The Body Positivity Paradox – Which Side Are You On?

Body positivity.

Right now, these two words are invoking dichotomous emotional responses all over the internet.

And rightfully so. With so many social media apps at our fingertips, a typical user is greeted with an avalanche of new content each time their smartphone is habitually checked throughout the day.

For the average user of social media, it’s not uncommon to approach this technology with the following point of view:


I want to portray the absolute best version of myself.

My profile can be viewed by my friends, co-workers and complete strangers.

It also integrates nicely with <insert dating app du jour>; so why would I want to be seen as anything less than my absolute best… and more?


This is understandable, and is akin to a watered down version of peacocking as a means to extract the most amount of attention and positive feedback from your audience.

Fortunately, most of us realize (either through personal experience, or through stories) that men and women alike are not always completely truthful when it comes to self-promotion.

Especially online.


body positivity paradox


So how do we, the viewers of this content, react to it?


Social Media and Your Emotional State


I now implore you to step back for a minute and think about when you’re most likely to scroll through a social media feed.

Here are some examples that come to mind:


  • When you wake up.
  • Morning commute to work.
  • Waiting in line.
  • While eating a meal.
  • At the gym (bad!)
  • Before you go to bed.


From these examples, I’m unlikely to be in what I would a call a peak emotional state. 

I doubt you would be either.

Unsure what I mean? Consider how you feel while doing each of the activities above. Speaking from experience, I’m certainly not a beacon of elation while sitting patiently on a train, or waiting in lines when I’d rather be elsewhere.

Now, couple a social media feed brimming with ostentatious user content with your emotional state at the time.

Be honest – Does scrolling through your feed make you feel better or worse about yourself? What value does it add to your day?


Body Image Trends Across Social Media


I believe that the combination of carefully curated user content (seen in our feeds), and our emotional states at the time, spawns these widely publicized “body image trends” across social media.

In other words, we have a tendency to focus on the physical achievements of others in lieu of embarking upon a path of relentless self-improvement.

One such example is the notion of “body positivity” or “body neutrality” that has been steadily gaining traction across all forms of social media since the halfway point of 2016.

Body posi… what? 

Here’s one interpretation:


…The term [body positivity] represents this wild idea that all bodies are good bodies. All bodies are worthy of self love, self care, and acceptance. All bodies are allowed to feel beautiful, regardless of their color or jean size or health status or how attractive you personally find them to be.


I’d like to focus on the words I’ve bolded above: health status.

First, I’m going to make it abundantly clear that my intention is not to target specific people. Rather, I intend to target the specific idea that runs against the grain of what doctors would unanimously consider as “healthy”.

I believe that under the guise of body positivity, we’re steadfast in our self-conviction that having a lackluster attitude towards our health is fine, as long as we accept ourselves for it.

In other words, with respect to our health and fitness, I feel this is rationalising a sense of self-defeat.


Loudly proclaiming how “body positive” you are while vitriolically retorting at naysayers does not make you any healthier.


We do not exist in a vacuum. By asserting that “i’m fine just the way I am” is to accept physical and mental stagnation with open arms. And you will be left to the wayside as the unyielding nature of father time marches on.

Your physical health is the most important asset in your life. You don’t need to be a professional bodybuilder, a world-class sports athlete, or a person able to readily demonstrate incredible feats of strength.

All you need to do is simply look after yourself, and refuse to settle for anything less.


The Contradictory Nature of Body Positivity


When I recently saw this article, I nearly fell out of my seat.

Rachel Hollis, mother of three, shared photos of herself at the beach having fun in an attempt to show that even after several bouts of childbirth (three kids!), she’s still comfortable with herself.

Unless I’m missing something, this looks like a depiction of what I would consider body positivity.

All things considered, she certainly doesn’t look bad at all.

(The photo on the right was from two years ago.)


body image

Original post on the left can be found here

What ensued was a mixed response; ranging from positive, to snarky, to Hollis being virulently criticized.

To quote from the title of the article above, Hollis was deemed simply not “ugly enough” to warrant her positive expression of the way she looks and feels on her Facebook page.

This runs in direct contrast to my understanding of body positivity, and leads me to begin to question it entirely.

Does body positivity represent the universal idea of being comfortable in your own skin? Or are we gradually being forced to fight against layers of social caveats that govern whether or not we’re worthy of positively expressing ourselves in a public realm?

Two words come to mind after having a moment to think about this.

Crab mentality.

Someone focusing on their own self-improvement would not bat an eyelid. They would read the post, think to themselves “oh cool, good on her” and continue on their own path.

I can definitely see why many people simply refuse to read the comments, regardless of the social platform.


In Closing


My advice? Ignore the noise, focus on your hobbies, and be selective with who you choose to follow. In fact, learn to consistently work on your body language to present yourself as confidently as possible.

Body image, like the definition of beauty, is one of the most subjective topics in existence. Trying to fit into the mold of what others would classify as “ideal” is an exercise in futility.

By continuing to look after yourself and ensuring you’re surrounded with like-minded, driven acquaintances —you can guarantee that you’re on the path to being substantially more comfortable (and healthier) than before.

And then, the beautiful part is that the notion of body positivity will be absurd to you.

Why? Because you’ll embody it, and no amount of negative feedback online will be able to take that, and the work you’ve invested into yourself, away from you.