The body positivity (or acceptance) movement is a movement that aims to increase awareness of the diversity of the human form in order to encourage people to love and feel confident in their body as it is.
As someone who has struggled (and continues to struggle) with body image and eating disorder issues, I fully recognize the necessity of this message. Yet, as a major proponent of the idea that physical and mental health can only exist in conjunction, I wonder if we are approaching these issues in the best way.
— Local 4 WDIV Detroit (@Local4News) February 10, 2016
One method of promoting body positivity is increasing visibility of all body types. For example, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on using more plus-sized models, which has resulted in the first plus size model being featured in sports illustrated.
What you’ll notice is that many of these articles focus on the idea that health can come in many shapes and sizes. People want to spread the notion that body positivity does not have to contradict the rising popularity of healthy living to fight America’s growing waistline.
— DanaBrushettephotog (@DanaBrushette) February 4, 2016
On the surface, this logic makes a lot of sense, but when you dig deeper, an important question arises: where does it stop? Should we increase use of clinically obese and physical unhealthy models as well? Is this still promoting the idea of “health at all sizes”?
A common point made by body positivists is that loving your body as it is doesn’t mean you will be unhealthier, and in many ways, I agree. In fact, I’m a strong believer that self-acceptance is extremely important in any attempt to improve physical health.
The problem is that the promoting body positivity through increased images of larger bodies might actually be detrimental to physical health. There hasn’t been a lot of research on this movement, but preliminary studies do show that such images may encourage unhealthy eating habits.
We already know there are long-term negative physical impacts of not eating properly and not exercising, but unhealthy living can also contribute to depression. For example, exercise is a known mood-enhancer, and junk food may contribute to poor mental health.
The strange link between junk food and depression http://t.co/UZdmGLqmhh
— TIME Health (@TIMEHealth) June 29, 2015
So on one hand, by fighting eating disorders and low self-esteem, the body positivity movement could increase both physical and mental health.
On the other hand, if it also encourages unhealthy habits linked to depression, we might also be inadvertently encouraging a culture that is less physically and mentally healthy. It’s difficult to think about how can we encourage both types of health.
Simon Fraser, the researcher of the aforementioned study suggests that, over time, as images of all body shapes become more prevalent, negative effects will gradually dissipate. Others suggest that we must simply reduce emphasis on bodies altogether.
I believe these are both fair speculations, but they are still just that – speculation. There is still a great deal of research to be done about the relationship between body positivity, psychology, and health.
— Dr Alessandro Demaio (@SandroDemaio) February 8, 2016
I’m certainly not saying that the body positivity movement is a bad thing. I simply fear that if we accept it with no questions or reservations (or if all criticisms come in ridiculously offensive forms), then we might not have a complete picture.
So this article is a call to all of you budding researchers and psychologists out there. Understanding how the body positivity movement affects our mental and physical health is incredibly important, so please study it. Ask the difficult questions. It’s time to be a little bit more critical.