Body positivity is a wonderful movement, and it’s incredibly important for everyone, but especially for people who’ve experienced shame and trauma related to their body. The idea that “everyone is beautiful” is wonderful, and I want to spread it and help everyone feel that way, however, there is a great deal of baggage in our idea of beauty, and why we think one person is beautiful and another isn’t.
Social media has a huge part in this, from body positive instagrams (Check out this list to brighten your feed!) to a semi-anonymous place full of people who make unsolicited comments, to a place that fosters self-hatred and normalizes incredibly harmful behavior. (Diet advertisements and “thinspo” are but a few examples)
Also, many brands jumping onto the body positive bandwagon (like Dove, whose “Real Beauty” campaign image can be found above) are only doing it to sell more products. These brands, along with celebrities selling “diets” which are just glorified eating disorders, (which, to be fair, most diets are) have created the idea that beauty is something artificial that you have to buy, or photoshop, and worse, that those efforts can be expected of all women.
Some people have never felt beautiful, and never considered themselves beautiful, but are still valuable and deserve to be considered human. Some people have DM’s full of thirsty guys telling them how sexy they are, but still hate their bodies and hate that no one cares about who they are in lieu of how their body looks. It’s very possible to love yourself and your body without caring about how others see it. And some people are simply body neutral, which can be freeing. This is also a gendered issue (isn’t everything?) because we can’t talk about beauty without talking about the double standards for men and women. As someone who usually presents as a man, I can walk around with no makeup, terrible outfits, and messy hair, and I’ll still be taken seriously. To achieve the same goal, women have to perform to a ridiculous standard. There’s no clearer example of this than the lovely show Queer Eye, which regularly takes men who don’t live cleanly or dress well (read: were never taught basic human hygiene or to care about their appearance because that expectation to care for themselves was expected to fall instead to the women in their life) and turn them into men who can live more happily and efficiently. (read: actually make an effort to take care of themselves and care at least slightly about their appearance) On a side note, you should not rely on the women in your life to take care of you. If you can’t live alone without becoming a mess, you need to make an effort to learn basic skills like cooking and cleaning and grooming, not look for a significant other/surrogate mother to do that labor for you.
The social standards as to what constitutes beauty are inexorably linked to the sexualization of women and the male gaze. By that, I mean that it’s not easy to redefine beauty as something healthy for everyone, because we’ve had cultural and social standards of beauty ground into us our entire lives. Women who do conform, whether intentionally or not, to these social standards are cat-called, told to quit school to become a stripper, or otherwise regularly reduced to nothing more than their bodies. Women who don’t conform to said standards still experience that policing and violence, but differently. I’ve had women ask me if there was something wrong with them because they’ve never been cat-called, and that makes them feel ugly and unlovable. How fucked up is that? In the male gaze, you’re either ugly and “un-fuckable” and policed and shamed for that, or you’re “beautiful,” a word that loses all meaning in the mouths of people who only think you have value because they want to have sex with you. You can’t win, and that’s why any body positivity that focuses on what men find attractive is never going to help anyone feel better. This is part of why some people find themselves focused on how they look during sex, rather than if they’re enjoying themselves. (More on that here)
The focus of body positivity should not be expanding the definition of “fuckable,” it should be separating self-worth from how well someone fits into the box of beauty standards.
The point I want to make is ostensibly simple; you don’t have to be beautiful to have value as a human being. You can be so many other things, strong, efficient, honest, wholesome, loving, dextrous, diplomatic, moral, just, or a slew of other good, or even ambiguous qualities. On the surface, this is something we can all agree on, but it gets complicated. Or rather, our culture complicates something that should have an easy answer. For the majority of humanity’s existence, we’ve been dehumanizing and discriminating against people that don’t look like us. We’ve also constantly reduced women to objects or monsters, even from the theological beginning. (one example is Eve versus Lilith, if you’re familiar with said theology) We can’t just say “everyone is beautiful” and leave the discussion. We have to focus on inclusivity and positivity outside of our various cultural gazes. This has been said before, and better, by others. (Hunger, by Roxane Gay, and The Body is Not an Apology, by Sonya Renee Taylor are two books on the subject I highly recommend) But, in short, if your body positivity doesn’t include people of color, trans people, disabled people, fat people, and everyone else who, for some reason or another, might not often be featured on the cover of a magazine, or if it doesn’t point out the gendered double standards, it’s missing the point.