- Research reveals the negative consequences of body positivity.
- Experts recommend the “body neutrality” approach for a healthier relationship with one’s body and sound mental well-being.
The Psychology Behind Body Dissatisfaction In Women
Body dissatisfaction (or negative feelings and thoughts about one’s own body) is a prevalent issue among women. Several factors contribute to body image issues in women, including:
- Pressure to conform to societal beauty standards (which are often idealized as thin, toned, and flawless)
- Media portrayal of an unrealistic body image
- Increased acceptance of cosmetic surgery
- Peer comparison and self-criticism
- Internalization of cultural standards of beauty
- Negative body-related comments or “body shaming” experiences
- Poor psychological well-being related to self-esteem, perfectionism, etc.
Furthermore, recent research points to body dissatisfaction in women as the leading cause of serious mental health disorders like body dysmorphia, depression, social anxiety, eating disorders (like bulimia nervosa, anorexia, etc.), an unhealthy obsession with dieting cultures, or exercise addiction.
The Unconventional Break: The Body Positivity Movement
In recent years, the body positivity movement has gained traction as a response to the harmful effects of societal beauty standards. The movement seeks to promote body diversity and inclusivity by challenging the traditional notions of beauty and encouraging individuals to embrace their bodies as they are.
The body positivity movement celebrates bodies of all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities, and advocates for acceptance and love towards one’s own body, regardless of how closely it aligns with societal beauty ideals. It emphasizes the importance of self-care, self-compassion, and self-love, rather than striving for external validation or conforming to unrealistic beauty standards.
Social Media, Body Positivity Influencers, And Mental Health
Social media platforms, particularly Instagram, have become prominent platforms for promoting body positivity. Many influencers, celebrities, and activists use social media for challenging harmful beauty ideals, reducing body dissatisfaction, and promoting self-esteem and self-acceptance.
However, it’s important to critically evaluate the messages promoted by body positivity influencers and recognize that everyone’s experience with their body is unique, and self-acceptance should not be solely based on external validation or social media trends.
Is Body Positivity A Healthy Practice?
While the body positivity movement has its benefits, experts have voiced concerns against the complex mental health consequences of the practice, as well as the consumption of body-positive images in media.
The body-positive approach encourages self-love and indulgences at the cost of healthy lifestyles, often asking people to turn a blind eye to obesity and other sedentary practices. Some critics argue that body positivity can also perpetuate a focus on physical appearance, as it still centers on the idea of loving or accepting one’s body based on its outward appearance.
Additionally, body positivity can sometimes lead to comparisons or feelings of exclusion among individuals who do not fit within the traditional beauty ideals celebrated by the movement. These may include those who do not conform to conventional standards of “big/plus” size, shape, or ability—leading to “thin or skinny shaming”, “muscle shaming”, and so forth.
A recent study, for instance, revealed that excessive exposure to sexualized “body positivity” images (like selfies) on Instagram resulted in heightened body surveillance and dissatisfaction in women.
The researchers elaborated: “The findings underpin that body-positive content may lead to detrimental consequences not limited to treating one’s own body as an object but extended to a very worrying threat to women’s well-being: the intention to undergo cosmetic surgery procedures to gain social rewards.”
Body Neutrality: The Future Of Sound Mental Health?
Body neutrality is gaining attention as an alternative approach to body positivity—focusing on cultivating a healthy body image with sound mental well-being. It encourages self-acceptance, viewing the body as a tool for experiencing life rather than an object of appearance.
It emphasizes self-care, self-compassion, and appreciation of the body’s functionality, strength, and capabilities, rather than its bearing. This approach can be particularly beneficial for individuals with a history of negative body image or body dissatisfaction, as it shifts the focus from appearance-based validation to a compassionate acceptance of the body.
In recent years, the debate between body positivity and body neutrality has been a raging theme. But experts recommend finding an approach that works best for oneself as the key to body acceptance.
Therefore, recognizing harmful beauty standards, developing self-acceptance, seeking support, and practicing self-compassion are crucial steps in fostering a positive relationship with one’s body and mental health.