“God, my hips are huge!”
“Oh please, I hate my calves.”
“At least you guys can wear halters – I’ve got man shoulders.”
“My hairline is sooo weird.”
“My pores are huge.”
“My nail beds suck!”
Unless you’ve been residing under a rock for the past ten years, you’re probably familiar with the film Mean Girls and the scene above, where the attractive, slim, looked-like-they-just-stepped-out-of-a-magazine girls line up and recite everything ‘wrong’ with their bodies. It’s a scene that I’m willing to bet rings true with many of us, perhaps because we really do believe our nail beds suck, or because we don’t fit into what the majority of the western world has come to believe is objectively ‘attractive’.
You only have to flick through a women’s (or increasingly, men’s) magazine for a few minutes to find out what the media is telling us what we should look like if we want to find love, get a job, turn heads, nail this season’s latest trends or even if we just want to step out of the house to go and pick up some milk (because God forbid you should step outside without a full face of make-up and your Louboutins, you slovenly beast). Given that the vast majority of those that feature in magazines – in their content and on their covers are thin, white and able-bodied, with some claiming that up to 100% all images in magazines are retouched, it can be difficult to be surrounded by these images if you don’t fit those ‘ideals’. In fact, the Miss Representation campaign found that 3 in 4 teenage girls felt worse about themselves after just three minutes of looking through a fashion magazine.
It all seems a bit doom and gloom, doesn’t it? However, there may be a remedy to this toxic self-hatred that exists in so many of us.
Alternative media outlets, specifically social media, have seen a surge in users in recent years who aim to inspire and empower others with messages of body positivity. Think of it as the more modern and less cringe-y version of standing in front of a mirror and listing ten things you like about yourself. The body positivity movement has a pretty simple aim – it promotes self-love without exceptions, and encourages everyone to embrace the body they have, reclaiming any aspect which society has, up until now, considered undesirable.
One of the most prominent advocates for body positivity is Tess Munster, plus-size model and founder of the #effyourbeautystandards movement (which, at the time of writing, returned 352,926 posts on Instagram alone). Through encouraging her followers on Instagram to share their stories and photos, she has changed the lives of countless women who have spent years believing their bodies are shameful, by showing that big absolutely can be beautiful and revolutionising what it means to be attractive.
Another notable figure in the fight for self-acceptance is Lupita Nyong’o. Appearing at Essence’s Black Women in Hollywood event, she gave an incredible speech on beauty and the importance of representation in the media for black women which has since been watched by millions on YouTube. She speaks of her younger self’s desires to have lighter skin in order to be beautiful, and how she overcame them by realising “beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be”. Her presence in the media has helped young black girls see that skin colour should never define their self-worth or beauty, despite what mainstream media might suggest.
Whilst the movement has been a largely progressive one, there are of course areas where it needs to be improved. Body positivity is for everyone, and so it’s important that it doesn’t become exclusive, or ignorant to already under-represented groups in society. The worth of one group should never be reduced in order the raise the self-esteem of another – the phrase “real women have curves” comes to mind, which is unfortunately used too often under the guise of body positivity. There is also a need for greater diversity in the movement – whilst messages of body positivity for disabled people and transgender people can occasionally be found if you go searching for them, it’s clear a more intersectional approach is needed in order to extend the movement beyond the binary of ‘fat’ vs. ‘thin’.
So go and put on your cutest outfit, take a bunch of selfies and show the world how fantastic you are – we only get one body, and it’s about time we started being a little kinder to them.
[Hannah Burke – @hannahcburke]