n theory, the body positivity movement seems like something almost everyone can get behind. It’s dedicated to the idea that we can love and accept our bodies just as they are, and that we should focus on health and wellbeing rather than achieving a certain number on the scale, or a particular pants size.
In practice, however, things get tricky quick.
In our western culture, literally billions of dollars go toward trying to make us feel that we are not enough. In 2017, L’Oréal alone spent $962 million on ads across its various subsidiaries. And in 2018 we got to see the fashion and beauty greats themselves go head-to-head on body criticism. For once, body positivity won.
Case in point: Last September, juxtaposed fashion shows hit the stage. Savage x Fenty showcased a fashion sense and beauty ideal that, in the words of founder Rihanna, “celebrated [women] in all forms and all body types and all races and all cultures.” Later in the year, Victoria’s Secret’s CMO Ed Razek, was quoted in Vogue as responding, when asked whether plus-size or transgender models would ever be included in a Victoria’s Secret fashion show, “No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy.”
There are many reasons for why his response caused an outrage. And we love love love ThirdLove’s CEO Heidi Zak for her open letter response to Ed Razek, published in The New York Times:
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New York Times Sunday, full page letter from @heidi to @victoriassecret – Dear Victoria’s Secret, I was appalled when I saw the demeaning comments about women your Chief Marketing Officer, Ed Razek, made to Vogue last week. As hard as it is to believe, he said the following: “We attempted to do a television special for plus-sizes [in 2000]. No one had any interest in it, still don’t.” “It’s like, why doesn’t your show do this? Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy.” I’ve read and re-read the interview at least 20 times, and each time I read it I’m even angrier. How in 2018 can the CMO of any public company — let alone one that claims to be for women — make such shocking, derogatory statements? You market to men and sell a male fantasy to women. But at ThirdLove, we think beyond, as you said, a “42-minute entertainment special.” Your show may be a “fantasy” but we live in reality. Our reality is that women wear bras in real life as they go to work, breastfeed their children, play sports, care for ailing parents, and serve their country. Haven’t we moved beyond outdated ideas of femininity and gender roles? It’s time to stop telling women what makes them sexy — let us decide. We’re done with pretending certain sizes don’t exist or aren’t important enough to serve. And please stop insisting that inclusivity is a trend. I founded ThirdLove five years ago because it was time to create a better option. ThirdLove is the antithesis of Victoria’s Secret. We believe the future is building a brand for every woman, regardless of her shape, size, age, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation. This shouldn’t be seen as groundbreaking, it should be the norm. Let’s listen to women. Let’s respect their intelligence. Let’s exceed their expectations. Let women define themselves. As you said Ed, “We’re nobody’s ThirdLove, we’re their first love.” We are flattered for the mention, but let me be clear: we may not have been a woman’s first love but we will be her last. To all women everywhere, we see you, and we hear you. Your reality is enough. To each, her own. -Heidi @heidi
Ed Razek apologized for his comments. And he resigned from Victoria’s Secret as a result. But the war on body positivity isn’t won out there in the press or on the runway. It’s won right here, in the intimate expanse of your own mind, and what you believe about yourself when you look into the mirror.
Yes, it’s easy to see what Hollywood and the beauty industry have done and get pissed. We can vow that we won’t be influenced by media images any longer, that we won’t be manipulated by dishonest imagery designed to get us to buy product after product. But when you’re alone in that poorly lit dressing room trying on swimsuits and noticing your muffin top and the stretch marks that you’ve literally never seen on TV, it’s all too easy to feel like you’re the one falling short.
So let’s really look at this. What does it take to genuinely graduate from regular body criticism to body positivity in your own mind and your own life?
Bodies are unique. But body judgments are socio-cultural.
Think of the many, many people you know personally whom you consider beautiful. It only takes a second to remember a time when they’ve criticized their own appearance. A beautiful redhead hates her freckles. A strong, flexible yoga instructor is self conscious about her teeth. An avid runner is self-critical of his upper body strength. A tall, gorgeous woman will fret over being a size twelve instead of a size 4. Something is always too big, too small, or shouldn’t be there at all.
And we don’t only judge ourselves. We are constantly judging those around us — unconsciously measuring ourselves against anyone who happens to stumble into our field of vision. We compare our bodies to our friends and frenemies and are eager to point out their perceived failings.
We internally judge a “heavy” person when we see them eating a bacon cheeseburger (try a salad!) and judge a “too thin” person when they eat salad (have a cheeseburger, why don’t you!). Or, even worse, we have all encountered those who don’t keep their judgments restricted to inner monologue. They shout them out of car windows and post them on comment threads to actively tear other people down. Teen suicides are climbing due to these kinds of judgments.
And it doesn’t stop there.
Body negativity is so ingrained in us, that even when we start to see the problem, it’s just that – a start. We are often blind to our own biases because they feel like such a part of us. It takes concerted effort to recognize the subtle biases about our bodies and notice the constant comments, judgments and criticisms we make of ourselves and others.
So, how do we break this cycle?
Find bodies that look like yours
Yes, you are a unique snowflake.
But if you spend your average day never seeing other bodies that look like yours, then you are depriving yourself of the chance to revel in the beauty of a woman or man who looks just enough like you that you can see that beauty in yourself… and you are missing out.
Virgie Tovar, author of the book You Have the Right to Remain Fat says, “In order for oppression to really work it requires a sense of isolation.” Just as the online world is part of the beauty industrial complex, it can also be a tool to break down your sense of isolation. Use it to find a community of like-minded and like-bodied people. When you see that you are not alone, you can see unhealthy body criticism for what it is and stop internalizing it.
You can absolutely transform any long-held negativity about your body. Some find empowerment in shifting their criticism from their own body to the distorted cult of beauty that feeds those criticisms made-to-order. But we have found that such a transference is a fantastic first step. But it doesn’t bring you to a true acceptance and LOVE of your own body. That requires releasing what anyone else is saying, doing, or being out there and taking a good, hard, honest look at what you are saying, doing and being in regards to yourself and your own body.
Be unapologetically human
You are a glorious, complex and beautiful human. Those imagesyou’ve been showyn our entire life? They’re not. They are “enhanced,” surgically, digitally and culturally to something few can attain. If you want to love your own body, it begins with shifting your focus only to yourself. Don’t compare. Release ideals. Just go with what is, without deciding if it’s good enough, and start there.
If you feel up for it, consider engaging in a daily body love meditation, like this one here: