Talking about body image can be difficult. Oftentimes, people’s relationships with food and exercise often factor into how they view themselves.
In recent years, we've seen the rise of what is known as "the body positivity movement," whose main purpose centers around addressing unrealistic body standards, promoting self-acceptance and learning self-love.
This movement is transformative and necessary in many ways, especially when you consider the colorist, fatphobic and superficial biases that led to a particular body type being the ideal in the first place.
In the historical context, the body positivity movement is actually a convergence of the fat acceptance movement, which was pioneered in the 1960s by Black and queer women, and the modern fat positivity initiative, which was created in response to mainstream fat shaming.
But, body positivity, as we know it today, is actually a commercial self-esteem movement.
“All bodies are beautiful,” the movement asserts. And in a society that forces people into a mold, this idea is seen as radical.
But the problems arise when we factor social media into the picture. Social media in particular is a driver of “toxic positivity,” which is when people hyper-fixate on the "positive aspects" of life as a way of coping with reality.
Although this ideology is often tied to the body positivity movement, many fail to realize that doing so ignores the complexities of body image and mental health.
So, while choosing to look on the bright side can be beneficial, ignoring negative emotions has the potential to make people guilty for not feeling good about themselves and, thus, worsening how they feel about themselves.
What we need to realize is that it’s more than okay to acknowledge insecurities and not be confident all the time. You don’t have to constantly be positive in order to accept yourself. After all, trying to do so can use up a lot of energy.
A YouTube video I watched recently by creator Tee Noir has pushed me to think about the difference between body positivity and self-acceptance.
During the video, she plays a TikTok by a creator named Alice (@pondpajamas) who presents the idea that while the body positivity movement claims that all bodies are beautiful, this actually isn't true — rather, all bodies are valid.
Alice goes on to say that there shouldn't be any emphasis placed on beauty in order for someone to feel worthy. Claiming that all bodies are beautiful, she states, does nothing to dismantle the toxic beauty standards the movement aims to fight against and actually places more of an emphasis on beauty itself.
Toward the end, she says the terms "ugly" and "beautiful" should be considered neutral. This is why she subscribes to radical self-acceptance since she accepts herself regardless of what she looks like.
If I'm being honest, I needed a solid minute to take that in. Tee Noir’s analysis really helped me frame my own thoughts. She explains that phrases like “all bodies are beautiful,” while they seem progressive actually just further empower the hierarchy of beauty.
In a Vox article, "Body Positivity Is a Scam," the writer further elaborates on this point: “There is no inherent unhappiness to womanhood, or to fatness, or to blackness or to anything else that American beauty standards have long treated as a problem. The conditions under which we loathe ourselves are socially constructed, but in practical terms, they’re very real.”
In simpler terms: Instead of trying to transform ourselves or glow up enough to fit into the societal expectations of what beauty is, disassembling this ideal altogether and refusing its perpetuation is actually what's radical. Therefore, accepting yourself, regardless of how you appear, seems to be the way to achieve this goal.
Radical self-acceptance isn’t something that I think I can come to terms with overnight. Like most important things, it will take work and time. And I personally still think it’s okay to draw power from feeling and/or looking beautiful. Let's not forget, things like "pretty privilege" aren't mythical: In our society, there are many tangible benefits from being considered conventionally attractive.
Getting rid of beauty standards together has the potential to ameliorate all of our lives significantly. But I don’t think either of these things — wanting to disassemble beauty standards and wanting to draw power from beauty — have to exist in a vacuum.
I think it’s perfectly alright to work toward radical self-acceptance while also still wanting to feel conventionally "beautiful" because how we choose to define what is self-acceptance, ultimately, comes down to us.