The body positivity movement has gained popularity on social media in recent years. It seeks to foster widespread body acceptance and boost self-esteem.

The body positivity movement promotes love and acceptance of the body in an effort to improve body image. It is different than body neutrality, a movement that focuses on the body’s function rather than its appearance.

Although the body positivity movement aims to help people, it has not achieved its intention of promoting inclusivity. Research indicates that most Instagram posts that use the movement’s hashtags, such as #bodypositivity, feature young, white, non-disabled females.

Some researchers have criticized the movement for normalizing being overweight and having obesity while ignoring the associated health concerns. However, this criticism fails to acknowledge how harmful it can be when people face stigma and experience shame regarding their weight.

In this article, we discuss the body positivity movement in more detail, including its benefits, its drawbacks, and how it differs from body neutrality.

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Body positivity has its roots in the fat rights movement of the 1960s. The National Association to Aid Fat Americans (NAAFA) campaigned for equal rights for people of higher weights and criticized the diet industry.

Over time, this campaign has evolved into the body positivity movement. Research from 2021 notes that the movement emerged on Instagram in 2012. It is now incredibly popular, accounting for 13 million social media posts by 2020.

According to a 2019 study, body positivity aims to challenge societal standards of appearance. It promotes acceptance of all body shapes, sizes, genders, and skin tones.

This goes in direct contrast to the unrealistic and unattainable standards of appearance that are prominent on social media. Many people upload edited and altered images, making it impossible for others to know what is real and what is fake. Although people commonly associate the challenges of body image with females, these issues also affect males.

Body positivity and body neutrality have different focuses.

Whereas the former emphasizes that all bodies are beautiful regardless of their appearance, the latter emphasizes a neutral feeling — neither positivity nor negativity — toward the body. It encourages a person to concentrate on how their body serves them rather than how it looks.

As with body positivity, body neutrality challenges traditional beauty standards. However, unlike body positivity, it counters the view that an individual’s value stems from their appearance. It instead places no value on appearance.

In other words, body neutrality takes the focus off appearance and puts it on the body’s function. It also acknowledges the fact that a person will not always feel good about their body. The constant pressure on a person to feel positive about their body can be frustrating, especially as bodily changes can be due to factors that they cannot control, such as aging.

Proponents of body neutrality say that placing a body’s value on what it does rather than its appearance promotes a healthier attitude and better self-esteem.

The body positivity movement seeks to depart from dominant societal ideals of beauty and embrace different views. It also strives for inclusivity because it makes the concept of “beauty” much more extensive, including a range of bodies.

Ultimate goals involve promoting the acceptance of different bodies and appreciating their differences.

Despite the movement having the potential for good, people have criticized it for its potential drawbacks. These include:

Health concerns

Promoting positive body image is generally a good thing. In fact, research has shown that body image is closely linked to mental health and weight management.

However, critics argue that the body positivity movement ignores the health risks associated with carrying excess body weight.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity raises a person’s chance of getting:

  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • joint conditions
  • breathing problems, such as asthma
  • gallbladder disease

Visit our obesity hub to learn more about weight management.

Lack of diversity

Researchers note that the body positivity movement lacks diversity, showing that it has not achieved the goal of inclusivity.

Most of the Instagram posts that use the movement’s hashtags portray young, white, conventionally attractive, non-disabled, cisgender females. People of other ethnicities, males, people from LGBTQIA+ communities, and older adults do not have adequate representation.

Perpetuation of a focus on appearance

Body positivity expands the concept of beauty, but it keeps the focus on appearance. This may be harmful because it implies that a person’s value is at least somewhat based on their appearance.

Instagram depicts the influence of popular culture on body image. Users upload photos, mostly of themselves, and interact with other posts by commenting on, liking, or sharing them.

In an attempt to get likes and increase their popularity, users frequently post idealized versions of themselves with touched-up images. Although this contradicts the ethos of body positivity, photoshopped images are prevalent in the community.

In addition to social media sites such as Instagram and TikTok, television shows and movies portray the ideal body as thin, fit, white, and conventionally attractive. This can lead to body dissatisfaction when someone’s appearance does not conform to the image that popular culture endorses.

The body positivity movement disputes conventional and unrealistic beauty standards. Instead, it promotes the idea that all body types are beautiful and deserve acceptance. The goal is to help people improve their body image and self-esteem.

Despite its potential for good, body positivity has some drawbacks. It perpetuates a focus on appearance, has fallen short of its inclusivity goal, and may support some unhealthy lifestyle habits.