By Kate Walford, Intern 2015
Love your body! It’s a message that the body-positive movement is working very hard on. With all the messages the media sends women about their bodies — that they must look a certain way, that they need all sorts of products and exercises and diets in order to be worthy of love and attention — the body-positive and body-love movements encourage women to love the skin they’re in, and reject media telling women they’re imperfect.
But what underlying gendered messages do we send when we tell women to love their bodies?
That their bodies are still the most important aspect of who they are.
The love-your-body movement encourages women to reinvent their relationships with their bodies, to learn to love every inch of their skin — whatever their size, color, ability, or gender identity. This movement has called not only for change in how female-identified people are represented, but also in how women view their own bodies. The idea that women can heal from our societal obsession with criticizing and shaming their bodies is powerful, and necessary.
This movement does work for some people. Many women have used the body-love movement to reclaim their bodies and identities from a society that has devalued and shamed them. I’ve been able to take hold of a bit of this idea myself and begin to rethink my relationship with my own body.
However, there are extreme differences in the ways we expect people of different genders to have a relationship with their bodies. These movements to love your body rarely include people who identify as male.
True, some recent campaigns have shown men rebelling against the depiction of their bodies in the media. Online trends such as the dad bod craze have been offering an alternative way for men to be seen as “attractive” outside of the mainstream chiseled, Photoshopped bodies we see of men in the media. Other campaigns have begun to present images of real men in a greater variety of shapes and sizes, such as this one with men standing in for underwear models. These campaigns do call into question how we look at male bodies. Yet, they do not ask men to change their relationships with their bodies, like many body-positive movements focusing on women do.
Campaigns promoting body positivity for women often focus on the idea of body love — learning to love and cherish one’s physical body. This is a wonderful message. However, it still prioritizes the physical parts of female-identified bodies. We are still focusing on getting satisfaction from our physical selves, rather than focusing on the mental and emotional parts of our beings. These campaigns still focus more on how happy we are with ourselves physically than how happy we are with other parts of ourselves — the social, the loving, the productive, the spiritual.
Love-your-body campaigns are infused with the idea that in order to be whole, women must love their bodies. And “love” is an intense word — loving your body does not mean being satisfied with your body, or being just OK with your body, or not giving a shit about what your body looks like.
And to no one’s surprise, capitalism has gotten hold of loving one’s body too. Women are encouraged to spend not only time learning to love their bodies, but also money, with love-your-body product lines, guidebooks, and retreats.
The standard for men, though, is very different. Have their ever been campaigns that ask men flat-out to learn to love their bodies? The rhetoric surrounding male body image is centered on the idea that male-presenting folks ought not to care about what their bodies look like. If they aren’t perfectly satisfied with their body, well, there’s that. They focus on other things, and gain success and happiness in other ways — without pressure to love their bodies.
We need a movement that puts forth that message for women. The you-are-more-than-your-body movement. The stop-thinking-about-your-body movement.
However, women are still expected to love their bodies, rather than just living with them as they are. We still focus on women’s bodies and on men’s other life accomplishments. We are sending a message that women have to work to be successful not only in career and life, but also in body. Body love is an idealized characteristic in women — not unlike having the perfect body is. With men, whether or not they “love” their body isn’t even considered.
While asking women to love their bodies is definitely a step up from encouraging them to actively hate and/or change them, it’s still uncomfortably gendered. Once again, we ask women to do something that we don’t ask men to do: We ask them to spend money, time, and energy learning to love themselves. Is it worth it?
Spending time trying to love my body has been a load of crap for me. I’ve done yoga. I’ve bought books on it. I’ve meditated and journaled and therapized. I’ve spent a lot of money and a lot of time trying to achieve something I thought would bring me closer to being the kind of women the body-love community idealizes.
In reality, I feel best when I forget about my body, not when I love it. I feel best when I am laughing so hard that I forget I am even in a body, or so engrossed in my work that I seem for a minute to even escape it. I would much rather be told to stop giving a shit about my body and move on than all this bullshit learn-to-love-your-fingers-and-toes-and-thighs stuff. And it’s unfair that as a woman, I am expected to. I’m expected to heal myself and live life absolutely adoring all of my body parts.
If we are to really move forward and allow women to get past their body hang-ups, we need to make not caring a valid option for a relationship with their bodies. Both loving and not caring about how our bodies look need to be considered worthy ends. We need to look deeper than promoting body-love for women and promote all-around person-love, regardless of body relationship.
There are too many women who are waiting for the perfect body. There are too many waiting for the perfect relationship with theirs. Let’s end that waiting now.