Women’s bodies have been scrutinised throughout history. From the corsets of the Victorian era to the curves of the 50’s and the fitness model look of present day, society has always demanded perfection of the female form.
One of the main differences between the 50’s representation of the female form and that of today is the influence of social media, and it is within social media that the body positivity movement is flourishing.
Of course, body positivity is not a new idea. It holds its roots in 1960s feminism, but with celebrities such as model Ashley Graham and brands such as Dove running body-positive campaigns, the movement is gaining strength.
My question is, how does the body positivity movement relate to the experience of the everyday woman? Is it really empowering, or is it another way of dictating how women should view their bodies? Let’s discuss from a mother’s point of view….
Pregnancy takes its toll on the female body, and whether you are a naturally slim woman or a larger lady, the process changes us physically and mentally.
Thanks to the media in all its forms, we are bombarded with the latest postnatal plans to get us back in to shape. We see how Kim Kardashian bounced back, how fitness stars like Emily Skye took only a matter of months to resculpt themselves. Whilst Kim Kardashian has spoken of the hard work she endured and Emily Skye documented her journey back to peak form, the disappointing fact is that the goal is always to return to our pre-pregnancy figure.
We live in a society where a woman’s worth correlates to the perceived measure of her beauty. Therefore, once you have surrendered your body to the creation of another human being for nine months, our patriarchal society demands that if we want to find our place again, we must return to our pre-maternal body. We must satisfy both sides of a dualism that requires us to be a sexual being to our partners and a maternal figure to our children. If not, then we are seen to be a failure.
This is where body positivity comes in…
Body positivity works against the view of the perfect body. It celebrates the human body in all shapes and forms. Your C-section scar should be seen as a badge of honour; your stretch marks as a lasting reminder of your body’s accomplishment; your new larger shape as a curvy, voluptuous powerhouse to be shared and celebrated in all its glory.
I agree wholeheartedly with the ethos behind body positivity. Women should be proud of their achievement. Being pregnant is hard! At the end of the nine months you are given the most precious gift in the world, but let’s not pretend that you didn’t work hard for it.
However, there are some issues. The body positivity movement works from the outside in. It is still telling women to look to their body for self-worth.
I understand. We live in a world that values the slender and dismisses the larger, which affects the self-esteem of the people that do not fit in to the former category. So the most obvious solution to that is to start a movement that says “all bodies are worthy,” and “if you are larger, you are still sexy, you can still wear whatever you choose to wear, you should celebrate your body and not let society take you down with its patriarchal views.”
I like this train of thought, but you know what would be better?
A world where we did not relate our body shape to our self-worth, but viewed it for its functionality and nothing more. Your self-esteem should be built from the inside out.
Praise yourself on your achievements, no matter how big or small.
Maybe you took your child to the park today and had an amazing time. That was your doing.
Maybe your child ate vegetables at dinnertime when she usually refuses. It was your perseverance that led to that.
Maybe you just got through the day without having a colossal meltdown. Well done.
Being a sufferer of depression, I have had many sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy.
There is an exercise in cognitive behavioural therapy that asks you to list the areas of your life in order of importance.
For me, the top three would be: (1) being a good mother; (2) being a good wife, daughter, and sister; and (3) keeping in good health. My therapist would then ask to me to focus on my most important area, “Being a good mother,” and for the next week, my opinion of myself would be based upon the loving care that I was giving to my child.
The point being: I was actually not too shabby at the one thing that I valued the most. This, for me, was one of the simplest, yet most effective ways of building my self-esteem. Whenever I get anxious about not being good enough, I go back to this exercise.
The body positivity movement is gaining strength, and as a school of thought that wants to empower women and change the way that we view the female body, I fully support it.
However, you cannot knock down the master’s house by using the master’s tools. By focusing on the female form and keeping the placement of a woman’s worth in her form and sexuality, we are not teaching women to value themselves fully.
So, the next time you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see, do tell yourself that every body in every size is amazing, but also remind yourself that you are worth much more than an image. You are an endless list of achievements that the perfect 10 or the perfect 20 could not even compare to.