By Janelle Polanco QC Dietetics Student
If you think back to the body types that you saw growing up on tv, in ads or in movies, then it may be hard to recall seeing great body diversity within these industries. For many years women's bodies have been objectified and distorted throughout the media, but these body and beauty centric ideals have come to affect men as well. These body and beauty centric ideals that are prevalent today have not only further contributed to the weight stigma that exists now, but has also affected our body image, our overall mental wellbeing and the prevalence of eating disorders (Body Image, 2018). Now, while some may be trying to shed light on these issues, the ways in which they are doing so might actually be furthering this problem by continuing to put the focus on our bodies and beauty. Social media is just one of the many outlets that have highly influenced body image and the body positivity movement. So in this blog I will be breaking down the meaning behind body image, body positivity and why the goal should be body neutrality.
Let's begin by talking about what body image is. Body image can be defined as the way we perceive our bodies in our minds or when looking in the mirror. It usually involves the beliefs you have surrounding your appearance, how you feel about your body or how you physically experience or feel in your body (Body Image, 2018). Many of us have grown up feeling that how others perceive us, determines whether or not we have a positive or negative body image. This is likely due to our bodies constantly being presented as something to be looked at and evaluated based on their level of beauty and desirability, and ultimately this has led to the normalization of self objectification.
With self objectification, you are monitoring your body from an outsider's perspective, which means you may be picturing what you look like to someone else all day (Loving Your Body 101, 2017). And because we live in a society that believes thinness is synonymous with health and beauty, this has left us constantly chasing after the idea that once we become our thinnest selves, only then can we be healthy, happy and worthy.
Today, social media has disguised itself as taking a different approach to body image, but let's take a closer look. The body positivity movement is now very frequently seen on social media. It usually involves something along the lines of expressing that all women are beautiful, we must love our bodies and our flaws, and sometimes by taking off our clothes to show that we are body positive. Although influencers online may have the best intentions when taking on these ideals, the true meaning behind the body positivity movement has gotten lost in translation (Kite & Kite, 2021). The original intent behind this movement was to encourage self acceptance, in spite of what you look like, while also striving for the inclusion of marginalized groups.
Now you may be thinking... “well what’s so wrong about the way it’s being presented to us now?” These may be nice, well-intended messages, however, they are still supporting body centric ideals and self objectification. The reason why is that by doing this on social media we are still defining ourselves by our bodies, while also more commonly focusing on one idea, being thin, fit and beautiful. Also, the most popular and highly recommended accounts tend to highlight these ideals, because this is still what leads to the most likes and success when building an online presence. The focus that is put on our bodies and our flaws, but demanding that we must also be positive about it, is actually a difficult thing and more often leads to comparison, guilt and shame (Cherry, 2020). Because this is unrealistic and still non-inclusive for most, the goal should be to see more than what we look like, and to believe your body is good regardless of how it looks.
We do not have to be positive about our bodies at all times and love everything about them, because what we look like does not define who we are as human beings. It is okay to feel neutral about your body and still appreciate what it can do for you. By shifting the focus to doing things that make you feel good in your body, instead of doing them solely to try and change what it looks like, is a form of practicing self care. In fact, studies have shown that those who feel ok about their bodies, no matter what they look like, are more likely to make health promoting behavior changes (Loving Your Body 101, 2017).
We have been falsely taught to believe that to practice self care, we must strive for weight loss, because that defines our health, but this is far from the truth. Self care is so much more than striving to change what our bodies look like, but it can actually mean taking care of our mental wellbeing (Cherry, 2020).
Overall, if you have ever experienced feelings of guilt or shame while scrolling through your social media when these ideals are presented to you, you are allowed to unfollow those accounts without having hate for that individual. We often do not realize how much social media could impact our mental well-being, but it is vital that we acknowledge this. So please follow accounts that you enjoy and make you feel great about yourself! Be kind to yourself and remember that you are a human being first, that is worthy and deserves respect no matter what you look like.
Body image. National Eating Disorders Association. (2018, February 22). Retrieved November 2021, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/body-image-0.
Cherry, K. (2020, February 25). Why body positivity is important. Verywell Mind. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-body-positivity-4773402.
Kite, L., & Kite, L. (2021). More than a body: Your body is an instrument, not an ornament. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Loving your body 101: The 3 questions of positive body image. More Than A Body. (2017, April 27). Retrieved November 2021, from https://www.morethanabody.org/loving-your-body-101/.