Mariana Plaza is a Colombian/Spanish 1st year Politics, Philosophy and Law student, interested in women, human rights and different cultures. Her hobbies include debating, writing poetry and having meaningful conversations.
The politicisation of the female body is not a contemporary concept. Patriarchal power has articulated itself overtime through unrealistic expectations, the constant sexual objectification and the indefinite scrutiny of whether the female body suits the demands of a predetermined definition of “womanhood”.
Being a woman means being under the constant gaze of this form of patriarchal power, by family and friends, both male and female, and above all society at large. Overtime and according to different sociocultural contexts the expectations of what women’s bodies should look like, have changed. The juxtaposing differences of the extremely slim 2000s with the “thick” bodies idealized in the past year, doesn’t hide that regardless of whatever trend is ongoing, the same underlying negative dynamics transcend over time, affecting women through equivalent repercussions. The increased pressure to look a certain way drives women to constantly police themselves, radical diets, makeup, the list continues.
Recent trends have led to the increased popularity of “the body positive movement” that aims to empower women through the celebration of their bodies, under the principle that every body is beautiful.
In reality, this movement articulates itself with many women empowering themselves by posting pictures of their bodies through online activism, and lobbying for increased representation of different women in the media. The pictures are taken in traditionally vulnerable ways and “unflattering” while closely criticising the way the female body is portrayed conventionally as being unrealistic.
Criticism from within the community isn’t rare, there are many women within the body positive movement community that are critical of it from an inward outwards perspective. Evaluating the lack of racial diversity present within it, the social-economic expectations that lie with certain bodies looking a particular way and the complicated relationship with the commercial part of the movement headed with corporations using female empowerment to reap economic benefits. Most of us are familiar with the drive of the commercial sphere to become more representative with the types of bodies portrayed in the media, examples being Dove. However, women’s bodies being celebrated and acknowledged for financially beneficial incentives is as problematic as the traditional way the female body is used as a tool for corporate power.
Nonetheless, the body positive movement needs to be critically evaluated against the feminist agenda and its underlying problematic behaviors.
We can all agree that the way the female body and the ideal female body is presented in the media is unrealistic and degrading to women, however contrasting this with posting pictures of women’s bodies isn’t the solution. Although juxtaposing ideas of perfection with realistic depictions has the power to break existing conceptions, the reality is that posting a picture has far more implications than mere “liberation”. It’s at this point when I ask myself why must a woman place herself in a vulnerable position to gain the respect for her body, by both herself and society? Why does a woman have to have the responsibility to go further than any boundaries she might have to be it according to her personal standard of privacy, emotional relationship with her body, or any individual beliefs she might have according to her religion? Why must she task herself with the emotional labor needed to take this responsibility on her shoulders? Why must she constantly exhaust herself for another higher purpose? This one tunnel vision of looking at the liberation of the female body as primarily through the medium of self-exposure limits the diversity of ways women feel empowered, and above all still places the way women look at the heart of everything.
In addition to that it’s important to assess the notion of body positivity, with its meaning of acceptance being equated to constant love. To me this approach provides worrisome implications, it seems that rather than having to change yourself physically constantly, you need to police yourself constantly in order to ensure you are falling into the boundaries of being happy with your body, with your emotional wellbeing. Although it seems like the latter is the better of two evils, the emotional pressure of constantly having to be okay with your body, means that the fluidity of a realistic relationship with your body seems impossible. Striving for perfection whether it be physical or emotional is never ok. Especially considering the constant emotional labor that women are put to every day by the patriarchy, under this idea that we are “more empathetic”. Neutrality should instead be crowned as our main focus, rather than constant love. It’s almost as if you have to force yourself to smile, rather than recognizing that you don’t always have to smile, most of the time you aren’t smiling you’re just okay with yourself. And it’s this attitude of basic satisfaction that I think should be implemented, rather than through another unrealistic standard. Do you truly think a man constantly celebrates his body? No, men merely exist within their bodies, their bodies do not play a central role in their day to day struggle. I do not say this in an attempt to negate all of the feelings men feel towards their bodies. I merely wish to make the point that their relationship with their bodies is not based on the way it looks, but it instead focuses on its practical uses. Therefore, fostering a practical relationship with our bodies that instead of consuming us to fit certain perceptions physical or emotionally, is one of respect for everything it does in our life, should be what we strive for.
Furthermore, the body positive movements constant focus on acceptance (physically maintaining the same way we look), limits the notion of the woman being able to determine how she chooses to display herself, be it through exercising to look a certain way or electing to dye her hair a particular way. Natural being equated as more pure is not a positive notion that we should embrace as feminists. If the woman is making a conscious choice at heart, there shouldn’t be an issue. We should strive to become more conscious women, who choose the way we wish to articulate our womanhood, including our personal relationships to our bodies.
Women are being put into a push pull situation, accept this way of accepting your body, or accept unrealistic standards. Let’s create a space for women to determine how they wish to engage with their bodies.