Opinion: Validate body positive change in 2021

Tuesday, January 19, 2021 - 12:55am

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Graphic by Ahmad Kady

As we enter the new year of 2021, there is a unique energy in the air. It feels like the entire universe and cosmos are collaboratively wishing for concerts, crowded planes to faraway places and intimate reunions with loved ones devoid of this overarching fear of contraction and spread of disease. With the hope of widespread vaccinations and eventual development of herd immunity, this future has become a much more tangible reality; escaping the confinement of a quarantined, TikTok-heavy summer of wishful thinking, the new year resurrects the possibility of a return to a pre-COVID-19 yesterday, or better yet, a COVID-19-free tomorrow. This concurrence with a dawn of a new year introduces something in desperate need of analysis: New Year’s resolutions. 

New Year’s resolutions are commonly considered the opportunity to change your way of life; when a new year begins, it creates a faux blank slate on which new habits or hopes can be established. A great majority of resolutions are wellness or fitness-related, which sparks controversy among some who argue that a goal to lose weight or adopt a “healthy lifestyle” is merely a manifestation of the societally-perpetuated skinny ideal — something that has been shoved down our throats since the beginning of time. 

However, I argue that it is time to normalize wanting to change your habits as long as it is for a justifiable reason far beyond that of conforming to a societal standard. Arguably even more important than a person’s motivation is their chosen methodology for achieving this goal. Further, if it is a matter of choosing healthier foods, striving to workout and increasing daily hydration, that should not be shunned by hardcore #BodyPositivity influencers. However, if the chosen method even minorly involves excessive restriction or disordered eating, that reflects a far different problem than just resolving to lose weight. 

While #BodyPositivity and #Fitspiration aim to empower their largely female audience to be proud and confident in their own skin, there lies severely harmful rhetoric within the less prevalent communities like #thinspiration or #proAna internet bases. This must be underscored and understood. 

Thinspiration and Pro-Ana (pro-anorexia) groups on the internet are extremely harmful and social media platforms like Instagram have taken steps to ban hashtags and block posts that perpetuate this movement. However, the mere existence of these communities represents deep-seated problems that society has propagated through many different vessels. The problem lies here: #BodyPositivity should be the freedom to choose how to feel in your body. Stretch marks, loose skin and all — it should not be a matter of comparison to determine your self-worth. Frankly, the underlying message is an important reminder I have to give myself as I traverse the artificial world of Snapchat filters that reduce the size of my nose and editing applications that can clear any imperfections on my skin. 

While I would argue the majority of #BodyPositivity members are aligned with these “healthier” ideologies, there are members of this community who judge and degrade other women who post their weight loss goals and results. They are told that you cannot be body positive and simultaneously want to change something about yourself. This is inherently untrue. Every time I enter the gym, I do so with the goal of gaining strength and endurance. However, I would be lying if I said I did not also leave the gym with the hopes that my efforts will provide me comfort in my clothes and a toned appearance.   

The imperative nature of differentiating between health and aesthetics must be emphasized. In a world where people strive to look like celebrities, we must first acknowledge that beauty media icons like the Kardashians or Jenners did not achieve the results we see on their Instagram feed with merely a hard workout or a good facial. 

We cannot resolve to achieve these results without recognizing that they were obtained through expensive and time-consuming means. Having said this, there is nothing wrong with getting plastic surgery as long as it is medically safe. This fits within my belief that the ability to change something is a part of what #BodyPositivity really means. I strive to argue on a moral basis that the ability to change something about yourself is not mutually exclusive from loving who you are. It is human nature to want to better yourself and it is your choice alone how or if that applies to you. 

As we enter this new year, it is the choice of each individual what they opt to leave behind in 2020 and how they choose to enter 2021. Whether that means you are content as you are, or you want to get Botox or you want to swear off makeup altogether, #BodyPositivity should allow and encourage the freedom to choose. As long as the methods taken are healthy and the justification is for more than conforming to a societal norm, why should anybody else have a say? 

Jess D’Agostino can be reached at jessdag@umich.edu.


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