Body Positivity: 4 Common Misconceptions

Does it ever feel like you’re simply unable to befriend the skin that you’re in? If so, you’re not alone. In a study put together by the folks at Psychology Today, 56% of women and 43% of men said they were unhappy about how they looked! In this article, we talk about a phenomenon that’s clearly needed in this modern life of ours: body positivity. First, what exactly is this movement about?

What is Body Positivity?

To be perfectly honest, the term ‘body positivity’ has no fixed meaning. Why? The definition is constantly changing, and it means different things to different people. For the sake of simplicity, however, let’s see if we can summarize the basic idea.

Body positivity is about your relationship with your body. Often body positivity means cultivating self-love and accepting your flaws. It can also speak to self-confidence and making peace with the fact that your body will change with time. In other words, body positivity refers to a certain state of mind that you can adopt in relation to your physical appearance.

It’s More Than Just a State of Mind

Body positivity is also about how you see and treat other bodies. For this reason, we can think of it as more than just a mindset: it’s a social movement and a way of being in the world. It’s about becoming aware of and learning to challenge our collectively held prejudices (or hegemonic narratives, for the social science geeks out there). Specifically, body positivity challenges the idea that some bodies are better than others.

What does society tell us that we’re supposed to be? Slim (but not too skinny). Ripped (if you have a penis) and toned (if you have a vagina). White (but not too white). Tanned (but not too tanned). These are some of the body characteristics that our society values. Body positivity, by contrast, tells us that all bodies are equally valuable.

4 Common Misconceptions About Body Positivity

Because body positivity means different things to different people, there are a lot of misconceptions about the movement. Let’s try to clear some of these up.

               1. You Have to Love Your Body All the Time

The term ‘positivity’ is a bit misleading. Rather, we should speak about body neutrality or body acceptance. It’s OK to have bad days; it’s OK to want aspects of your body to change. Body positivity does not mean pretending that you’re perfect. Rather, body positivity encourages you to start accepting yourself, flaws and all. This a matter of learning to value yourself as a person regardless of what you look like externally.

               2. Body Positivity Means Letting Yourself Go

Body positivity is not about “letting yourself go”. Rather, it is about empowering people to choose for themselves what they want to look like and what brings them a sense of happiness and meaning in life. It encourages people to value themselves no matter what they look like. This might mean losing 30 pounds and developing a six pack; or this might mean learning to make peace with one’s love handles. Ultimately, what’s important is that you are free to value yourself regardless of what society deems physical beautiful.

               3. Body Positivity is Just for Plus-Size People

Another common misconception is that body positivity is just about body size and weight. This movement is also relevant to people with differences in their physical abilities (or “disabilities”). Body positivity applies in the case of people who are bald, tall or who have red hair.  And of course, body positivity means accepting and owning your skin colour – an aspect of the body that has been the site of oppression and discrimination for centuries!

               4. The Body Positivity Movement Does Not Condone Fat Shaming

Body positivity means creating space to accept your own body, no matter what it looks like. But it also means allowing others to do the same. If you immediately look at a plus-size person and criticize them for not being supposedly body positive like you – “but it’s in their best interests, I actually care for their health” – then you are missing the point.

The above scenario is a subtle form of fat shaming. Fat shaming is a sign of insecurity: it indicates that you have not owned the unconscious fear that you too might be plus-sized one day. Ironically, fat shaming that goes under the guise of body positivity is a sign that you yourself hold a deep sense of inadequacy and that your self-worth is dependent on how you look. This is the opposite of being body positive!  

The Psychological Impact of Body-Image Issues

We know that body dissatisfaction is linked to psychological issues such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Have you ever heard of Body Dysmorphic Disorder? This is a serious psychiatric condition in which you become obsessed with what you believe to be an ugly or unusual body part, even though the body part in question would be considered normal by others.

This is a serious condition, which may lead to suicidality, other forms of mental illness and an overall reduced quality of life. Often, therapy and medication are needed. Research suggests that in the US alone, between 5 and 7.5 million people suffer from this condition! This is exactly why a movement like body positivity is necessary.

Think Beyond the Body

Ultimately, our identity is made up of many different things – the body being just one component. For many people, it’s a very central component. Unfortunately, many of us carry a lot of shame and sadness about the way that we look. This shame is reinforced by the media, the beauty industry and each one of us when we buy into the idea that our value as humans is determined by our looks.

Body positivity is a movement that seeks to change this. Ironically, however, this movement is about far more than just the body. It’s about your own personal growth as a human being. Body positivity encourages us acknowledge that people can experience love, self-worth, success and happiness no matter what they look like on the surface.

author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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