The body positivity movement, which promotes loving our bodies no matter their size or shape, was born out of a reaction to our society’s incredibly damaging beauty standards.
This movement has been extremely important in challenging these social constructs which encourage us to spend our lives shrinking ourselves, forever trying to lose “just those last few pounds” in time for summer. However, despite all its best efforts, I believe that there is an aspect of the movement which ultimately does more harm than good.
Much of the media I consume surrounding body positivity encourages me to love my body by standing in front of the mirror and looking at the parts of myself which societal beauty standards have deemed undesirable. This has not made me love myself more, but rather leads me to fixate further on my body. Paradoxically, it continues to feed into the media’s obsession over our bodies and inadvertently conforms to the idea that our physical appearance is our sole determinant of self-worth.
In order to actually accept ourselves and our insecurities, we must take our bodies out of the equation entirely.
In removing the focus from our appearance, body neutrality moves away from the idea that beauty is the only inherent value of our body. I feel as though I have a healthier relationship with food and body image when the focus is on why what I am eating and how the exercise I am doing is out of love for myself. Rather, focusing on my physical and mental well-being has been much more impactful in boosting self-confidence, not because I always try to view my body positively, but because I don’t try to view it as either good or bad at all. Prioritising healthy routines and habits, as well as how I talk to myself, has been much more conducive to fostering an environment of love and respect than looking in the mirror ever did. With time, I have begun to realise that true physical and mental health really is mutually exclusive from the appearance of my body.
‘Loving’ your body is all well and good, but I believe there’s a danger to its superficiality, a cursory solution to the real issue. Do you really love your body if your daily habits do not align with the narrative you’re telling yourself?
I love my dog endlessly and do not shy away from telling him as much. However, if I were to remind him constantly of how much I loved him, but then not take him for walks, and only feed him chocolate cake, my actions would not align with this supposed love. If these affirmations of love do not reflect themselves in action, the effects of poor nutrition can easily manifest themselves in loss of sleep and energy levels which, over time, develop into more severe physical and mental illnesses.
Aside from the more obvious physical effects, a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health has found that nutrition is a crucial factor in the onset, as well as the severity and duration of, mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
Choices made solely in the name of self-love could pose a serious threat to our long-term health.
I do not wish to overlook the fact that the purchase of nutrient-dense foods isn’t always economically viable; the sad reality is that the cost of higher-quality produce can prevent people from being able to nourish their bodies as they would like. However, if you are privileged enough to be able to afford high-quality, nutrient-dense foods, as well as being able to assign time in your day to exercise – as someone who respects themselves and their bodies, why wouldn’t you?
Caring for our bodies means treating them with kindness and respect. Remember that friend’s toxic ex-boyfriend, a master in the art of love-bombing, who would always tell them how beautiful they were, but never aligned their actions with these affirmations of love? In the same way that you didn’t want your friend to settle for a superficial love, why would you want that for yourself? Don’t be the toxic ex-boyfriend.
In all honesty, I think it will take me a long time to fully believe that my body is the least interesting thing about me, that all of my value comes from who I am, and not what I look like.
What I am sure of is that I neither love nor hate my body – a fact that I am at peace with.