of our lives, there is still room for improving our relationship and interaction with the portrayal of the human body.