Opinion: Body positivity movement needs a change of focus

Maria Snell-Feikema, Photographer

Simply put, the feminist movement was built on the idea of equality. For centuries women have dreamed of being treated the same as men in our society, yet have been repeatedly squashed by male domination. It’s 2016, and women are yet to be treated as equals. Rape culture in America is still prevalent. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), nearly one in five women have been raped in their lifetime, reporting almost two million cases of rape per year. Women are continuously being looked at as objects, rather than people.

The issue of beauty standards has been increasingly discussed in popular culture during the past decade. Within the past five years, to match the growing population of obese and overweight Americans, the “fat acceptance movement” has had more of a voice in mainstream culture. From this grew the “body acceptance movement”, with the goal of readdressing beauty standards and having people realize that their bodies are beautiful, no matter what shape or size.

However wonderful that sounds, the movement hasn’t really gone out of the way to change the deeply ingrained values of our actually quite conservative culture in America. Beauty standards aren’t just about being fat or thin, yet the body positivity movement hails on the idea of fat acceptance, and so it tends to focus on accepting one’s weight. Those generally representing the movement are white, middle class women. The issue of race hardly ever comes into the picture. America’s true beauty standards aren’t solely based on being fat or thin, with over two-thirds of us being overweight and over one-third being obese. The movement isn’t representative of the majority of women in America. If fails to move forward on the deeply ingrained issue of race that plays a part in how we perceive beauty.

For instance, the modeling industry has always been criticized for only representing a thin body type. However, it seems no one has realized the lack of diversity in the industry. Many companies hire a few black models, just so that they appear diverse, but still continue to prefer white models in hiring. Major black models such as Naomi Campbell, Chanel Iman, and Jourdan Dunn, all have admitted to being rejected by certain companies such as Victoria Beckham, Gucci, and Armani, among others because “they already have one black model”.

Western beauty standards are still being based on caucasian women, and the small amount of diversity that we see in pop culture is still seen as “out of the ordinary”. We should be getting towards a point where diversity isn’t seen as unusual, rather it is seen as normal. The irony of the body positivity movement is that it boasts itself on seeing all women as beautiful, when it discounts the majority of the world’s population. We should be working towards seeing the beauty of women of all ethnicities, and with that recognizing their humanity.

That being said, the body positivity movement fails to recognize the very thing that has created the need to obsess over appearance and looks. It’s still following the same pattern. It’s still telling women that their value is measured by their beauty. This utter obsession with how our bodies look and how it should determine our happiness was constructed by none other than the white males with whom we’re fighting to be equal.

The body positivity movement has one major flaw; it’s not changing the focus. Women aren’t being told to love themselves for who they are internally, but for their outer appearance. Sadly, the movement promotes the social construct that women must measure their value through beauty. It’s based on the idea that all bodies should be equal, not all persons. Women are still made into objects, in fact it encourages it. It’s ironic that this movement is seen as incredibly progressive when it’s pursuing the same ideals of an archaic society. Our society has contorted feminism to the point where women are fighting for everyone to be equally sexualized and objectified. It is simply perpetuating rape culture in which women are still seen as objects, not seen as people to be respected for their intellect and personhood.

When did feminism turn to appearing equal in the eyes of men? Why does it appear that we have forgotten about equal pay or equal rights and now focus on such menial material as our appearance? We need to be fighting to be worth more than our beauty, to be recognized as more than just bodies; to be recognized as equal contributors to our society.

America doesn’t need a body positivity movement; it needs a movement focused on loving each other for who we are as people, as souls; not as “thighbrows” or “thigh gaps”, not as hairy or bare, but as the kind and the creative, the simple or the complex. For once in the history of womankind, let not our bodies define us, but the people within them.

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