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The Healthy Lovers

Body Positivity: Definition, History and Benefits

4 min read
Body Positivity

Body positivity is a social movement that argues for the acceptance of all body shapes and sizes as a path toward emotional wellness and well-being. The body positivity (or body acceptance) movement is a social force that argues for individuals to accept and celebrate their physical appearance and abilities and to dismantle beauty standards as dangerous societal constructs. In recent years, the movement has grown especially active on social media sites, with a number of hashtags and representation of plus-size models. The body positivity movement falls under the greater umbrella of fat activism and fat rights.

Brief History of Body Positivity

The body-positive movement has gone through three waves since the mid-twentieth century:

  • 1960s: The 1960s saw the rise of the first wave of body positivity. The 1960s’ fat acceptance movement brought to public attention the mental health issues around beauty and weight loss—including the toxicity of media beauty standards and societal body shame, the dangers of diet culture, and the prevalence of negative body images and eating disorders, especially among young women and adolescents.
  • 1990s: In the 1990s, the second wave of the body positivity movement evolved to focus on exercise inclusivity. Proponents of the movement emphasized exercise for all body sizes and shapes and aimed to create safe, inclusive spaces where individuals of any body type could exercise comfortably without body or fat-shaming.
  • Modern day: In the 2010s, the body positivity movement evolved once again to respond to the influence of social media and edited photos. The movement now focuses on body functionality, self-esteem, and loving your body regardless of perceived flaws.

Pros of Body Positivity

The body positivity movement has several benefits, including that it:

  • Draws attention to beauty standards as a social construct: The body positivity movement aims to show people that modern beauty standards derive from cultural expectations rather than objective truths about bodies and appearance. This helps break down the idea that your body somehow falls short of the ideal or needs to look different to look beautiful.
  • Encourages self-love and self-acceptance: At its core, body positivity means self-love, and it can help many people achieve a positive body image—feeling more at peace with themselves and more in harmony with their body, appreciating it for its unique traits.
  • Identifies unattainable standards and goals: Many beauty standards in the media are not only unhealthy but unattainable, made possible only through digital photo editing techniques or surgeries. The body positivity movement aims to identify these standards as impossible and emphasize realistic bodies to reduce body dissatisfaction.

Criticisms of Body Positivity

The body positivity movement has drawn some criticism, including that it:

  • Can encourage individuals to ignore physical health: Some posit that extreme body positivity can enable individuals to reject professional opinions on healthcare and lifestyle, encouraging choices that can lead to health risks.
  • Continues to enforce the importance of appearance: The body positivitys movement continues to emphasize appearance and body image as a vital facet of self-worth—encouraging individuals to post photos of themselves on social media sites or consider their physical traits as a pathway to self-acceptance and self-confidence. Some activists argue against this approach, instead recommending a body-liberation or body-neutrality version of self-love—which emphasizes internal traits over external ones.
  • Overemphasizes positive feelings: Occasional negative feelings are a natural part of the human experience that encourage us to enact positive change in ourselves, our situations, and our surroundings. Some researchers argue that body positivity overemphasizes positivity at the expense of important self-authenticity and desire for healthy, attainable change in ourselves and the societal system of beauty.
  • Sometimes ignores intersectionality: The body positivity movement often uses images of white women in their messaging, with an underrepresentation of people of color and other ethnicities, men, nonbinary people, and other groups.

How to Be More Body Positive

Here are a few techniques you can introduce in your life to feel more love for your own body:

  • Identify and appreciate your physical abilities. Your body is much more than its appearance—it’s a complex system that performs a wide variety of functions every single day. Celebrate your body’s functions and abilities—from breathing to movement to smell—to remind yourself of your body’s impressive traits.
  • Introduce self-care into your routine. Physical and emotional self-care practices can help you recenter yourself and remember to appreciate your body for how it is. Consider introducing a relaxing, mindful activity into your regular routine—whether that’s a bath, a meditation exercise, a favorite meal, or a run—to emphasize the care your body deserves.
  • Recognize unrealistic body ideals. Social media can inundate users with unrealistic representations of body goals. When you encounter images like these, stop and recognize them as unrealistic. Consider reducing these images in your daily life to avoid introducing unrealistic beauty ideals into your mindset.