If, like me, you spend a lot of time on Instagram, then I’m sure you’ve come across various pages dedicated to empowering women complete with photos of bikini-clad women proudly proclaiming their weight/height/body measurements in the caption and hundreds of comments reassuring them that they are indeed perfect as they are.
While I admire the efforts of these individuals in trying to dismantle patriarchal notions of bodily perfection, it would be superficial to deny the negative effects of such movements.
The main area of concern for me is that as opposed to reinforcing the idea that our self-worth as women should not be attached to our looks, the body positivity movement instead simply expands the range of acceptable body types. Through popular media and societal interactions, the image of the ‘ideal female body’ is constantly reproduced as white, able-bodied, lean and unassuming.
Anyone who does not fit into this very narrow construction of ‘beauty’ is made to believe that they are to change how they look in order to be considered worthy within society. Therefore, what we need as women is a movement which aims to destroy the link between our societal worth and our physicality and not one which panders to such a notion.
Instead, the body positivity movement creates a sort of microsociety in which women are made to believe that they should feel confident because everyone else within that society approves of their bodies. In this sense, the rules which govern society at large are the same ones which then govern such microsocieties and the idea of empowerment ultimately rests on outside approval of that individual’s body. If such acceptance can be given, then surely it can be taken away and this is where the problem lies.
Women begin to conflate the feeling of being accepted by others with actual self-acceptance and thereby are put in a position where their bodies can be the subject of communal approval or disapproval.
Furthermore, the body positivity movement in itself is not as accepting and wide-ranging as we are made to believe. For instance, most of the social media sites dedicated to showcasing ‘different body types’ and being ‘all encompassing’ tend to share the same images of well-proportioned white women who are conventionally beautiful, who have smooth skin, bellies that are soft but not protruding and are able-bodied. Even when these women are ‘fat’, they are always the right kind of fat.
Where are the women with skin disorders?
Where are the women with stretchmarks?
Where are the dark-skinned women who have to deal with societal rejection of not only their bodies but also their race?
Where are the women with big bellies, big arms and small boobs?
Where are the women who are made to feel unworthy because they’re considered to be ‘too skinny’?
Where are the non able-bodied women?
The harmful message that if you love your body, you’ll have peace is co-opted by companies who use empowerment rhetoric as a marketing strategy. One such case is the Dove Real Beauty campaign which aims to “celebrate the natural physical variation embodied by all women and inspire them to have the confidence to be comfortable with themselves.”
As wonderful as this message sounds, it is highly flawed in many ways as it objectifies women and maintains that women must fixate upon their bodies in order to feel beautiful. This message becomes even more superficial when one considers that the parent company of Dove, Unilever, is also responsible for the highly misogynist and provocative Lynx adverts which have surfaced in the past few years.
Therefore, it is clear that celebrating ‘real beauty’ is by no means the aim or ethos of the organisation as a whole and that they are instead preying on women’s socially manufactured insecurities in order to gain profit. What Dove is essentially saying is that beautiful women use their products and that having a shelf full of Dove products is a testament to how confident you are in your ‘real body’.
The first step to being ‘confident’ (whatever that means) is to realise that your body is here to be your home and that it doesn’t need to fit into any mould in order to do that.