Body positivity stresses me out

Julia Dailard, Features Editor

Art by Katie Lew.

I can still remember the first moment I became aware of my body and hated how it looked. I was 7.

 Standing in my bathroom before stepping into the shower, I began to study my side profile in the mirror and became conscious of the natural curvature of my stomach. Placing my tiny hand on the pocket of fat protruding below my belly-button, I pressed down in an attempt to flatten it, trying to envision what my body would look like if that mound had somehow disappeared. The thought of this someday becoming a reality was exhilarating. That day, standing in front of my bathroom mirror, that vision of an entirely flat stomach took root in my 7-year-old psyche, and continued to flourish. So much so that it became a regular part of my pre-shower routine to stand in front of the mirror while compressing that pocket of stomach fat down with my hand, feeling that exhilaration, only to have it replaced with a distaste—a disgust even—for my natural body upon pulling my hand away.

Now, at 17, the pocket of belly fat still remains. , AaAnd although it’s a little smaller than before, I still don’t feel satisfied. 

Now, at 17, with an increased awareness of society’s suffocating beauty standards, I’ve grown extremely well-versed in the study of all the ways I fail to fit the mold of the ideal body. From my 5-foot stature, to my stretchmarks and cellulite, to my B-cups, to the way my chin protrudes when I smile, even to the width of my fingers, I can undoubtedly say that I can find something I don’t like about every part of my body. 

To make matters worse, every time I open Instagram or TikTok and scroll through my feed, I’m met with countless posts promoting body positivity, urging me to just “love my body, stretchmarks and all!”

If only it were that simple. 

The body positivity movement, which has become increasingly popular on social media platforms, preaches the social acceptance of all body shapes and sizes. But rather than taking a sole focus on changing the public perception of beauty to make all body types acceptable, the movement largely places responsibility on the individual to “love their body,” conveying that it’s up to them to change their opinions, feelings and perspectives, to finally recognize how beautiful they really are. 

And while this message of total and complete self-love is obviously well-intended, telling people that they should just start to love every part of their body that they’ve spent close to a lifetime hating is anything but helpful. 

The problem is that the body positivity movement over-simplifies the solution to body-image struggles. We were not born with a body positivity switch in our brains that we can just flip on whenever we feel down on ourselves, and frankly, it doesn’t seem very human to wholeheartedly love every part of our bodies. 

As if dealing with the shame of failing to measure up to society’s impossible beauty standards isn’t hard enough, the movement unintentionally creates the added pressure of an unattainable self-perception. If we fail to achieve total self-love or do feel bad about certain aspects of our appearance, then we are also failing at being “body positive.” Essentially, it just swaps one feeling of failure with another. 

Unless you’ve spent the last three years of your life in a meditative state searching for some sort of self-love nirvana, it’s totally understandable and normal to have some parts of your body that you dislike, or even hate. It’s what we’ve been conditioned to do. 

If we really want to empower all bodies, then we need to stop shoving unattainable standards down our throats and shift the narrative towards something that is more achievable. It is not realistic to fit into society’s mold of an ideal body and it is not realistic to achieve absolute and complete self-love. However, accepting your body for what it is and accepting the things you cannot change is realistic. Although I might not always like every part of my body, I’ve learned to accept that I may never grow another inch, my stretchmarks and cellulite may never fade, my B-cups may never reach a C, my chin will continue to protrude when I smile, and my fingers will likely never get any thinner. And although I haven’t quite gotten there yet, and I understand that I may never, for the sake of my 7-year-old self and my present one too, I’m working towards accepting my lower-stomach fat for how it is. 

The road to self-acceptance is anything but simple, but if we ever want to make any sort of real progress towards this, then treating ourselves with grace and leaving room for the days we don’t love our bodies is a perfectly good first step.