Recently, as I’ve been scrolling through Instagram, I’ve noticed a few posts that give me mixed feelings. It started with the #loveyourbody hashtag. It made me uncomfortable, and I didn’t know why. Then I saw some of my friends, whom I usually agree with wholeheartedly, sharing images of the body part they love the most.
For some it was their bums, and they took what kids these days call a ‘belfie‘. For others, it was their thighs they loved, or their abs or their arms.
This isn’t unique to my friends. It seems like lots of people on Instagram love their bodies, particularly their bums.
I’m pretty sure some people on Instagram have made a career out of loving their bums.
So why does that make me cringe?
The truth is, lately I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with some of the rhetoric around body image.
And as a person who has long been passionate about the consequences of body dissatisfaction, I’ve been a little taken aback by my own reaction.
I know why the hashtag #loveyourbody exists. It’s because women are systematically taught to hate their bodies. So shouldn’t loving your body be incomparably empowering?
I started to wonder whether I was simply ‘over’ body image. Had I gotten to the point in my own life where I was starting to become more accepting of myself, just the way I am, and therefore had become slightly put off by the unrelenting conversation about women’s bodies?
No, that definitely wasn’t it.
I still believe that women’s hatred of their bodies and the way it plays into their self-worth is deeply problematic.
I also still advocate that this hatred is deeply socialised. Girls don’t choose to value their physical appearance as fundamentally important. Girls and women are objectified by both the mass media and the people around them, which leads to self-objectification, where we choose to evaluate ourselves based on our appearance. When we see ourselves as an object first, and a person second, we’re prone to body shame, depression, and self-loathing, as well as ‘opting out’ of social engagements and meaningful interpersonal relationships.
So why does this make me cringe a little? Post continues after video…
Women’s issues with body image aren’t trivial, and ultimately, they play into our own subordination.
So, what was bothering me then? Why had I started to cringe in response to campaigns that preach ‘body love‘? Why do I now feel uncomfortable when women talk about their ‘favourite body part’? Why do I find it inherently bizarre that the hashtag #loveyourbody has been used (literally) more than a million times?
Because I don’t think women need to love their bodies. I don’t think that’s the solution to the cultural epidemic we’re facing. I think that’s part of the problem.
You see, there are two elements to the body image problem. One is that women are taught to pick apart and criticise their bodies, and the other is that women are taught to overvalue their bodies as part of their self-worth. While the ‘body love’ movement aims to address the first problem, it actually reinforces the second. We need to move away from the concept that we are our bodies. Our bodies simply don’t need to come with a value judgment.
We accept our height as our height and our shoe size as our shoe size, without needing to draw our self-esteem from either of these characteristics. Why can’t we treat our bodies in the same way? You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who is ‘proud’ of their height, or ‘loves’ their shoe size.
The obvious refutation to my argument is that features like height are more genetically determined and ‘fixed’ than our body types. So it doesn’t make sense to be ‘proud’ of something you had no role in creating. But we have far less control over our bodies than we imagine. There are countless factors that determine our weight and shape that don’t fall under the category of ‘our personal choices’. And even the factors that do, don’t warrant the severe value judgments we ascribe.
Loving your body for the way it looks is slightly bizarre. I understand working hard in terms of fitness, and ultimately being proud of what your body can do. But I don’t understand being proud of how your body looks. Once we start drawing feelings like pride from our bodies, we set ourselves up for problems down the track.
Personally, I don’t need to love my body. It’s a vessel that gets me through the life I want to live, and that’s enough. I’m proud that I once ran the City2Surf without stopping (albeit very slowly). I love that I can walk for hours. But my legs and my bum as purely physical characteristics are in no way deserving of my admiration.
Love your body if you like. It doesn’t have any real bearing on anyone else. But for those people struggling with their body image, know that you have another option in your journey to self-acceptance. You don’t need to look at your stomach lovingly or appreciate your love handles or adore your bum. You don’t need to be able to stand on a podium and declare with unwavering confidence that you unconditionally ‘love your body’. You can just accept it as one of the myriad of characteristics that makes you, you.