Why The Positive Body Image Movement Is Bad For Women

Written by Lisa Kaplin

I recently realized that I've never once told my two boys to love their bodies at any size, but I've repeatedly said those words to my daughter. I realized that when I recently gained 40 pounds in a short amount of time, I also spent my time manically looking in the mirror to remind myself of how beautiful I was. I feel like crap by both "not" dieting and dieting, and not knowing how to define "good" food versus "bad" food.

I often feel sick to death simply because of the very mixed messages that I read constantly about weight and dieting. For many reasons — whatever the reason — I woke up one day with clear knowledge in my mind: as women, we are hurting ourselves and our daughters with our excessive focus on body image, even if its about positive body image.

Disordered eating is at an all time high. Both obesity and anorexia are common with obesity rates stabilizing at a very high rate. But what we don't stop to think about is that both the world of glossy women's magazines (touting the benefits of recent diet crazes) and much of the positive body image movement still focus on women's appearances. The message is clear: you can be fat or thin but the focus is still on how you look. The outrageous spotlight on our appearance is keeping us from living full, complex, productive and healthy lives with some women spending up to an hour a day focused on their appearance.

While many of us have been busy telling ourselves that we are beautiful regardless of weight, our weight and eating issues have only increased. "Loving your body" is something many of us can do with words and the intellect; but without behavioral shifts, this focus is mostly useless, and even potentially dangerous. For instance, at the extreme end of the spectrum, I'll ask this: how can we celebrate obesity any more than we celebrate anorexia?

Conversely, why aren't we telling women how fabulous it feels to eat what we want in moderation so that we are neither starving nor stuffed? Why are we not focused on how amazing it feels to be flexible and strong, powerful and athletic versus how sexy we look at any weight? If we are highlighting appearance and not the physical and emotional strength that comes with good health, we are failing.

The positive body image movement is yet another dangerous fascination with women's appearance and not women's overall well-being. If our goal is simply to look in the mirror and be happy with what we see then maybe we have succeeded. Yet isn't that setting the bar extremely low? How about changing the focus from our appearance to our capabilities, our intelligence, our productivity and our ability to connect and love? How often do we hear men discussing loving up their bodies and increasing their self-esteem while looking in the mirror?

To be sure, some will see this opinion as "fat shaming." Yet what this really is appearance-obsession-shaming. Ultimately, our strength, our joy, and our personal happiness will not and should not be tied to our appearance. It must be tied to our comfort in our own skin, our health, our accomplishments and our relationships.

I want my daughter to spend less time in front of the mirror and more time with friends, family, teachers and books. I want her to enjoy food as a part of her life but not as something to either revel in or to fear. I want the shape of her body to be the least of her worries because she is so fulfilled in other aspects of her life.

So let's drop the body love talk, the diet talk, the "cleanse" talk and even the "you are beautiful inside and out" talk. Instead, let's take the incessant beauty talk off the table for girls and women and focus on ending disordered eating in all forms through focusing on things other than women's appearances. Our self-confidence can be our anchor — but only if it emerges from celebrating something about ourselves other than our bodies.

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