"Mainstream beauty standards are a problem; they create intense body image issues for millions of people by idealizing a very specific (and often unrealistic) body type while rarely representing others."
In the past few months I've done dozens of interviews with different media outlets and answered hundreds of questions related to self-love and body image. Among these questions, the one that has always surprised me usually follows a statement I make about the importance of things like plus sized modeling in the media.
"Don't you think that this whole body positivity thing is just glorifying being fat?"
The reason this question surprises me is because it seems like a pretty obvious one to answer, but in interviews you're typically not allowed to laugh, say "nope," and continue on. So I figured I'd answer this question once and for all, just for the sake of convenience when I'm asked this in the future.
First, let's look at this question in the context of it's typically asked. This question usually follows a statement I make about how wonderful it is to see models with non-traditional modeling physiques, like Tess Munster.
While plus sized modeling has been all the rage in the news recently, "plus sized" apparel doesn't reflect that in any scope. The average adult woman in the United States is a size 14, with 67% of women being at least a size 14 or larger, but somehow only 18% of women's apparel is plus sized. In the last 40 years, the average size of what was considered to be "plus size models" has cut to nearly half, from a size 12-18 to a size 6-14. Add to all this the fact that plus size modeling as it pertains to men is basically nonexistent.
Body Positivity in the media isn't "glorifying being fat," because you can't glorify a subset of people who are grossly unrepresented. It is not "glorifying being fat" to advocate that the media should equally represent the body size of the average person.
Second, let's address the fact that claiming that the body positivity movement exists to glorify being fat is a terrible statement and shows how closed-minded certain detractors must be.
The movement doesn't exist so people can advocate that "being fat is awesome!"
The body positivity movement exists so people can have a safe space to explore who they are and love themselves regardless of what body they're born into or what circumstances they're living with.
There are body positive advocates and organizations dedicated to every type of person, from those in recovery from anorexia to people with amputated limbs. Body positive advocates aren't trying to glorify ANY type of body, or make one seem better than the other. We want to embrace the thin and the curvy, the short and the tall, the fully mobile and the differently abled.
Body Positivity is here to say "we know that all types of bodies are different, and that's wonderful! If you're thin or you're fat, you deserve to love yourself just the same."
Finally, even if we were to ignore all those points and, just for the sake of argument, agreed that body positivity exists to glorify being fat? Body shaming would NOT be a better alternative.
As someone who had spent nearly his entire adult life overweight, I can tell you personally that there are people who see bullying and body shaming as a "motivator" for fat people to change their lifestyles. Negativity and bullying do not work as a motivator for weight loss. They do, however, work as a motivator for depression and suicide.
An adolescent health study shows that 38% of frequent bullying victims have reported seriously considering or attempting suicide within the past year.
Statistics at Suicide.org claim that obese people are five times more likely to be depressed than thin people, and heyugly.org reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death of children between the ages of 10 and 24, with a record 7 percent of children between grades 9-12 attempting suicide at some point in their young lives.
A study taken at the University of Michigan claims that 45% of parents have reported their children being bullied, and a 2003 study shows that in the United States, following puberty, 5-10 million girls and 1 million boys will develop and live with an eating disorder.
However, studies show that positive reinforcement (motivation free of pain, punishment, intimidation, yelling, degradation, humiliation or shame) can lead better attitudes and emotional growth in children.
Regardless of age, creating a hostile environment is not the way to motivate people to better themselves. Bullying, negativity and hostility are poisonous ideas that only make people feel worse, and will create in them a negative self-image leading to drastic behaviors in order to meet unrealistic body image standards that others have set for them.
When we talk about body positivity, we talk about creating an environment in which people can be themselves. Body positivity is a wonderful motivator, because it helps to create a sense of self-love that makes you strive towards doing more things to better yourself.
Body positivity inspires one idea:
"You're wonderful as you are. Now, be even greater."