I remember almost exactly when I was introduced to the body positive movement.
I had come across an image that was going viral, before I even know what ‘going viral’ meant. It was from the September, 2009 issue of Glamour magazine. Then-20-year-old model, Lizzie Miller was published on the 194th page of the issue.
In a photo no more than 3×3 inches, Ms. Miller is seen wearing nothing but her underwear and a gorgeously sincere smile.
Perhaps what garnered the picture so much attention was the way she was photographed. She was captured in a sitting position with a noticeably soft tummy roll clearly visible.
I’d sit down fully clothed and feel the need to keep something on my lap to hide my belly. That’s something I’m still sometimes guilty of today.
This woman was brave enough to be photographed in her un-photo shopped skin, rolls and all.
My 16-year-old self immediately shared the image on my Facebook page, referring to Lizzie Miller as ‘my new hero.’
Lizzie Miller and Beyond
Lizzie Miller’s picture was a refreshing break from the norm. It planted a seed that I would end up nourishing once I got to college. There, I committed myself to learning all there was to know about gender and sexuality. Perhaps most importantly, I learned how it all ties into the body positive movement.
Medical Daily wrote a great piece highlighting the history of body image in the United States. It doesn’t recognize the body positivity movement as coming into play until 2010.
Can you believe that? I’m speaking as someone that feels very at home in the body positive community. I can’t imagine living through those centuries where there was nothing like it.
Apparently Lizzie Miller’s image was – and probably still is – ahead of its time.
What is perhaps the most incredible thing about this article is the progress it shows. It’s remarkable just how much the “ideal body” has changed throughout the decades.
In the 1800’s, paintings of ‘rubenesque’ figures depicted curvy, voluptuous women. Those were the traits used to describe a woman of ‘ideal beauty’ all the way up until the 20th century.
Lillian Russell and ‘The Gibson Girls’ were the peaks of female beauty.
The 1940’s and 50’s spawned an even bigger acceptance of and desire for curvy women. Advertisements for gaining weight and taking supplements to add ‘glamorous curves’ to one’s figure were everywhere.
Perhaps the most memorable and iconic figure to come of this era was Marilyn Monroe. Her soft belly, and extreme hourglass shape would go down as one of the most beautiful bodies in history.
While the subject of Monroe’s actual size has been argued for decades – some saying she’d be anywhere between a size 8 and 16 by today’s sizing standards – just by looking at a picture of her, anyone can see she is anything but ‘waif-thin.’
Regardless of this, a person would be hard-pressed to find someone that would characterize Marilyn Monroe as anything but gorgeous.
Monroe’s and other women’s curves started to be pushed aside when the 1960’s rolled in.
Women like Audrey Hepburn and supermodel, Twiggy, popularized the look of being rail-thin and tiny. These characteristics only got more intense as time kept passing.
Kate Moss famously said, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” She then ushered in a new wave of models in the 1990’s.
The look was coined as “heroin-chic.”
Ideal beauty for women became looking wispy and slender, almost as if they were addicted to drugs, hence the name.
While delving deeper into the different decades of societal ‘beauty,’ I learned quite a few things. One thing I found to be true is that a society’s set of standards is capable of doing a complete 180, much like an individual’s can.
Perhaps the only consistency I found in these eras of change, was that it was always one thing or the other. Through accepting curves or promoting thinness, there was never a moment in time that felt inclusive of all bodies.
The emergence of the body positive movement changed that.
The Birth of BoPo
The image of society’s ‘beautiful woman’ for over two decades was a body type that was extremely difficult – and often times impossible – to achieve. Because of this, ‘fat activism’ and ‘size acceptance’ were born out of the feminist movement.
In the early stages of the body positive movement, there wasn’t much intersectionality. It was a place for women that didn’t fit into the thin standards society had set for them.
With the emergence of photoshop, bodies that were literally impossible to achieve were manufactured using computer programs. Bodies deemed ‘too fat’ for the runway or magazines, needed a place to go.
The movement has evolved in its attempt to be more inclusive. Even still, the majority of the community is still plus size.
The Internet Age
Social media is one of the main things that has propelled the movement into gaining the momentum it has.
Most would agree that the many platforms of social media are what are responsible for the BoPo community’s rapid growth. There’s Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the many blogging resources. They have made it possible for individuals to connect and identify with each other no matter where they are.
People thousands of miles apart can now find each other because they commented on the same image or retweeted the same tweet. Because of this, it’s also unfortunately become easier for bullies to hide behind the safety of their screens and keyboards.
There isn’t much to say about that except to acknowledge how seriously disappointing those statistics are. However, as Newton’s Third Law states: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
The social media environment has responded loudly to impossible beauty standards, and societal norms. Users have created body positive campaigns that are taking the world by storm.
The #LessIsMore was part of a petition created by Erin Treloar, an eating disorder survivor. She describes the hashtag’s purpose:
“…in order to expose the fashion industry’s heavy reliance on Photoshop to manufacture their impossibly perfect images and ask magazines to reduce their use of it.”
The National Organization for Women has officially designated October 14th as “Love Your Body Day.”
Last, but certainly not least, we here at BodyPositivity.com encourage any and all people to use our hashtag, #YouDontKnowMyStory. While harnessing the recognition that we are all one of a kind in our past experiences, it also serves as a reminder to never judge another person. Never assume you know all there is to know. Just be mindful of the words you choose and the choices you make in relation to the people whose unique paths cross your own.
Defining The Movement
Many people have different definitions of body positivity.
In fact, Bustle.com published an article specifically dedicated to different BoPo advocates sharing their unique definitions.
Ariel Woodson of Bad Fat Broads writes, “Body positivity should be about self-determination and the elimination of societal forces that impede it. Body positivity isn’t #allbodiesmatter. It’s about removing the structural inequities that make some bodies worth more than others.”
Kelvin Davis is the founder of the body positive men’s fashion blog, Notoriously Dapper. He writes, “Body positivity is for every size, age, race, and gender. It’s more than hashtags. It’s about being POSITIVE that your BODY is awesome and spreading that positivity to others.”
Model, actor, and advocate Chenese Lewis writes, “The body positivity movement is about health (at any size), identity, and self-respect. The ultimate goal is to combat unrealistic ideals about beauty and health, as well as to promote self-acceptance.”
Not all definitions are completely positive either. Some chose to mention the way the movement has evolved in negative ways.
Leah Vernon, a writer at Beauty and the Muse writes, “Unfortunately, ‘body positive’ has become a sales tool and a trend for some. For me, it is so much more. I joined the movement because it meant body inclusivity — big or small. It meant that I could stop being embarrassed about my body around my smaller friends and actually enjoy it. This movement isn’t about popularity. It’s about that kid who can research the movement and be inspired to be themselves at any size.”
An All-Inclusive Community
Whichever way you choose to define the phrase or the movement as a whole, it is – in its simplest sense – the notion that all bodies are good bodies exactly as they are.
Regardless of body size, shape, and color; regardless of hair or a lack thereof; and regardless of stretch marks, scars, acne, extra limbs or limbs removed, there is a place for you in the body positive community.