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What Is The Body Positivity Movement, And What Does It Stand For?

Valentine's day is a day for love. Some celebrate the Hallmark holiday with their romantic partner. Others see it as a day to spend with family and friends (Galentine's Day). Or it might be a time to reflect on self-love and appreciation.

No matter how you celebrate Valentine's day, the most important thing is to focus on spreading love in whatever way feels true to you.

The body-positive movement is a relatively new social media-driven trend gaining traction in recent years that's often associated with self-care and self-love. But its core messages including body acceptance, body liberation, and supporting mental health, has been around for quite some time.

In this post, we'll explore the origins of body positivity discuss the movement's core values, along with criticisms, and ways to adopt a healthier body image relationship.

A Brief History Of The Body Positive Movement

The history of body positivity can be traced back to the early 1800s, when women protested against corsets and other restrictive clothing.

More conversations surrounding body weight and fat-shaming emerged in the 1960s, and formally “the body positivity movement” was established in 1996 by Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott to draw attention to disordered eating and mental health struggles from poor body image.

It's a movement that encourages people to love their bodies and appreciate them for all they are, regardless of what the mainstream media tells us is ideal.

The movement started as a way for people to share photos and stories of self-love, but it has since turned into a global phenomenon with millions of people supporting the cause—it’s even shaped how some brands promote and advertise their products and services.

What Does Body Positivity Stand For? And Why Is It So Important?

The goal of the body positivity movement is to challenge unrealistic beauty standards that lead to dissatisfaction with how we look.

If we’re convinced that there’s something wrong with our appearance—whether we feel overweight, underweight, have the wrong skin color(and the list goes on)—the mind begins to preoccupy itself with the skewed idea that happiness is on the other side of attaining the beauty standard of the time, which isn’t true.

When we become obsessed with our physical appearance, the mind fixates on flaws to “fix” to feel better, which becomes a very unhealthy way to live.

It's no secret that beauty and "wellness" industries profit off of people's negative body image. They sell the notion that if you try this product, undergo this procedure, wear certain clothes, eat a certain diet, or start a fad workout routine, you'll be closer to the ideal standard of beauty and happier.

The conversations surrounding body positivity have evolved over the years. The phrase “body positivity” has been used more frequently now than ever, thanks to social media—but its message is so much more than weight loss, fitness, and facials.

At the heart of body positivity, we see a movement that represents appreciation and respect for our bodies as they are. It draws the curtains back on the media and beauty industry that perpetuates unrealistic beauty standards and promotes an understanding of how our physical selves impact our emotional well-being.

Criticism Of The Body Positivity Movement & Misconceptions

While the general idea behind the movement is admirable —that all bodies are good bodies —there is some criticism of how it's executed. Body positivity has come under fire in recent months for being inadvertently exclusive and judgemental.

Critics argue that the movement glorifies obesity and that it's counterproductive for improving one's health as it encourages unhealthy habits and attitudes towards nutrition and exercise. Others say that body positivity ignores certain types of bodies, such as those who are underweight, suffer from eating disorders, or have disabilities.

One of the founders of the current modern body positivity movement, Sobzack, clarifies that the movement was "created by and for people in marginalized bodies, especially overweight, bodies of color, queer and disabled bodies."

The trouble is that when body positivity went viral on social media, many misconstrue its core messages to body shame certain body types (skinny shame) and support unhealthy lifestyle habits.

There’s also a misunderstanding that body positivity means that you have to love your body all the time, which critics argue can make people feel like they’re failing their “self-love” or commitment to the “body positivity” movement—but it’s completely normal to feel critical or dissatisfied with our appearances sometimes.

Despite these criticisms, some studies suggest that considerations of positive body image and recognizing different body types in the media is a step in the right direction for improving body image concerns and mental health.

What Is Body Neutrality? A Response To "Positive Body Image"

The term, "body positivity" encourages people to love their bodies no matter their appearance. Body neutrality focuses on what the body can do and how we feel instead of its looks, which can lead to body dissatisfaction and poor mental health.

Body neutrality raises the awareness of body image issues that come from labeling one's appearance as good or bad.

For some people, the jump from having poor self-image and low self-esteem to loving how they look in their skin can be a challenge. Body neutrality offers a compromise without forcing fake acceptance on someone who struggles to feel positive about their body.

The idea behind body neutrality is simple—to minimize body negativity.

No matter the shape, size, color, or abilities, all bodies deserve love and respect without considering their appearance.

It's a way of thinking and reacting that strips away the bias we often have against certain body types. The body neutrality mindset is a place to start reversing the impact of internalized beauty standards. One of the critiques that body neutrality addresses in body positivity is that forcing positivity can feel inauthentic, as it's normal to feel unconfident about your appearances from time to time.

How To Foster A Better Relationship With Yourself: A Guide To Self-Love

Body positivity or even body neutrality is a journey that requires practice in self-compassion and acceptance, which can lead to more profound changes in one’s mental health and well-being.

Let's get into some simple lifestyle changes to foster self-acceptance towards a better relationship with one's body.

1. Speak To Yourself As You Would To Your Close Friend

Practice being mindful of the words you say to yourself. Try speaking to yourself (both out loud and in your head) in a way you would speak to a friend—be gentle and understanding with yourself.

When negative emotions and circumstances arise, re-center yourself and approach your internal monologue from a place of compassion and love.

2. Be Mindful Of What Your Body Needs

This involves listening to your body and learning how to give it what it needs—a deep breath, rest, water, nourishment, movement.

By tuning into your body's signals and providing it with the right foods and nutrients, you can help create a healthy equilibrium that will benefit both your mind and your body.

3. Curate Your Social Media Feeds

Whether you realize it or not, you’re internalizing the media you consume.

We all know that what we see on our social media feeds isn’t real life, but we get sucked into this fantasy anyways and compare our real-life selves to unrealistic, curated, photoshopped images.

It’s worth taking the time to cull out influencers, brands, and people that make you feel bad about yourself and be mindful about the types of media you subscribe to.

The Takeaway: Fostering A Healthy Body Image

For some people, "body positivity" means being proud of your shape and embracing your natural figure. For others, it might be about accepting your body no matter what shape or size it is. And for others still, body positivity might be too difficult to achieve every day.

Those who struggle to feel positive with their appearance may suffer from eating disorders, have a history of trauma, internalized weight stigma, or have disabilities that make body positivity feel like it's out of reach, which is is where the concept of body neutrality comes from.

Body neutrality offers a new approach to body acceptance as it encourages people to focus on how their bodies feel instead of their outward appearance.

Whatever body positivity or body neutrality means to you, there is no wrong answer—whatever works for you is what counts! But at its core, these movements are all about loving yourself and your body just as they are, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.

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