In a time of body positivity, why am I so negative?

WRITTEN BY Eva O' Beirne

September 5, 2022

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In a time of body positivity, why am I so negative?

Eva O' Beirne

5 Sep, 2022

TW: This article has mentions toxic diet culture

Growing up in the early 2000s allowed me to experience the minefield of toxic diet culture as well as the emergence of body positivity and acceptance. Until recently, I thought I had championed the see-saw of beauty standards. I assumed I was immune to feeling inadequate. I’m happy and I’m healthy, shouldn’t that be enough?

In a world where influencer marketing is the norm, it can be easy to be sucked into watching people who don’t look like you. The consumerist nature that underlines our social media experiences doesn’t allow for escapism. I appreciate what some brands have tried to do, like ASOS employing models with disabilities or beauty companies showing influencers who don’t have airbrushed-like skin. Even some influencers have started to vlog their plastic surgery and cosmetic journeys, and good on them for doing so. But despite all these positive sentiments, I have a nagging voice in my head that I’ll never be good enough.

It is this voice that companies prey on at the end of the day. The voice that tells you if you purchase that one moisturiser, that skin care tool or those jeans, you’ll be so put together. You’ll fit in with the trending aesthetic of the month on TikTok or Pinterest. You’ll earn compliments from other people, but not necessarily from yourself. And maybe that’s where I’m going wrong.

In the past two years, we’ve heard a lot about ‘burnout’ or ‘fatigue’ than ever before. Surrounded by virtual workplaces and social spheres, the way we act online has been changed forever. We are all constantly marketing ourselves whether we like it or not. Social media use has been linked to increased anxiety, depression and sleep disruption, all caused by  a dopamine deficit in our systems. Hence, we’re caught in a trap – trying to seek positivity on social media may just cause negativity in the long-run.

Body positivity and inclusive sizes may be more common on social media, but the diet culture of the noughties hasn’t gone away. Instead it has evolved into “Become That Girl” morning routines, calorie deficit recipes and viral pilates workouts. The desire for an hour-glass waist outweighs my knowledge that I have a fairly wide ribcage. I’ve bought a gua sha because I thought it could really change my face shape. I start bawling crying because I can’t fit into a size 6 skirt.

Algorithms have preyed on my subconscious, causing weight loss videos and workout routines to be integrated into my social media feeds. What is worse is that you don’t even have to “like” content for it to appear in your feed anymore. For example, according to Callum Hood, head of research at the Center for Countering Digital Hate, the TikTok algorithm is equally attentative and aggressive as “you only need to pause for a few moments before [TikTok] will begin to recommend similar content to you again and again.”

I appreciate the awareness about health, and tips to stop bloating and improve what’s going on internally – the fact that having stomach issues is now a meme across the internet is somewhat reassuring – but I don’t appreciate that pilates and pelvic floor routines are constantly being pushed towards me. Captions such as “in four weeks you’ll feel it, in eight weeks, you’ll see it, in twelve weeks you’ll hear it” are disguising diet culture by making it sound like a fitness routine.

Attempting to find a balance between body positivity and wanting to be healthier is hard. You can’t even rely on your BMI as an accurate reflection of your health. I go on long walks because I’ve realised its good to get away from it all for an hour or two. I do pole fitness because I want to celebrate the strength of my body instead of shaming it. But I have noticed my eagerness to skip meals and to calorie count, and wonder where these feelings are coming from.

Credit: Samantha Nickerson

Is it from my childhood? I recently had the horrifying experience of opening my laptop from when I was fifteen to discover I had listed a full workout and diet plan. I vaguely remember cutting back on sweets and fruit juice in an attempt to control my weight. Strangely enough, it was the rising popularity of the Kardashians and praise for women with curvy bodies that made me relax as I exited my teenage years. I didn’t have to be an extra small or hide any of my growing curves. Although there is still an appreciation for these bodies more than ever, I couldn’t help but get a fright when fashion bloggers started to speculate that low-rise jeans and other Y2K trends would become popular this year.

The biggest slap in the face I received was while watching some of my favourite comfort movies and shows from the nineties and noughties. In Sex and The City, Miranda attends Weight Watchers for being 152 pounds (10 stone, post-birth!!) and the iconic Bridget Jones labels herself as fat for being 130 pounds (9 stone). I am currently 150 pounds. Realising that I had been passively consuming these unbelievable standards since my early teens was sickening. I know these cultural milestones were picked out of the air, imagined by a likely mostly male team of screen writers. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt. I didn’t have this nuance when I was thirteen. I was looking to consume what was perceived as mildly feminist media in a time of Victoria Secret domination.

I’ve spent the past while thinking about how I can improve my relationship with myself, with food and with exercise. Is it taking more breaks from social media? Maybe. I could also remind myself that celebrities and influencers have teams of people, as well as photoshop to thank for the way they appear on my screen. Or I could indulge in affirmations and positive feelings about myself.

There is a saying that women idolise their teenage bodies, and grow frustrated by how their bodies change in their twenties. The influx of hormones and our metabolisms slowing down are framed as a harsh wake-up call. But why should we buy into this patriarchal narrative that growing older is bad? My body helped me get through a pandemic, allowed me to survive work-related stress and college breakdowns. So why am I so quick to criticse it for wanting to grow?

The term ‘body neutrality’ has been a point of discussion amongst online communities in the past few months. The idea of neither being happy or upset with the way I look sounds appealing, but not a long term solution. I don’t know how to stop feeling so negative, but I am grateful for the bubble of body positivity that has appeared as I’ve grown older. I want to emphasise that there is no “ideal body” or beauty standard, but only the echoes of the past that continue to influence how we perceive ourselves. It’s nice to have the reassurance that we can all fit in, no matter what we look like.

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