The Body Positivity Movement Needs Transformation


The body positivity movement has proven to be extremely lucrative for large brands and corporations in recent years. Companies like Aerie have become known for being inclusive and body positive, and have raked in millions of dollars banking on the movement. In a recent interview with Vogue, singer and rapper Lizzo, who many view as a face of the body positivity movement, expressed her goal of moving away from body positivity and towards being body normative. She discussed her concern that the body positivity movement was no longer benefiting the people it was created for as a result of commercialization and appropriation. This loss of focus of the movement was inevitable once the beauty and fashion industries got involved. Corporations have no investment in furthering the body positivity movement.

The lack of incentive for brands to normalize body positivity comes down to the fact that once something is truly normalized, it is no longer a selling point. If every brand hired diverse models, Aerie wouldn’t be able to base their entire image off of being body positive because it would be nothing special. At this point, it’s not new to show stretch marks on models, or a few visible body rolls. This sense of shock that we’re meant to feel when seeing a model that falls outside of conventional standards of beauty in any way just adds to the feeling that these characteristics are not normal at all. 

While representation is useful to a certain degree, the reality is that brands and corporations also have no real incentive to eliminate standards of beauty. Too often, corporate campaigns place more emphasis on broadening beauty standards than encouraging people to care less about beauty altogether. As long as there exists a focus on beauty, no matter how inclusive that beauty is, there will always exist a pressure to be beautiful, and a deep shame associated with being ugly. If brands maintain this pressure to be beautiful, we will continue to have an incentive to buy from them in order to attain beauty.  

Attempts from brands and corporations to expand standards of beauty have also been extremely limited. In efforts to appear inclusive, brands will often solely focus on plus-size models that are white, cisgender, and have an hourglass figure and no visible disabilities. Focusing on women who fall into those categories, and excluding women who are Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), transgender or gender nonconforming, have a disability, or don’t have a curvy hourglass figure, isn’t real progress. It is quite the opposite, as this approach continues to uphold conventional standards of beauty. 

Not all forms of body positivity have been based in corporate acknowledgment or superficial displays of diversity. Some body positive activists have begun to move towards the idea of “body neutrality,” which emphasizes the need for less focus on people’s bodies, rather than the need for everyone to love their body. Groups such as the Berkeley High School (BHS) Body Positivity Club also work to go deeper than superficial representation, and educate students on the dangers of diet culture and the messaging put out by the media. The issue of our focus on beauty and our current beauty standards has been discussed at length by scholar and director of American studies at Cornell University, Noliwe Rooks, who has spoken with NPR about the importance of decolonizing beauty routines and norms. Focusing on efforts such as these, led by people with a genuine investment in furthering the message of body positivity is the only way forward for the movement