Body positivity and it’s opposite, body shame, are indeed political in nature. For, bodies are only symbols of much graver societal issues, including misogyny, gender oppression, racial oppression, identity oppression, and just about anything that exists outside of the context of the straight white male. As women routinely succumb to the pressures of fitting the image of what society deems as ideal (thin and pretty), they suppress their fight for and manifestation of equality.
As noted in Miss Representation (I know I’ve cited this before, but it was a game-changing documentary for me), men tend to control the ideal image of a woman. For, males are in large at the top levels of marketing, the media, business, and politics. And because they are largely represented in the marketing industry, they can become the say so of what a “beautiful” woman is. And, this image is marketed to young men and women. This can only allow for misogyny to permeate through conditioned images of what women should look, think, and behave like. I believe a very pertinent example of how men control the standardized image of women in Western culture is our very own President Trump’s demeaning of the 1996 Ms. Universe contest winner, Alicia Machado (Ms. Venezuela), for her weight gain after competing. I am not sure I even need to divulge into how upsetting this is to me (and so many other women), especially considering the cause of body positivity and gender equality that I fight for. The problem with this vicious attack on a woman’s body, outside of the painfully obvious fact that it is derogatory and disgusting, is that it sets up a precedence for body bias towards women. And when there is bias, a binary of acceptable and unacceptable bodies becomes embedded and fixed into cultural norms. In other words, statements like Trump’s calling Alicia Machado “Miss Piggy” create a set of rules that have the potential to become a matter of debate when broken. And, because the diet industry has planted it’s iron fist into Western culture, having a body outside of what is portrayed as ideal by the media and the marketing industry becomes the ugly parallel to the “look” of health, which is thinness. This is the how and why bodies become politicized. Because thin has become the image of health and beauty (see the previous post “Just Say ‘No’… Dieting”) and women are repeated targets of these images and messages, body positivity and hate quickly turn into body politics. Bodies types are pitted against one another: thin vs. everything else, much like the bipartisanship we see in the American political structure.
To embrace all bodies is to embrace all humans. When we fixate on the differences in our bodies, we selectively choose which ones are to be embraced and which ones are to be hated and avoided at all costs. When industries market and campaign for diet products, they speak a language that suggests that “larger” bodies are not acceptable. And to place restrictions on what type of look is acceptable and what is not is to set rules and regulations on a societal level. In diet culture, bodies are policed and judged by arbitrary standards that have become wide-spread on a societal level by nothing other than the media, advertisements, magazines, and even schools. When these rules and regulations are broken, people who have the “wrong” kind of body are ostracized and left either feeling like they need to defend themselves for their shape and look or worse, like they need to change to be acceptable. Just like politicians infuse moralization with the war on drugs, the war on fat and certain kinds of bodies sets up a scale of “right” and “wrong”. And, it is in this process that bodies that do not fit an ideal Ken and Barbie kind of standard are marginalized. I believe that the subliminal cultural message in regards to women’s bodies is this: if females can at least look the role of the ideal woman, then they can be satisfied about their positional structuring in society. Although there has been a major shift in attitudes towards women’s roles in society, there is still a clear and fixed representation within mainstream media and culture of what an ideal and beautiful woman looks like. I believe this representation is accepted on a collectively unconscious level. This is how powerful the media and marketing industry are, which seems to fit hand and hand with the purpose of the diet industry. And, it is in the process of politicizing the position of women in society that their bodies become politicized. By suppressing the adequacy, value, and virtue of the many different body types that actually exist outside of the movie-star ideal, women’s value is reduced to their looks, which is absolutely a political issue. The reason I am so passionate about uncovering the ugly truth about dieting and the obsession over women achieving a very pigeon-holed body ideal is because when we submit to the pressures of thinness and plastic beauty, we submit to our own objectification. I believe that by adhering to a cultured, rather than individual, idea of beauty, we say that judgement of bodies is acceptable. Women are more than their bodies; ALL people are more than their bodies.
When a person is marginalized for their looks, the issue of justice (or lack thereof) becomes supreme. Take one look at our current political climate and you will see what I mean. To put it plainly, have a President and Administration that marginalizes everyone who is not a rich white straight male. Christy Harrison, an intuitive eating coach, discusses this on the “Body Positivity & Social Justice” episode of her podcast, “Food Psyche”, with yoga guru and body positivity activist, Dianne Bondy. In this episode, Harrison and Bondy engage in a lengthy discussion about how body positivity and acceptance is not limited to just those with larger bodies, but rather, every person who is marginalized in Western society because of their looks. They discuss how our current President and administration only serves in the favor of straight white males, which has the potential for a devastating effect on the body wellness and positivity of many people. My interpretation of this discussion, based on my own observation of the very limited social equality platform our current political administration has, is that every other person, as well as the bodies they live in, besides straight white males are portrayed as the image of those of lesser value. This includes a long list of people: African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, women, LGBTQ individuals, old people, poor people who cannot afford an Armani suit, women who gain weight (think Ms. Venezuela), men who embrace feminism, etc. I think you get the picture. We have a list of all kinds of “bodies” that are misrepresented and do not benefit from the current political administration.
To reiterate, the body is only a symbol in the context of hate. In reference to what I passionately advocate against, the focus on women’s bodies is a symbol of much larger issues of identity oppression and box-fitting the “look” of an ideal female. All bodies deserve respect and justice. When we focus on the size of others’ bodies, we invalidate their personhood; their being; their worth. When the diet industry markets a grand-scale campaign waging the war against dreaded “fat” bodies, they moralize an issue that is both individual and biological in nature. Each body has a natural look and set-point weight that is right for them; one that their biology has fixed for them. When we choose to rebel against our natural selves, we give in to body-hate and the effect of this is much more grave than disliking our thighs or stomachs. It sets up an idea of what is right and what is wrong, placing limited standards on our own selves. In other words, women marginalize themselves when they turn against their own bodies, desperately trying to manipulate and fix them, so that they might better fit on the side of ideal.
Women’s body acceptance extends far beyond diet ads, sensationalized images of thin females, and gym memberships. We are not simply battling for our right to not be heckled for our body shape and size. My point is that to not accept our bodies as they are is the equivalent to accepting marginalization as the status quo. To strive to look a certain way because media images tell us it is the standard of womanhood is to deny our own humanness. Let us look deeper than the magazines, movies, dieting tricks, and beach body workout series, so we can truly experience love of all people, starting with ourselves. There is no better way to show what it means to fight against hate than to be the example you want to set.