KOPPLIN: Body positivity promotes health and mental wellbeing

Body positivity is a movement that revolves around the idea that all bodies are beautiful no matter what their size may be, and that people of all sizes, shapes and weights should accept their bodies and love themselves unconditionally. However, body positivity is often a loaded term.

While the movement has made great strides in encouraging people to love themselves and their bodies, there is a lingering belief that the movement enables people to avoid changing their bodies, even if they are unhealthy. Despite these beliefs, this mindset is not about ignoring health. Rather, body positivity is about acceptance of all body types, and it does not encourage unhealthy practices.

Although negative feelings about one’s appearance or size are universal, the movement focuses on encouraging women, in particular, to feel comfortable in their own skin.

It’s been shown that higher compassion for one’s self leads to less internalized shame about one’s body and a healthier state of mind. This elevated sense of self should be seen as the ideal, rather than attempting to change one’s body to fit predetermined, societal expectations.

The ideal female image produced and perpetuated by media outlets is often not healthy nor physically attainable for the majority of women. In America, the average adult woman weighs 166 pounds. The average model, however, weighs about 108 pounds. This means that a majority of the population is not represented by the women we see in magazines and other media. This creates an expectation that women who do not conform to this body type should be working to change themselves. Women are more likely to have mental issues such as depression and anxiety as a result of dissatisfaction with their body. This means, for many women, body image directly affects mental well-being.

Body positivity destroys this expectation, encourages women of any size to accept themselves and teaches that happiness is not attached to weight but rather a positive self-image.

The movement’s mission is to relieve negative feelings, such as shame and dissatisfaction and show people that outward appearances do not determine their worth. This message allows people to overcome negative body images in favor of higher self-esteem, which helps with overall mental health.

Part of the reason the body positivity movement exists is to counteract the effects of body shaming — hateful comments and thoughts about an individual’s body. These can come from society, friends, peers or even one’s own self. Contrary to the myth that body positivity leads to unhealthy lifestyle choices, body shaming is much more harmful. Unfortunately, despite the traction of the body positivity movement, body shaming remains a notable problem for modern-day women.

Body shaming comes from myriad sources. One of the main causes is that outdated methods of testing physical health, such as body mass index, enable negative thoughts and assign shaming, generalized labels to people who weigh more than others.

Despite the continued use of these measurements, happiness and worth are not related to tests such as BMI. Furthermore, these tests don’t accurately reflect the health of the participants.

As an example, many studies done on BMI in recent years have determined that it is a generally outdated and overly simplistic method of testing health. Despite this, public schools across the country continue to use it as a measure of wellness. Not only do BMI and similar tests fail to help understand overall health, but they also contribute to people’s negative views of their own bodies — something that body positivity aims to counteract.

In this same vein, dieting has also been shown to be an ineffective way of dealing with negative body image.

Dieting does not work.

If weight is lost, it is almost always regained after the initial weight loss occurs. Yet, there are new diets every year with the latest trend on how to “improve” women’s bodies that capitalize off the shame many women feel because of their size.

Body positivity does not involve dieting or any other form of extreme weight loss. Instead of focusing on how much people hate their weight, the movement focuses on how much people love themselves.

But, the phrase body positivity is still seen as controversial. It’s seen as an excuse to enable fat people to continue their unaesthetic and unhealthy ways. However, body positivity doesn’t mean ignoring doctors and disregarding health advice. It is about the realization and acceptance that there is no ideal body size and that everybody is beautiful, regardless of what BMI tests and dieting advertisements say.

Having a larger amount of fat than is ideal does not mean a person is not healthy or able to live a happy life. The body shaming that is more widely accepted is much more harmful than simply thinking positively about yourself and your body.

Emma Kopplin is a freshman anthropology major. Reach her at opinion@dailynebraskan.com or via @DNopinion.