On Body Positivity As The Middle Finger to Body Shaming

body shaming preen

“I think all human bodies have beauty in them.” A friend of mine, singer Adam Bird, once said to me after I inanely asked him what “kind” of girl he usually goes for. And in the years since he first uttered it to me, it is this exact phrase that I’ve clung to for truth, comfort, and admittedly, even correction. I’ve scrutinized my appearance and that of others through the sick, but widely accepted lens of body shaming.

That a man made this rare body-positive comment is surprising enough, but that he’s a man with a pulpit in pop culture gives this already powerful sentiment a healing undertone.

Unfortunately, Adam is a rarity. Recently, The New York Times has come under fire for highlighting the undesirability of Serena Williams’ physique, even mentioning similar women in her sport.

If I let myself dwell on the unhealthy social expectations of women, I could let myself be as angry as J.K. Rowling is about the flak Serena’s been getting. The Harry Potter author took to Twitter to call out Serena’s shamers for the idiots they are. But more than enraged, I’m just fatigued. At a certain point, criticizing critics deviates from the actual problem: We’re parched for a body-positive discussion.

What irks me most about the NYT article isn’t the fact that its author Ben Rothenberg refers to Serena as having a “muscular frame”—that is news to no one. It’s the subsequent barrage of body-critical quotes, from five female tennis players, that is excessive. One of the many he quoted was tennis player Maria Sharapova who said, “I always want to be skinnier with less cellulite; I think that’s every girl’s wish.” He tries to balance the deprecation by peppering the article with nods to Serena’s “self-acceptance” and athletic prowess, but the lopsided view of “unfeminine” bodies overshadows all other points. Even his meager attempt at ending on a positive note—quoting a waning athlete who wants to be strong enough to “lift trophies”—falls flat.

I mean, why does it always have to be about athletes fitting into a  certain body stereotype? At least ESPN magazine got it right. If we’re just going to talk about bodies—heck, even dedicate a full issue to the form—we might as well talk about how we love them in their diversity.

Of course, I believe it’s important to have open discussions about the troubling, prevalent issues we have such as poor self-image and its effects. But isn’t there a way to respond to it without propagating the tired language we’ve been using too long to insult each other and ourselves?

In Plump, a magazine that luxuriates in the often-criticized curves of Filipina women, its publishers—sisters and self-titled Plump Pinays Danah and Stacy Gutierrez—are setting the tone for the fight against local body shaming culture. Promoting plus-sized fashion and lifestyle, these bloggers-turned-publishers are not only gaining a following, but also “redefining beauty and empowering women” as they do so. In a country that has distinctly unattainable standards of beauty (uh, whitening products?), Plump’s authentic, confident voice stands out.

And they’re not alone. More and more, women with bodies that have been ludicrously condemned as undesirable are reveling in their realized hotness. From Denise Bidot’s unretouched swimsuit campaign and this lingerie brand Aerie’s, too, to Filipina artist Sandra Dans’ anti-pretty portraits—it seems the world is ripe for change. Body shaming has long gone out of style, and there’s a new trend that’s here to stay.

Body positivity is the Tumblr-sanctioned term for celebrating one’s health and happiness regardless—or rather, especially because—of what his or her body looks like. It’s about being free of body shame, self-imposed or otherwise. It’s about conjuring Jennifer Lawrence’s “go fuck yourself” attitude towards diet mongering. It’s about dismantling the culture of comparison. And it’s about acknowledging, once and for all, the simple truth that everybody and every body is beautiful.


Art by Dorothy Guya