5 Ways 'Body Positivity' Can Just Make Women Feel Worse
Body positivity sounds so nice. It's got the word "positive" right in it, and it's supposed to expose the smoke and mirrors of the beauty industry and help women feel better about ourselves. That all sounds great on paper, but sometimes it just makes us feel a slightly different kind of terrible.
Brands Tell Us To Love Ourselves While Offering Products To Fix Us
You've probably run across some of Dove's feel-good "campaign for real beauty" advertisements, which they've been running in some form since 2004. It's a marketing line featuring what Dove refers to as "real women," often without makeup, talking about feeling confident and comfortable in their bodies.
Of course, Dove can say it's fine not to wear makeup all they want because they're a lotion company. They don't need to sell makeup. What they do sell is "youthful vitality cream," self-tanning lotion, and "firming lotion" to get rid of cellulite. Love yourselves, ladies ... but if you don't, we have a cream for that! You won't believe the low, low prices on our Hate Yourself cream.
I'm not saying there's anything wrong with using these products. Most humans, and probably a lot of animals, want to look their best. I'm saying that companies like Dove are trying to have it both ways. They can dress up their anti-wrinkle cream all they want (for a time they called it "pro-age" cream), but they're selling you a product to make you look younger while running ads like this:
Model Amber Rose is known for promoting body positivity and even having a plus-size fashion line, but when all the Instagram celebrities were shilling waist trainers (corsets), she was strapping her stomach into a medieval torture device for your tummy right along with them. Not to mention that her plus-size fashion line, and many other body-positive fashion lines, also sell shapewear. So we're supposed to love our big bodies, but also shove them into tight socks that will make our pancreas high-five our lungs. "I love my body so much that I want my organs to hug!"
Movies Pretend Conventionally Attractive Stars Are Ugly
Hollywood has never been good at casting a woman to play someone society sees as unattractive. "Nerd" tends to mean "brunette." Just ask former model Rachel Leigh Cook, who played the "ugly" girl in She's All That. Or also former model Zoey Deschanel on New Girl. Or Sandra Bullock, whom studio executives seem to think is the most unattractive woman in Los Angeles.
More recently, Amy Schumer got a lot of backlash over her movie I Feel Pretty, because duh, she should feel pretty! She's very pretty. Aren't like 40 percent of her comedy routines about how chronically laid she's getting? And yet that movie has a wet T-shirt contest scene that looks like it was originally written for Chris Farley.
The body positivity movement has changed the message of movies aimed at women, but not the casting. So what ends up happening is that Hollywood takes a woman whom a blind man could see is hot, slaps her in a mildly unflattering outfit and hairdo, and says, "See, she is hideous but she still has self-esteem!" Which leaves the rest of us thinking, "Wait, she's hideous? Then what the hell am I?"
You can tell me to love myself all you want; all I'm seeing is a model learning to wear a bra that fits and thinking, "Good for her. Am I a potato that's been brought to life by the wish of a lonely chef who longed for a child?" The best role a plus-size woman can hope for in a movie about body positivity is "woman a model stands next so that we can show how nerdy her social circle is."
Celebrities Post "No Makeup" Pics Which Prove They're Still Super Hot
I remember way back in 2002, Jamie Lee Curtis posed with no makeup or Photoshop in a now-defunct women's fashion magazine called More. It was such a big deal that four years later, she said it was "probably the single biggest contribution I may ever make as a public figure." Today we have the "no makeup selfie," supposedly highlighting the way the media, especially women's magazines, manipulate images to create unrealistic beauty standards. Instead it reveals that the beauty industry is playing a diabolical game invented by a tiny bike-riding puppet.
First, let's point out that even if the no-makeup claims are genuine, you're still looking at someone who is a full-time Beautiful Person -- blessed with great genes, plus professionals assisting with their diet, fitness, hair, skin, teeth, clothes, and every other possible thing. But then you have the fact that it really just raises the bar for the rest of us to "You must look this good, without appearing to need makeup."
The phrase "no-makeup makeup tutorial" makes my head hurt, but there are 82,400,000 videos on that topic out there, teaching you how to apply makeup that will perfectly cover flaws yet be undetectable according to the "no makeup selfie" standard. If the makeup is detectable, that means you're being fake or insecure. You should still be beautiful, but also natural -- and by "natural," we mean you're wearing a three-inch coat of face paste, but we had better not be able to tell.
This is probably why some celebrities have clearly faked no-makeup selfies, and have even gone to war with reporters as to what counts as "no makeup." At least Jigsaw gave people a way to escape his traps.
Sometimes Celebrating Women Comes At The Expense Of Insulting Women
Many body-positive campaigns boast using "real women" in their ads. I'm sorry, what were they using before, I Can't Believe It's Not Real Women? Models are real women. Very small, very thin women, but real nonetheless, and dehumanizing them doesn't help anyone else.
Yet there are so many memes out there that say things like "real men like curves, only dogs go for bones," or "Skinny girls are gross. Boys like stick figures, real men like curves." How many songs about loving yourself have at least a line or two thrown in trashing thin women?
When we present a body positivity message along with a call to arms against skinny women, we end up with issues where thin women are ridiculed for gaining weight and fat women are ridiculed for losing it. Last year, plus-size model Tess Holliday told US Weekly she feels "guilty" for eating healthy, as if this is a war between fat and thin and she's betraying her side.
Plus-size model Ashley Graham had to go on The Today Show and shoot down allegations of weight loss. Modern Family star Ariel Winter was flooded with Instagram comments like "You were fine just the way you were before not now" and "Where are the curves?" after she recently lost 30 pounds. Do our choices just come down to choosing which group of strangers will yell at us?
Looks Do Matter, And Shaming Women Won't Fix That
The problem is that all of this is putting the pressure on the wrong people. After all, a woman can decide it doesn't matter how she looks, but that doesn't change the fact that in this society, her looks will affect every single aspect of her life. It's like seeing someone crying over an eviction notice and shaming them for obsessing about money. Go say that to the goddamned landlord.
Studies show that fat people, especially fat women, are less likely to be hired, are paid less, and generally have less opportunity than their thinner counterparts. We can feel good about our bodies all damn day, but that doesn't change the very real consequences of not living up to society's standards. Women spend an average of 55 minutes a day on our appearance. Do you think that's because we want to? I mean sure, sometimes those 55 minutes include a 30-minute makeup tutorial on how to do unicorn eyebrows, but most of the time it's just making yourself look presentable enough that your boss doesn't think you're too "sloppy" to promote.
Women's anxiety over how we look isn't a dumb superstition. It's real, because society has made it real. It creates this internal conflict where we feel like we're supposed to be skinny, but if we're not, we're not supposed to feel bad about it. We're supposed to be concerned about our health, but not so concerned that we end up hating our bodies, because that kind of mental stress is unhealthy. We get up every morning and cross a river of poop in a boat that is also made of poop. So yelling "Just get out of the boat" isn't solving the problem.
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