Body positivity is everywhere right now. Whether that’s because of brands doing it right (ASOS swearing off retouching and taking strides to use models of all shapes, sizes, colours and ages ) or people getting it so, so wrong (Louise Thompson of MiC fame calling her diet and exercise book 'Body Positive'), the phrase is all over the media and our social feeds. But what exactly is body positivity, and how can you get involved? Well, imaginary question person, I’m glad you asked. Welcome to BoPo 101.
So what do we mean by 'body positivity'?
You know that scene in Mean Girls where they’re all standing in front of the mirror and calling out their flaws? It’s the exact opposite of that. In a body positive Mean Girls they’d have cheerfully pointed out their rounded hips, broad shoulders and unusual hairlines before shrugging and moving on with their lives (actually a body positive Mean Girls wouldn’t star four thin white women, but you get my point). Body positivity tells us that we don’t all have to look like Rachel McAdams to feel good about ourselves, and tries to challenge society’s narrow view of what is an “acceptable” body.
A huge chunk of this is challenging ideas around weight. Body positivity was born out of the fat acceptance movements in the 1960s which argued that fat bodies are discriminated against – and while the ultimate goal of body positivity is that you’ll be a healthier, happier person who treats your body well because you feel good about it, that doesn’t necessarily mean green smoothies and strict exercise plans. Hence the backlash when people try to use 'body positivity' to sell books and diet plans. Rather than a means for conventionally attractive people to talk about the ways they stay conventionally attractive, it’s supposed to be a way for the people who don’t recognise themselves in those conversations to remind themselves that they’re just as hot as any slender white babe posing in her pants to sell us perfume.
"Our TV and film screens, magazines, posters and adverts are still filled with the same two or three “acceptable” types of body – and when you don’t fit their mould it can be hard to feel good about yourself. That’s where body positivity comes in."
And the revolution can't come fast enough, because body confidence is a huge issue. A recent study by Dove showed that 61% of teen girls had low body confidence, and that it stops people from doing things like hobbies or spending time with their mates. When the world makes you feel so bad about yourself that you can’t even go out with your friends, something definitely needs to change.
Body positivity also hopes to combat a lot of the harmful messages we get from the media. Those brands still insistent on using models who all look exactly the same – even when they’re supposedly promoting clothes for every body shape, like Matalan – or using models who are unhealthily thin, as Victoria Beckham was recently criticised for doing. The gyms and fitness companies consistently use messages shaming fat bodies in order to shill their memberships.
Because while a few crappy brands like Protein World (remember them?) are wising up and totally changing their messaging, our TV and film screens, magazines, posters and adverts are still filled with the same two or three “acceptable” types of body – and when you don’t fit their mould it can be hard to feel good about yourself. That’s where body positivity comes in; fill your life with people telling you that you’re gorgeous no matter what, and you start to believe it.
Ironically, many of the body positivity icons that your dad would be able to pick out of a line-up still tend to be tall, hourglass-shaped white women – your Ashley Grahams and your Iskra Lawrences – but there is a whole world of genuinely diverse, inspiring body positivity campaigners out there, spreading the word and breaking down our limited perceptions of beauty, post by post.
So who’s who in the body positive world?
The great thing about body positivity is that because it’s so inclusive, you’re likely to find a hundred people championing it who you can relate to. It’s also so easy to access: although social media is often said to be a source of self-hatred and anxiety, it’s actually also a haven of body positive inspiration. You can find countless body positive baes by searching hashtags like #bopo and #stylehasnosize, but here are a few of my favourites Instagram accounts to get you started...
Megan Jayne Crabbe started hating her body when she was five years old, and was diagnosed with anorexia at 14. But now she’s spreading the word about body positivity, filling her Instagram account with photos of her body in all its soft, rounded glory and sharing inspirational quotes and messages to buoy up anyone who’s feeling low. She also has a YouTube channel where she discusses things like why calling someone ‘fat’ isn’t actually an insult, and a book coming out later this year that’s a master guide on fighting body bullshit.
If you’ve ever wondered if it’s even possible to do yoga if you’re not a 5’9” blonde woman standing on her head on a beach, you need to follow Jessamyn Stanley. Jessamyn found yoga when she was at her most depressed, and it helped her transform her relationship with her body. Now she promotes “Yoga for Everybody”, and photos of her incredibly strong, beautiful body with back rolls proudly on display will remind you that bodies don’t have to look a certain way to be powerful.
If you want some practical advice to go along with your inspiration, Rachel Clare RD and Dr Jenna Daku are your women. They’ve started a campaign to get us to ditch the “New Year, New Me” dieting mindset and instead embrace our bodies as they are. Their videos, blog posts and Instagram posts all carefully dismantle the harmful messages we’re absorbing from diet culture.
Started by plus-size model Tess Holliday, the #effyourbeautystandards hashtag is full of women and men who are refusing to be held back by what society says is beautiful. This account collects some of the most powerful and gorgeous pictures people are sharing, and invites us to celebrates bodies of all types from all around the world.
Kelvin Davis describes himself as an author, blogger model, dancer, activist, and body positive gentleman. Although his Instagram account is full of photos of him looking dapper AF in a variety of excellent outfits, he’s also not afraid to show his stretch marks and his vulnerabilities. He’s the perfect reminder that you don’t have to be Ryan Gosling to be sexy, and the joy in his photos is contagious.
Blogger, model, motivational speaker and advocate Mama Cax is using Instagram to redefine what disability looks like. Her leg was amputated back in 2007, but with the help of some utterly beautiful prosthetics (my favourite is the chalkboard one she invites loved ones to write messages on) she still models and looks fabulous in every outfit.