In recent years, a powerful groundswell has been coming forth to rehabilitate women’s bodies, with all their differences that it can show, and so overturn the demand for perfection. Here’s the backstory and breakdown of a societal movement that’s cleaner and an idea of beauty that’s more inclusive.
Body Positive: Stop the illusion of perfection!
It all started with scandals concerning the health problems of the many young girls who starved themselves in a bid to look like the models in magazines… Without realising that the photos in them had been airbrushed. For the sake of transparency, a great many initiatives were launched to expose the reality of these photos that are too perfect to be genuine. Some models and celebrities published photos taken before / after airbrushing to debunk this myth of perfection in glossy magazines. These brave souls were promptly praised for it. And they were soon followed by some brands labelling advertisements as “guaranteed without airbrushing” and magazines with “non-airbrushed” photos of stars on the covers. On the back of the success of these initiatives, some brands felt the tide change. They spotted a marketing angle to play on close ties with their customers, under the guise of representing each and every one of them in all their diversity. We then started to see campaigns advocating inclusiveness and portraying bevies of women of all shapes, sizes and skin colours. At the same time, this societal trend forced those in charge of fashion shows and magazine shoots to draw on a more diverse pool of muses. About time too!
From inclusive beauty to positive beauty
For years now, activists, associations and people from underrepresented populations have been calling for greater media exposure for the latter, to reflect real-life society more accurately. Beyond having given minorities greater media exposure, the movement made it possible for other groups of women who were being discriminated against to show off their differences which had hitherto been considered flaws or imperfections. Although the worship of perfection was waning, these minor physical features which were (and still are) hidden away had to be shown off. The offensive was promptly launched on social media, first of all with “+ size” influencers taking a stand against fatphobia. Then came a great many anonymous users showing off their curves, cellulite and muffin tops as normal features in this way. The movement extended to all kinds of “differences”: acne, stretch marks, scars, burns and blotches. And now, inclusive beauty and the Body Positive movement form part of a broader movement that goes beyond merely showing off these differences, and promotes them. That’s the #bodyglory movement, which is about being proud of “flaws”, and even playing them up.
Cellulite, a round belly, saddlebags and a muffin top: you’re normal!
From Dove, which made inclusiveness a key part of its brand image a few years back, to We are Jolies knicker and swimwear adverts showing underwear on bodies of all kinds, the “Body Positive” sea change made it possible to develop kinder products. They are often ethically sound, solidarity-based and sustainable. While some brands try to instrumentalise this phenomenon for marketing purposes, the most principled ambassadors are to be found on social media!
@lottiedrynan dedicates her Instagram account to desanctifying the flat stomach by posting photos of herself when she is bloated, stating again and again “Since my stomach can go from flat to round in the space of an hour, it really goes to show that my body does not determine my value”. She gives clever tips for feeling good despite having a bloated belly, and shows off her muffin top as much as her pot belly.
As for @celestebarber, she makes fun of the clichés of influencers, actresses and svelte celebrities who post glamorous sophisticated photos, mimicking them with her own body and whatever props she has to hand. A takedown that ridicules glamourous posts and those behind them. Excellent therapy for putting things back into perspective.
@danaemercer, an American, plays around posting two photos of her taken at the same time. One is super sexy and the other completely natural. In this way, she debunks the lie and shows that social media photos of so-called perfect bodies are captured thanks to carefully-staged poses and camera angles.
Body Neutral versus Body Shaming
A further development of the Body Positive movement is the “Body Neutral” epithet, meaning that physical appearance should be of no importance when it comes to doing things, getting things or feeling entitled to do things, and should feature even less in the tally when it comes to gaining self-worth. Body Neutrality is a response to the Body Shaming that women face (meaning pressure to be slim, attractive and fit and being made to feel ashamed for not being all of the above).
The Instagram account @confidentcollective puts out a podcast and adds posts for gaining self-confidence and creating a new image of woman, in all her diversity. The #bodyneutral trend teaches kindness towards oneself regardless of one’s appearance, and generally advocates self-love through thankfulness, a healthy lifestyle and diet and a positive view of one’s body so that it’s no longer a limiting factor.
With this approach you can, for example, want to lose weight or look more attractive. But not in order to meet criteria set by society, or please other people, or live up to demands, but just to feel good and see one’s body not as an enemy any longer, but as a friend. That’s the mantra of French Instagrammer @shera, who shows herself off in a natural state in great detail, from her uneven skin tone to the particularities of her body to those of her hair. The same goes for @mikzazon, who fights to “make normal bodies normal” (#normalienormalbodies) and who poses unabashed in swimwear and shows off her skin without make-up, standing up for visible pores, redness and blotches.
Body Positive et grossophobie
Body Shaming hits larger women particularly hard.
In France, blogger Stéphanie Zwicky was the pioneer of the art of dressing well for plus-size women. She has helped many a woman to accept herself through fashion and find the right look, by campaigning for more, better-cut designs in plus sizes.
LThe young woman behind Coucou les girls started out parodying beauty influencers with tongue-in-cheek videos, then went on to address self-worth and body acceptance. Then she decided to show off her body in lots of photos to help other larger women to love and accept themselves, in spite of society’s uncompromising gaze.
This same approach is embraced by a great deal of accounts, like @pausitiveworld or @mybetterself, which at the same time are aimed at having women or men take the power (back), sometimes with a feminist approach, or an inclusive one, not least in its podcast (Inpowerpodcast). The famous @gaelleprudencio, author of Fière d’être moi-même [Proud to be myself] (published by Leduc) has become one of the emblematic figures of the Body Positive movement in France. She shows off her +++ size figure regardless of what other people may think of her. Lastly, the big lady with big style, @grosse_avec_frange, has an account dedicated to +++ size fashion. It shows that you can have a lot of style, whatever your waist, hip or bust measurements.
Mums and their stretch marks
Amongst all this body diversity, there’s an offshoot of the Body Positive movement dedicated to mums and their post-pregnancy bodies. These accounts mainly address stretch marks, and also loose skin, which are considered mementoes of their bodies’ most beautiful accomplishment: giving life. Some of these accounts also post photos of nameless mums, to encourage them to succeed in appreciating the changes that their bodies are going through and not to be ashamed of them!
One of the frontrunners of this trend: @thebirdspapaya, alias AKA Sarah, who as a mum and mum-to-be shows off her body complete with stretch marks and loose skin. As for @ely_killeuse, the French influencer describes herself as “a body-positive young mum with no hang-ups”. She struggled with yoyoing weight, against her body, for a long time. As the author of Bodypositive Attitude published by Marabout, she now focuses on showing what “real life” is like as a mum, and offering solutions to practical problems.
Skin Positivity: the acne and blotches version of body positivity
For a long time, acne represented a huge hang-up for a great many women and teenage girls, whose only source of pride lay in knowing how to mask it by applying make-up like the pros. These days some have had enough of being ashamed of it, and have decided to show off their skin complete with its uneven tone and surface.
@mariia_white, who has severe acne, shows off her skin when having a flare-up or lightly made up, to advocate #normalskin on social media. @theblemishqueen accepts her skin, with or without make-up, to make problem skin normal.
@myfacestory stands up for #acneneutrality and advocates in favour of her acne scars to help other affected people deal with it.
Lastly, on her account, @alexandra_breeze shows off her very severe acne with no filter, complete with bumps and very pronounced redness. She will go right ahead and post a photo of a squeezed spot or scab.
The Body Positive movement and illnesses
The Body Positive movement also makes it possible to combat the isolation that comes as a consequence of the physical effects of certain illnesses. It’s about mutual aid and “good vibes” to show women that they are not alone in facing these problems. In this movement towards acceptance of all kinds of appearances, female cancer patients or cancer survivors have found a space where they can show off their bald heads without feeling any shame at all. The same goes for the account @hellopecia, where @paulinealopecia, a young woman struck by alopecia at the age of 19, shows herself off with or without a wig.
Other illnesses, like eating disorders including anorexia, are coming out of the shadows. @iskra alias Iskra Lawrence, ambassador of the French national eating disorder association, brings together some 4.6 million followers. A former anorexic, the famous @meganjaynecrabbe, alias Body Posi Panda, a plump woman with purple hair (at the time of writing at least) decided to join the Body Positive community, learn to love herself and smash stereotypes to help other girls in the same situation. Lastly, there are lots of accounts dedicated to the likes of angioma, port wine stains and vitiligo.
The account @vitiligo.beauty passes on photos of people with vitiligo, to show off their beauty and diversity. That of @winnieharlow who also has vitiligo, shows off the famous top model. On Instagram you’ll also find the accounts of albino people, or bearded women like the sultry @harnaamkaur who stands up for #mybodymyrules.
From Body Neutral to normal skin, Body Positivism and variations on it form a liberating, joyous societal movement which is marking a change in the way we view other people and their differences. From this point of view, social media seems like something of a revolution which enables connections between people who hitherto thought they were alone, and suffered in silence with their hang-ups. It’s up to society to change in light of these examples of acceptance and appreciation of the value of differences. In this way, future generations can be more open to others and free from the demands of outdated canons of beauty.
Body positivism in 5 Instagram accounts
@douzefevrier, a serious burns survivor who decided to show herself off just as she is, burn scars and all, to help all those who have gone through this kind of trauma to no longer hide themselves away.
@lafillequiadestaches, plump and with angioma (red blotches) just about all over her body, this frontrunner among body-positive influencers on Instagram is a fierce self-love activist.
@worldof_riah, a buxom American dancer with vitiligo. Her beauty and zest for life make her blotches pale into insignificance.
@onveutduvrai, a French account that leverages social media to help women feel good by sharing photos with those who have the same hang-ups as they do.
@jenbricker, a woman whose legs were amputated who poses her upper body anywhere possible, with her partner, to show that her handicap is no obstacle to having a “normal” life.