September 25, 2016

Letter to the Editor: Thinking positive won’t end body image concerns

From Madeline Owen, in response to the story “Under Pressure” in The Ampersand student magazine

The front cover of the most recent copy of the Ampersand depicted a photograph of the back of a heavyset topless girl with a splash of rainbow light shining on her shoulder. The image was shocking, breathtaking even, and I was expecting a piece on the stories of those who struggle with their body image, but in comparison to the cover, the article leaves much to be desired.

The article was called “Under Pressure” and it was a measly page and a half, which, for the featured story, seems pretty small in comparison to the five page article on cultural appropriation. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having that article in particular being long, but it dwarfed the cover story by a significant degree, leaving me questioning why “Under Pressure” was the cover story in the first place.

There were only two student stories in the article, which seemed like a small amount given how many people struggle daily with their body image, and the message of this article is hard to pin down. It states that you should just “be nice to yourself,” to not “take any negative comments personally,” to become “immune to [others] opinions and their actions, [and then] you won’t be a victim of needless suffering,” but that’s not exactly what the student stories were telling us. Both students seemed to undergo a change of some sort, something beyond simply waking up one morning and deciding to love themselves. Not only is it impossible to just decide to love yourself and expect that to solve all of your problems, it also doesn’t feel like the article is actually advocating this too-simple solution. It was heavily implying that your problems will actually be fixed if you change yourself.

That’s not what body positivity is about.

When I am told that our body sizes dictate my worth, I feel like sh*t because the people saying these things are cruel and rude. I do not feel like sh*t because I am not positive enough. This article seems to conveniently ignore that people have body positivity problems because other people trash them for their body.

So what does this mean? People have difficulties loving their bodies because other people and the media tell them their bodies are not good enough. When someone comes up to me and tells me I’m ugly because I’m fat, will you tell me it’s my fault for not being positive about myself? By saying this, we’re teaching those with poor body images to steel themselves so that the world can go on being bitter and hateful. We are excusing the unkindness of others and the problems with media because it would be much easier if people could just ignore it and pretend to be happy with their bodies. You can yell at people all day for the mistakes in placing their own self-worth in other people’s approval, but there is nothing wrong with wanting support from others over their self-image.

Body positivity is about feeling good about yourself the way you are. If you want to change and be positive about the way you will change, that’s rad too, but the whole concept of body positivity is that you shouldn’t have to change yourself in order to love yourself. This isn’t about what’s healthy and what’s not. It’s about waking up in the morning and being happy with the clothes you put on. It’s about not thinking that suicide is a faster and easier alternative than trying to conform. It’s about being happy in your body, truly happy, and that kind of self-love doesn’t come from just deciding you want to be nice to yourself. Choosing to think positively is a pathetic, simplistic solution to a problem that is woven through every aspect of our bodies and our minds. Claiming that it’s the only solution devalues the problem; if a negative body image could be changed so easily, it wouldn’t be a problem in the first place.

Body positivity isn’t just “being nice to yourself.” We can’t just keep telling each other to be nice to ourselves while pretending that the media’s messages are just something we need to learn to put up with. Thinking positively is far from the final solution. If we are going to focus our efforts on making a change in the way we view our bodies, we need to change our views on other people’s bodies and the way the media skews our attitudes. The oppressing idea that our value is based on our bodies is a widespread and dangerous concept, and it won’t be wiped out by happy thoughts. Nothing in this world is that simple.

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