Our complicated relationship with food has led us through myriad diet fads and cultural shifts throughout the decades. Amid a culture of weight loss programs in the 90s, an organization called The Body Positive Movement was founded in 1996 by Connie Sobczac. It was revolutionary in that it promoted self-love and acceptance as opposed to shame and food restrictions.
For years, the movement remained on the fringe until rising to the mainstream and bursting onto the insta/twitter-sphere in 2015 with the hashtag #BoPo. Promoting traditionally healthy lifestyles, this hashtag and message have since been adopted by companies attempting to embrace diverse consumers. But has BoPo’s original message been distorted by marketing and media? Is the Body Positive Movement as positive as it suggests?
The following are three reasons to embrace The Body Positive Movement and three reasons to ignore it.
Changing the Stereotype
Among OECD countries, America is the most obese. With a rise in obesity comes growing obesity discrimination, which pushes the idea that being overweight is a sign of laziness, poor hygiene and lack of self-care. Studies have also found that most Americans link being overweight with these undesirable stereotypes, and that employers view obese people undesirable job candidates. However, by inspiring people to focus on health over beauty standards, BoPo uses language that strips away stereotypes, creating a more accepting society. It separates weight from health, body image from self-worth. The movement recognizes the stigma around different body types as weighing us down as a society and tries to alter it for the better.
Holding the Fashion Industry Accountable
BoPo’s success has reached beyond the health world and into fashion. This means that the next generation of women will be raised surrounded by relatable imagery and self-acceptance. It started small, with the emergence of boutique plus-size body-positive brands that cater to the fashion-minded. But BoPo has since seeped its way into the mainstream. There was a loud roar of “represent us, we are your people,” and big names like Nike also began embracing BoPo. We preach that children can be whoever they want to be, but these images now show that we can be exactly who we are.
Happy People are Healthy People are Happy People
For those with weight issues, who never felt confident, comfortable or energetic enough to exercise, the BoPo movement has created a space for exercise that embraces all body types. Take Curvy Yoga, for example. As a philosophy, yoga encourages self-acceptance, and Curvy Yoga practices what it preaches. Inspired by BoPo, yoga teacher and blogger Anna Guest-Jelley started this revolutionary yoga program, which embraces and encourages fuller figures. This is just one form of exercise that alleviates symptoms of depression through exercise that is kind to the mind and body.
A Hijacked Movement
BoPo is the rebranding dream the diet industry was waiting for. In the 90s, Americans spent $30 billion on diet pills and programs. Rather than fixing the weight epidemic, the diet industry developed a reputation for capitalizing on the desperation of overweight consumers. This changed when BoPo hit the mainstream; companies wanting to distance themselves from past diet fads and reconnect with the “average American” rode BoPo’s coattails back into relevance.
However, once in the mainstream, the real bodies celebrated by the original movement were replaced by “plus sized” models. Nowadays, the “ideal body” is still out of reach for most who are striving for “the new perfect.” In a movement that once accompanied all bodies and all colors, the #BoPo hashtag can be seen alongside a lululemon outfit. #celebrateallwomen?
Our Health, Our Responsibility
In a society where weight gain is seen as a health issue, for both men and women, it should be treated as such, without clothing companies or BoPo justifying unhealthy sizes. For instance, the average American dress size – 14 – is actually branded in the UK and Australia as 16. By switching the labels, companies are pandering to our “beauty standard” driven egos rather than to our “health risk” reality. In contrast, in Japan, the government implemented a healthcare system that awards levels of healthcare depending on waist size. This system recognizes that just like smoking, we are responsible for what we put in our bodies. There is no trend or stigma attached there; it is a health issue plain and simple. If our body is a temple, America’s temples need restoration.
Just Stop Talking About My Body
BoPo is another unwelcome way for our bodies to be at the center of a societal discussion. Our relationship with our bodies should not be public discourse, as it makes it harder for individuals to find their own personal relationship with their self-image and health. The pressure to love our bodies replaces the pressure to perfect our bodies. Do you love yourself enough? Love yourself, eat the donut. Love yourself, don’t eat the donut. Body neutrality is the only way we can change people’s mindsets. As long as our bodies are the center of attention, which BoPo pushes for, we will always feel vulnerable and insecure.
The Bottom Line: From celebrating diversity to encouraging physical and mental health, the Body Positive movement inspires many. However, the diet industry capitalizes on this inspiration and distorts our self-image, yet again. Is BoPo the next level of self-love or is it distracting us from personal health goals?