There’s a trend doing the rounds on Instagram of late. The golden, homogenised beauty types of the gram are writing captions urging their followers to “Love your body!”
As much as I wholeheartedly support the self-image revolution underway, the “love your body” rhetoric, it seems somewhat misplaced, if not tone-deaf, coming from women who invariably look like they’re plucked from a Victoria’s Secret casting studio. The fact that mainstream body positivity still aligns with traditional standards of beauty excludes the vast majority of women, women the body positivity movement surely had in mind? It turns so-called body positivity into self-esteem kryptonite.
That’s not to say what it looks like from the outside matches up to what it feels like from the inside; Instagram approved slim or otherwise, we all have an Achilles heel. Something we don’t like about ourselves. The “perfect body” is an ever-present ideal that every woman has, at some point, had a relationship with. And it’s not to say we shouldn’t celebrate skinny bodies. Celebrating more diverse bodies, be they a size 4 or 20, and everything in between, is unequivocally a good thing, one that is paving the way to a more inclusive and empowering definition of beauty. Skinny bodies must be included in that celebration.
But even when body positivity extends past the classically beautiful, mostly-white, able- bodied types, it remains somewhat tone-deaf. For 99% of us, it’s unrealistic to expect that we will ooze self-confidence all the time. The “love your body” rhetoric doesn’t account for days when we look in the mirror and don’t like what we see. In those moments, the mandate to “love” the skin you’re in feels as prescriptive as the beauty standards rife on social media and Love Island-esque reality shows.
The messages suggesting we love our bodies for what they are may allow us to feel less shame for having cellulite, but instead we feel shame for not loving or even liking our cellulite. We have simply replaced one set of dos and don’ts with another.
The wording has changed – from “slim down!” to “love yourself,” but the premise remains: a woman’s relationship with her body is dictated by others. If there was ever a more apt metaphor for today’s landscape of female body image, it would be magazine covers that simultaneously offer up the latest dieting fads whilst shouting about loving your body.
But, dear self, loving your body isn’t the only antidote to loathing it. How about just accepting it? Choosing self-acceptance over self-love succeeds in alleviating the focus on women’s bodies where self-love doesn’t. Practicing body neutrality takes the heat off. The sentiment is: this is my body and I’m ok with it.
That’s not to render body positivity – which helps to normalize diverse body imagery – obsolete. Body positivity is essential to body neutrality; only when we are exposed to more variations of bodies can we stop obsessing over our own. Neutrality comes from diversity – from seeing and accepting people of all shapes, sizes and colours. And, of course, there should always be room to love your body. But instead of loving it because of your cellulite, could we learn to love our bodies in spite of those “flaws?”
Seeing a variety of women’s bodies is no easy feat in a society dominated by such narrow definitions of beauty. This is especially true in the fashion industry, which is entrenched in – and supported by – an unhealthy body image ideal. But there are brands embracing fashion for women who are not IG models – introducing #thelonelygirlsproject.
Lonely, a New Zealand-based label most widely known for its lingerie, has long used the talents of a diverse cast of non-models. Their highly-inclusive campaigns feature models of different body sizes, genders, disabilities and ethnicities, as well as mothers and elderly women. Since its debut lingerie campaign in 2009, the brand has vowed not to digitally alter any of its models, choosing, instead, to celebrate its many faces.
The brand’s ethos is one of self-empowerment through underwear. “For women who wear lingerie as a love letter to themselves,” the website reads. But empowerment need not stem from loving yourself 100% of the time. And love need not be unconditional. To me, Lonely isn’t asking its customers to love their bodies unreservedly, but to accept them in spite of their many unique imperfections.
Their imagery is about giving women confidence, rather than insecurities, but it’s realistic in its execution. Instagram models are replaced by cancer patients, new mums and women who bear the scars of self-harm. “Love yourself” captions are left redundant; the sentiment is clear: our bodies are unique, strong, accepted. There is no pressure to “love yourself,” merely to accept yourself.
We don’t get to control the way we feel, but the way we feel is certainly influenced by the imagery we consume. That brands like Lonely are taking strides to embrace a more diverse standard of beauty is perhaps more important than any “love your body” rhetoric.
I like the idea of not needing to love everything about myself at all times, because I like the idea of minimising as many “shoulds” as possible. There is no right or wrong way to navigate the world of female body image, as Lonely aptly shows. It feels great to love the way you look, but you don’t need to in order to value yourself.
Words | Charlie Hale
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