When political correctness is combined with the trivialization of Positive Psychology, slogans arise that sound great but hide potentially harmful attitudes. Messages like “love your body” or “accept yourself as you are” are the most emblematic examples.
Framed in the “Body Positive” movement, this type of thinking can take on dangerous drifts that few dare to point out for fear of being branded as “fat-phobic”. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that between anorexia and obesity there is something called a healthy weight.
From the claiming of rights to the building of empty positive messages
In 1969, a young New York engineer named Bill Fabrey was very angry at the way people treated his wife, Joyce, because she was obese. He soon realized that this was not an isolated case, so he gathered a small group of people and founded what is now known as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.
At the same time, in 1972, a group of California feminists created the group Fat Underground. In the mid-1980s that movement spread to England, where the London Fat Women’s Group was formed. These groups demanded respectful treatment and equal opportunities for obese people, promoting a more tolerant social attitude towards diversity.
Over time, activists moved from television sets to social media. This is how the Body Positive movement spread, which included all those people whose bodies did not follow the strict rules imposed by the fashion industry.
However, very soon that movement started to take from the most banal Positive Psychology preaching self-love and self-acceptance. Instead of promoting social acceptance of marginalized bodies to ensure those people the same opportunities and make room for those voices that are rarely heard, many influencers simply promoted self-love in general and, ultimately, a love blind to themselves with no trace of self-criticism.
As has happened with the popularization and misinterpretation of Positive Psychology, the simplification of the Body Positive movement has made it largely lose its original vindictive character to become a factory of positive messages that sound good, but that in many cases lack a deeper content that can channel a serious debate to promote authentic tolerance and, above all, that is really beneficial and healthy for all people who do not have normative bodies.
When the shot backfires, exclusionary and self-indulgent attitudes
Almost every day we are exposed to messages that suggest that we are not good enough because we are not up to social standards – whether they are aesthetic, professional or otherwise. Every day we are reminded that we can be more successful, dress better, have younger skin or a slimmer physique.
That pressure causes us immense frustration because it forces us to pursue an ideal so unrealistic that it is unattainable for most people. In response to this toxic bombardment, it is understandable that we embrace the “Body Positive” movement with our eyes closed.
This movement becomes the antithesis of a culture that makes us hate ourselves. It tells us that in reality we are already well like this. That loving our body is more important than our appearance. Embracing those ideas seems us an act of courage, self-determination, and empowerment. We scream that we are perfect just the way we are.
However, the trivialization of these messages – which the fashion industry itself is already taking advantage of – can make us fall into a dangerous zone of self-indulgence in which no type of growth occurs and ends up promoting unhealthy lifestyles that hide behind the excuse of questionable self-love.
The “Body Positive” movement taken to the extreme – understood as a mere opposition to normative body patterns – also carries the risk of replicating the negative attitudes it supposedly fights against.
We must remember that every time a movement emerges that counters an existing trend, it runs the risk of developing the same pattern in the opposite direction. Denial should not be an end in itself. To deny for the sake of denying is pure nihilism. Dialectical denial consists of taking the positive aspects of the old patterns and incorporating the validity of the new antagonistic tendencies to develop a more balanced vision.
Unfortunately, in social networks there is no shortage of fierce attacks and destructive criticism of thin women or those with a more muscular physique, simply because there are those who think that their bodies are not “real” and imperfect. Thus, a movement that should promote tolerance, acceptance and love towards all kinds of bodies ends up becoming an excluding pattern.
This tells us that we are still far from having spaces where we can speak in a more open, mature and truly tolerant way about the different intersections in which we live, spaces in which we can all reflect on how to achieve fuller and healthier lives that truly make us feel good about ourselves and the others.
Treat your body as if it were your temple
Taoist philosophy has always promoted the idea that our body is our temple. That means we must accept and love him. Definitely. But also that we must take care of it and pay attention to keep it in the best possible shape.
Of course, we cannot influence every aspect of our physique. After all, the passage of time is inexorable and leaves traces on everyone. However, there are aspects that we can change, not to conform to an aesthetic norm, but to get closer to that forgotten Roman maxim: mens sana in corpore sano.
Obesity is not an aesthetic problem, just think of the famous Venus of Willendorf, some paintings by Titian or the excellent paintings by Botero. Obesity is a health problem. There is plenty of scientific studies that indicate that it reduces years and quality of life while increasing the risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases and diabetes to some types of cancer, kidney and liver disorders and even depression.
Just as anorexic bodies are unhealthy, neither are obese ones. If we are not able to differentiate between aesthetics and health, we have a problem as a society. And if we can’t even talk about it without becoming public enemy number one for seemingly inclusive groups that turn out to be particularly exclusive, we have an even bigger problem.
Loving our body cannot become an excuse for not taking care of it, telling ourselves that we are perfect and that we don’t have to do anything else. Those simplistic messages can become an echo chamber for some people, who might use them as an excuse not to get out of their comfort zone and replicate lifestyles that are not healthy or beneficial for themselves. And that is far from the love and care that we should have for ourselves.
Self love is not self-indulgent, but honest. It is not harmful, but rather encourages self-care. It implies self-acceptance and respect for oneself, so that our physical appearance does not make us feel bad. But it also means asking ourselves what we can do to take care of our emotional and physical health. It is not about following aesthetic commandments, but about applying common sense.
From that perspective, the simple message “love your body” could become “love and take care of your body” while the phrase “accept yourself as you are” could become “accept yourself as you are, but strive to grow every day”. The goal is to achieve our best version with total freedom, to feel great inside and out.