the body positivity movement should focus less on beauty, more on self-esteem

July 18, 2018
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If you remember the “Evolution” video that Dove released back in 2006, then you’ll remember the dawn of corporate buy-in to the notion of “body positivity”. The infamous video depicted a time-lapse of a model being made-up, shot, photoshopped and placed on a billboard all in the space of just over a minute. It sparked wide-spread conversation over the beauty industry’s role in proliferating unattainable standards of beauty and Dove themselves used the video to hold themselves accountable. Dove used the subsequent praise to position themselves at the forefront of the discussion on beauty and self-worth.

Dove later released the “Real Beauty Sketches” which became the most watched video of all time back in 2013. It also launched the “Campaign for Real Beauty” with the premise “beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety,” included in their mission statement They had tapped into what women were thinking and feeling about themselves and attached their brand to the conversation on beauty. The issue with Dove’s approach is that they had made an art form of conflating identifying a problem with solving it, because if they were being authentic then no woman would need their products to recognize their self-worth, right?

What ended up happening instead is a shift in mass marketing, away from selling products through invoking aspiration (buy this product and you’ll be desirable) to co-opting an already-present and vastly political body positivity movement (you’re already perfect so our product is also for you). Corporate marketing stripped and sanitized the body positivity movement of the 60s, omitting its political advocacy and making it more palatable for mass consumption. The beauty industry had joined Dove’s bandwagon of not acknowledging the role it played in how women form perceptions of themselves, leaving women to take responsibility for how we feel about ourselves. We call bullshit.

“And so we have the marketing landscape as we know it now, courtesy of Dove: gentle, millennial pink, and passive-aggressively reproachful of women who have allowed themselves to feel bad about their bodies.” – Racked

The industry’s adoption of body positivity does not address the ramifications of main-stream media’s compliance in excluding bodies that are considered “non-compliant” to white, thin, CIS gendered and able-bodied beauty standards. The body positivity movement has been sanitized to the point of being purely aesthetic while also doing nothing to divorce beauty from self-worth. This is the case because corporate entities are primarily responsible for selling a sense of inadequacy to women so that they can sell the “cure” for that inadequacy as well. In an op-ed for Racked, Amanda Mull wrote, “There is no inherent unhappiness to womanhood, or to fatness, or to blackness, or to anything else that American beauty standards have long treated as a problem. The conditions under which we loathe ourselves are socially constructed, but in practical terms, they’re very real.”

“What brands and individuals alike are less enthusiastic to talk about is how having a noncompliant body — whether it’s fat, nonwhite, trans, disabled, or some combination thereof — impacts someone’s life, how those external conditions affect someone’s sense of self-worth, and how corporate interests have long benefited from and upheld the structural forces that create inequality. – Racked

Brands are out here adopting a façade of “wokeness” and a performative rendition of body positivity that never mentions the fact that finding yourself should never be externally sought and more so, bought. This is because at the end of the day, brands like Dove are still preoccupied with the bottom line – sales. Dove hardly mentions that their foray into “self-love” has boosted sales after they did market research to bring themselves out from behind the shadow of other beauty brands. In fact, brand director at Unilever (Dove’s parent company) Jennifer Bremner told Huffington Post, “We believe that conversation leads to brand love, and brand love leads to brand loyalty. That’s obviously a positive for us not just in the power of the brand, but also ultimately in sales.”

““[These products] could not possibly exist if women actually as a demographic believed the principles at the campaign’s core,” Pozner told HuffPost. “Cellulite cream would not exist if women believed they were beautiful and enough as it is.” – Huffington Post

It does need to be said that the body positivity movement has made some headway in that we are seeing a diversification of the bodies and skin tones that flood mass media. However, the buck cannot stop there because an ad campaign isn’t going to stop the real-world consequences of having a body that is considered “non-conforming”. Expanding who is considered beautiful does little for the jobs and healthcare that fat women lose because of fatphobia. A billboard with a dark-skin woman won’t address the police brutality faced by Black Americans. Brands have to go beyond their premise that they can help you buy self-worth; they need to look to themselves and their structures and figure out how they’re maintaining a harmful status quo behind closed doors. This issue is encapsulated by companies like direct-to-consumer brand Everlane that launched a budget-friendly underwear range and advertised it using a plus size model while not stocking actual plus sizes on their website. Brands will claim to be inclusive yet the sizing is proof enough that they don’t consider plus-size bodies worthy of wearing their clothes.

Corporate interests always manage to make it into the fray of public discourse, which is why we need to be careful about who we praise considering the fact that body positivity is “trending”. True body positivity should follow the premise that you’re beautiful just the way you are and if you don’t feel that way, how you look shouldn’t dictate how you are treated in this society. Body positivity should not shame women for not loving their Most important of all, a company can’t claim to be body positive when their approach is making a woman feel bad for feeling bad about her body. It could be considered the most natural feeling in the world when the very same companies have used it as a tactic to generate profit since the dawn of advertising.