She was an ugly duckling at school, teased for being bigger than the others. She wasn’t huge, but kids are cruel. She wanted to model but agencies told her she was too fat, pressured her to lose weight, but one day she had a revelation – she was beautiful! It didn’t matter what anyone else said, she knew her body was a thing of beauty, and now look at her, modelling for high street brands.. welcome our guest today.. differently objectified girl! <applause>
I’m sure you recognise the main gist of that, even if not the last sentence. It’s a story we hear over and over. A girl grows up feeling worthless because she doesn’t fit into a narrow definition of beauty, life is hard, she hates herself, then one day she (or others) redefine beauty to include her body type. And now she’s happy and confident, and an inspiration to all other women.
Or is she?
Here is where one of my biggest problems with the Body Positive movement comes into play. While I am deeply frustrated at how the Body Positive movement focuses mainly on acceptable fats, I actually have a bigger issue with it.
The body positive movement, in my experience, seeks to expand the definition of beauty. Which sounds reasonable on an entirely superficial level. What girl doesn’t grow up wanting to be seen as beautiful?
We live in a society which prizes women’s appearance above all their other qualities. We are taught from a very young age to be “pretty” or “beautiful”.
This is reinforced over and over as we get older. We are surrounded by images of what beauty is meant to look like, whether it’s ads for weight loss, models with similar body types, or heavy use of photoshop. It’s relentless and unavoidable. No wonder so many girls grow up resenting their own bodies. Magazines are filled with advice on how to dress to “hide problem areas” – that these problem areas are completely natural and common makes no difference. We’re taught to cover, to exaggerate, to remove, to nip and tuck, to filter, to smooth, to correct, and so on. There isn’t a single part of our bodies which we aren’t told could be improved. Too fat, too thin, too short, too tall, too dark, too light, too blemished, too flawed.
We are told to strive for beauty and perfection. And so you’d hope that Body Positivity would be an antidote to this. A way of looking at our bodies that was, well, positive.
So why are so many “Body Positive” icons presented in a way that reinforces, rather than opposes, this valuation of beauty above all else.
Can a “Beauty Pageant” ever be truly Body Positive? Can a modelling agency ever be truly Body Positive? Can fashion ever be truly Body Positive?
I say all this with the knowledge that my blog and my art is primarily aesthetic, and that by posting about fashion I am also reinforcing these things. So I’m not saying this from a perspective of someone who feels morally superior, I’m not. I’m saying this because I want better, I want to be better myself.
The biggest barrier to women and girls feeling comfortable in their own bodies is this idea that our value is intrinsically linked to how we look. By saying that “all bodies are beautiful” we are still saying that beauty is the important bit.
Saying, “you are more beautiful than you think you are” we are still saying that beauty is what matters most.
So what if we’re fat- we’re sexy. Voluptuous. Attractive. Beautiful.
What are we really achieving with this line of thought? Is that all we want to aim for, the grand achievement of being objectified?
Don’t get me wrong, I think that fat women should keep posting nudes, underwear and swimwear shots – not to prove their sexiness – but to show other fat women that their bodies aren’t abnormal or wrong. I know that some of my biggest breakthroughs in how I care for myself have been as a direct result of seeing women who look like me, especially seeing the bits of us that normally we are advised to hide.
All I ask is that we, as a movement, take a closer look at the language we use and the examples we hold up.
If we’re still saying that beauty is important then are we really challenging the restrictions society has placed on us? Or are we just accepting the crumbs that are thrown to us?
Instead we should be saying, so what if we’re fat? We’re people and deserve to be treated with respect and have equal rights and opportunities.
My value shouldn’t be down to whether someone wants to fuck me. And neither should yours. We are worth more than beauty.