Self-Acceptance and the Body Positivity Movement
The body acceptance movement challenges long-standing societal and cultural beauty standards by contending that each person deserves a positive physical self-image despite popular culture’s concept of “ideal” size and shape.
There is more to physical acceptance than simply challenging society’s views of people based on their perceivable shape and size. It also acknowledges that people are frequently judged based on their sexuality, gender, disability, and race. Body acceptance embraces diversity through appreciating all body types despite any flaws, loving yourself, having confidence in your body, or accepting the size and shape of your body. It also involves enjoying your body as-is, and not blaming or criticizing yourself for the inevitable changes that occur due to pregnancy, aging, or lifestyle choices.
Objectives of the movement also include helping people build confidence and acceptance of their bodies, promoting the acceptance of all bodies, challenging society’s views of the body, and sustaining dialog regarding the harms related to fictional physical standards.
Body image is simply people’s subjective views of their bodies. These perceptions may or may not match their actual physical appearances. Behaviors, thoughts, and feelings related to negative physical self-images can significantly impact not only the way people treat themselves but also their mental health.
Body self-images begin forming early in our lives. Sadly, even young kids experience dissatisfaction with their physical selves. In one recent study, more than half of girls and nearly one-third of boys between 6 and 8 years old reported feeling that their current weight was in excess of their ideal weight. The same study also found that one-quarter of children had tried dieting prior to age 7.
Body acceptance strives for inclusivity by helping people determine how social media and other cultural messages may be contributing to people’s relationships with their physical selves, including their attitudes toward identity, food, health, exercise, self-care, and clothing. The hope is that people will develop better attitudes toward their bodies through a healthier perspective on these influences’ effects.
Another important aim of the body acceptance movement is to address the impact physical self-image has on emotional and mental health. Healthy body images play an important role in the way people determine their worth and what they think about their appearance.
Body Acceptance and Social Media
Instagram, TikTok, and other social media outlets have accelerated the spread of the body acceptance movement. Multiple media companies have recently undertaken efforts to express increased body acceptance in their advertising. Some agencies no longer add airbrush effects to models’ images, while companies including Lane Bryant, Dove, and Hanes have incorporated images and messages promoting body positivity and acceptance into recent marketing campaigns.
Research has found that even momentary glimpses of media images of “ideal physiques” are linked to increased eating disorder symptoms and concerns over physical self-image.
Research indicates that long-term emotional and behavioral issues can develop due to poor physical self-image, including:
- Depression. Women experience depression at a far higher rate than men do. Body dissatisfaction may play a role in this disparity.
- Low self-esteem. Body dissatisfaction is linked to adolescents’ low self-esteem regardless of their weight, age, gender, ethnicity, race, family income, and social status.
- Eating disorders. Especially among adolescent girls, body dissatisfaction can be linked to eating disorders.
Exposure to images of the “thin ideal” also leads to the misbelief that esteem, success, and beauty depend on thinness. Research has also confirmed that people who believe this fallacy are more likely to engage in unnecessary dieting and experience body dissatisfaction.
Body acceptance addresses these matters by pointing out the issues that can lead to a negative body image. Then, people will be able to adapt their perceptions, feel more positive, and accept their bodies. This will significantly reduce the negative impact that poor physical self-image can have on their overall health and well-being.
Love and Acceptance
Body acceptance seeks to foster love and acceptance of your physical being. But it can mutate into a struggle that will add another layer of impossible standards and pressure to live up to. Body acceptance encourages people to change how they feel about their bodies, but it can also manifest as just another demand.
It can be harmful to tell someone to simply accept themselves when they’re facing the constant barrage of images that promote the thin ideal. It is not realistic to simply tell people to disregard or ignore the popular ideal of beauty. This approach can actually add more pressure on a person who already feels devalued, negative, and anxious. Society lets people know that that they are flawed, then ironically expects them to have positive feelings about it. A negative attitude toward your physical self can therefore lead to guilt and shame.
Studies have even shown that it doesn’t help people who have low self-esteem to use positive affirmations if they don’t believe them. In fact, repeating false affirmations leaves people feeling worse about themselves than before. This does not mean you should avoid thinking positive thoughts or saying nice things about yourself. But simply using positive messages to cover up or avoid your negative thought patterns may harm you. A healthier approach is to employ realistic, actionable ideas to replace your negative thoughts.
It’s okay if you don’t love every aspect of your body. It’s also okay to have indifferent or neutral feelings. Your value and worth are not based on your size, shape, or any other element of your physical appearance. Physical self-image certainly plays a role in self-image, but it’s not the only component. Focus on shifting your mental spotlight from your body. Instead, try to formulate your perceptions based on other components.
This will not be an easy process. It will require ongoing effort, and you may never achieve perfection. You may feel weak, dislike yourself, and compare yourself to others. The goal is to avoid thought patterns that are feeding into your poor physical self-image.