We as citizens are often confronted with countless portrayals of ‘ideal beauty’. Typically, the thin body frame has been glorified by the media, with petite girls being broadcast in magazines, advertisements, and film and television for decades. As these women seem to make up the majority of our female presence in the media, it portrays the idea that ‘the only way to be beautiful, is to be thin.’ It’s no secret that this is incredibly damaging to women’s self-esteem, especially young women and teenagers.
Over recent years, the ‘Body Positivity’ movement has aimed to confront these unrealistic beauty standards by demonstrating that women come in all shapes and sizes, and shouldn’t think less of themselves if they don’t fit into a certain category of beauty. We are seeing companies like Aerie releasing campaigns that celebrate women with all sorts of body types, and incidences of body shaming are increasingly receiving criticism for perpetuating harmful beauty ideals.
This was highly evident with the release of the new Netflix series, Insatiable, which received immense backlash upon the release of the trailer. The show depicts a young, overweight woman who loses weight after a jaw injury and proceeds to get revenge on the people who bullied her.
The show was heavily criticised for insinuating that women are only beautiful and valuable after they lose weight. It also seemed to present a host of other problematic issues, but this was the main takeaway. While I understand that it is important to point out these issues and recognise them as problematic, I do believe that it’s just as important to not judge something without knowing the full story – as this controversy took place prior to the shows release.
The continuing presence of the ‘Body Positivity’ movement on social media is allowing for further intervention of typical beauty standards through the portrayal of plus-sized models in magazines – most recently, Tess Holliday’s Cosmopolitan cover story. However, this magazine cover also received a wave of negative criticism from the media, as some people think it’s ‘promoting obesity’.
So here we have the main issue that the ‘Body Positive’ movement experiences. People look at these promotions of ‘body positivity’ and label them as an excuse for an individual to remain overweight – prompting the normalisation of obesity. Where is the line between promoting unhealthy lifestyles and encouraging women to feel good about themselves, no matter what they look like?
Personally, I don’t see the difference between having dangerously underweight and overweight models on the cover of magazines, as they are both showcasing unhealthy habits on opposite ends of the spectrum. However, I don’t see an issue in promoting self-love and recognising that beauty does not have one face and one body. Representation in the media contributes to seeing value in one’s own existence, so it is important to represent all kinds of people.
Some of the ways that the ‘Body Positive’ community is attempting to tackle the topic of beauty in the media could certainly be improved – no social media movement is perfect. Nevertheless, it is important to recognise the potential impact that this movement could have on the minds of women all over the world.
Boroughs, M, Calogero R M, & Thompson J K. (2007) ‘The impact of Western beauty ideals on the lives of women and men: A sociocultural perspective’ Body beautiful: Evolutionary and sociocultural perspectives. January 2007, p. 259-298 <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/234119371/download>
Carey, A. (2018) ‘Backlash over plus-sized model Tess Holliday on Cosmopolitan cover’ News.com.au. Viewed: 11 September 2018 <https://www.news.com.au/finance/business/media/backlash-grows-over-plussize-model-tess-hollidays-appearance-in-cosmopolitan-uk/news-story/540699bcaf4a4a8b6cd704b831a46158>
Donoughue, P. (2018) ‘Netflix’s new series Insatiable, criticised for ‘fat shaming’ , lands streaming giant in familiar territory’ ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Company). Viewed: 11 September 2018 <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-07-25/netflix-insatiable-fat-shaming-controversy-explained/10033152>
Gustafson, T. R.D. (2015) ‘Positive Thinking Can Benefit Your Mind and Body’ Huffington Post, Canada (Blog). Updated: 10 May 2016. Viewed: 11 September 2018. <https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/timi-gustafson/lessons-in-positive-thinking_b_7249274.html>
Saltzman, S. (2016) ’15 Celebrities Who Fought Back Against Body Shaming’ Allure. Viewed: 11 September 2018. <https://www.allure.com/gallery/best-celebrity-responses-to-body-shaming>
Spectator Health reporter (2018) ‘The ‘body positivity’ movement is making people blind to their weight problems’ Spectator Health. Viewed: 11 September 2018. (https://health.spectator.co.uk/the-body-positivity-movement-is-making-people-blind-to-their-weight-problems/>