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Body Positivity: The Commodification of Self-Acceptance Movement

The body positivity movement that once started to make people with extra weight feel confident in their own skin has long lost its true purpose. With social media at boom and brands using anything in trend to sell their product, the diminishing movement has transformed into a hashtag for influencers to grasp more likes and a tagline for brands to advertise their outputs.

With all the blaze surrounding body positivity movement, things have surely taken some good turn. Not very long ago, media, TV, and commercials showed only a very small section of the body types. Now magazines and ramps are opening doors for plus-size women.

But what really is body positivity? Are the brands actually conveying the message behind the movement? And is body positivity truly commodified?

What is Beauty?

What exactly does the word plus mean? Plus means good when used as a noun; plus means optimistic when used as an adjective; but when the same plus is used in the context of body type, plus somehow becomes a stereotypical stigma. It begins by implying that someone plus-sized isn’t ‘beautiful enough.’ So who gets to say what these perfect bodies and beauty ideals are?

Social media influencers, ramps, and brands have collectively cultivated the body image problem, and then exploit them for skyrocketing their business. If observed closely, it gets evident how the standards of beauty are introduced to us from a very young age.

For girls, Barbie doll defines good look; slim, fair, and tall. When grew a little older, makeup brands showing fair and spotless models expounded the ideal skin. Ramps elucidated the perfect height and body type. Anyone who didn’t fit into these idealized skin and shape was made to feel less.

Impacts of the Unrealistic Beauty Standards

A research’s staggering report published in the Body Image journal dictates that the insanely unrealistic body proportion of the Barbie dolls lowers the self-esteem of young girls between the age of 6 to 8 and they complain about their own natural body not being good enough.

Another research found that images of models, very strongly impact adolescent girls’ perception of ideals weight, and body shape. According to the results, 69% of the girls are influenced by the perfect body shape depicted in the magazines.

Social media and brands have cultured a noxious relationship between us and our natural bodies. But now these same brands are latching out and woke the new movement of body positivity, flaunting plus size models just to sell us a whole new set of products.

A study conducted amongst 2000 women showed that a staggering 89% of the women feel that their body shape is not represented in the main street fashion industry. 74% of the women in the US feel self-conscious when looking at themselves in the mirror. More than half of the 13-year old girls in America are unhappy with their bodies, by the age of 17, the percentage shoots up to 80%.

What Actually is Body Positivity Movement?

Though today body positivity has turned into more of a buzzword used by brands to sell their latest collection; its history is deeply entrenched in revisionist social justice and radical body acceptance. Originally emanated by the 1960’s fat acceptance movement, body positivity is the movement created for embracing marginalized bodies, especially “fat, Black, queer and disabled bodies” says Chelsea Kronengold of the National Eating Disorder Association.

The movement largely encouraging plus-sized women to accept their bodies soon began to steam up on platforms like Facebook groups and Tumblr. Here women suffering from the social stereotype of body shape discussed their problems and how their looks were preventing them from being treated like everyone else. But with the rise of influencer culture, the plus-size model started utilizing the movement to promote acceptance of body positivity on platforms like Instagram, gathering support from the followers.

But plus-size models weren’t the only ones using these hashtags for publically preaching love for their natural bodies. Super skinny influencers also championed body positivity hashtags, flaunting the parts of their bodies which they adjudged to be ‘flawed.’ Despite being inherently correct, these models exhibiting their love handles, hip dips, cellulitis using #bodypositivity was completely contrary to the initial movement’s motivation which focused on acceptance of marginalized bodies.

The Commodification of Body Positivity

In a world ruled by capitalism, the organic social justice movement challenging social stereotypes hovering over body image was soon manipulated, repurposed, and commodified. As brands started seeing the plus-size influencers as a profitable tool to boost their sales, models with some extra pounds were incorporated into the brand’s campaign under the semblance of body positivity.

Clothing brands love to sell the idea of self-love, accepting the body as it is and clothing it accordingly. But are they really promoting body positivity? In reality, they are doing quite the opposite.

The body positivity movement recently again sparked in 2021, challenging unrealistic beauty standards. Numerous plus-size models were hired for spreading the message, Instagram became the platform to advertise the movement. Today, there are more than 7 million posts under #bodypositivity, but most of them have nothing to do with the original idea behind the movement. This hashtag has become just another hashtag for vaunting selfies, gym-wear, and paid posts. Most of them sharing their fat-loss journey.

Body Positivity: The New Marketing Idea

For the fashion industries acceptance of plus-size models is still a long way ahead. Plus-size in the industry means size 8, the average size of women in the US in 14. For them, curvy women with hour-glass waist walking down the ramp are acceptance of women of all sizes.

Research conducted by Florida State University showed that women tend to remember brands showcasing plus-size models in their advertisement, and perhaps add the brand’s product to their shopping cart. This is the psychology the brands are cashing on, and the reason behind featuring curvier models in the name of body positivity.

One-third of the women in the US classify themselves as plus-size. The branding tactics of body positivity turned out to be immensely fruitful for the clothing brand. In the UK plus-size clothing business have almost doubled in just a decade.

© Statista 2021

There has been genuine demand for plus-size clothing and brands have catered it well. Today almost every top brand has a plus-size collection, but astonishingly they do not share the same rack as other sizes. Inclusivity is still missing in the supply of cloth, plus is mostly another section if not another shop altogether. The price range of plus-size clothes also varies from the usual sizes.

A Long Way Ahead

Today, brands are making huge money from what started as a movement of self-acceptance, but the message is yet not conveyed. We as a society still say “Wow! you look great. Have you lost weight?”

Society still has a long way to understand that beauty is not about being curvy or skinny, tall or short but being comfortable in being your own self.