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One of the most popular self-help tips offered by the various books, TV shows and websites that are so popular these days is ‘Every day, look at yourself in the mirror, smile, and tell yourself you’re beautiful’. The idea being that eventually you’ll start to believe it. It sounds silly, and most people dismiss it out of hand. But the whole concept of ‘body positivity’ is based on this, and it really does work.
In a society where at least 1 in 100 people suffer from body dysmorphic disorder (perceiving the body to be unrealistically ugly or disfigured), body positivity is doing something extraordinary. It’s allowing people who have less socially acceptable bodies – people who are ‘too fat’, or ‘too skinny’, or not ‘curvy’ enough – to appreciate themselves, and to move past the limiting expectations of society.
Body positivity, though, is about more than just telling yourself that you look good, or that you’re beautiful. It’s about looking at your body in the mirror and seeing all those parts of you that you hate – frizzy hair, or weirdly-shaped nose, or extra fat – and saying, all this is part of me, and I love it. Body positivists say: well, this is me, and I refuse to apologise for who I am, and I am not going to change for anyone but myself. It’s about recognising that you are just as important as your best friends, your family or your significant other, and you have every right to be love yourself just as much as you love them.
When it comes to feminism, this is even more important. Although the numbers of men affected by body issues are steadily increasing, eating disorders and other disorders relating to self-perception are still far more common in women. Body positivity is enabling women to reclaim their bodies as their own, and not something that our patriarchal society has a right to police. When placed in the context of the feminist movement, body positivity becomes something radical – an unapologetic denial of the values we have been drip-fed for most of our lives. Loving your body can become a way of fighting back.
It’s particularly important for those women who do not fit the thin white ideal that fills our media. Feminism needs to be intersectional – to take into account the way racism, homophobia and size-discrimination interact with each other, and the face of feminism in the mainstream media is all too often that of a white middle-class woman, erasing the experiences of those women who don’t fit that ideal. Body positivity is not just about fighting back against patriarchal ideals – it’s also one way for the feminist movement to face up to biases and problems within the feminist community.
Feminism is for everyone – regardless of race, size, orientation or gender, and body positivity is there to help us recognise and accept this.