The problem with ‘Love Your Body!’

Recently I stumbled across an article entitled ‘Don’t Tell Me To Love My Body‘ by Elyse. There’s a lot I loved about it, a lot of things that need to be understood in body-pos circles and a lot of things that people need to synthesize. 

First of all, Elyse was brave in admitting that she doesn’t love her body. In most body-positive spaces, that’s a huge no-no (‘No Body Hate!’) The pictures she posted were raw and real and it took a lot of guts to post pictures like that and exclaim that she doesn’t like her body.

There were plenty of things she said that I agree with wholeheartedly.

“Or maybe me loving my body is about you. And how you feel about how I feel about my body. If I tell you that “I love my body. I love my freckles. I even love my sagging ass because it’s on my body.” You’ll pat me on the back and tell me that I’m getting it. And I’m not making anyone uncomfortable by complaining about how much I dislike being held up to fucked up beauty standards and how it fucks with my head.”

“The problem is being told that there is a standard of beauty, and I should ignore it. I should ignore it despite the fact that everyone is still holding me to it. I should ignore it and create my own. As long as it makes me feel pseudo-good, and makes other people feel okay with how I pretend to feel about me. But while we’re pretending the real-world standards don’t exist, the real world continues judging us—It’s okay to be more critical of a woman who’s accepted herself.”

“We don’t have to find ourselves beautiful. Beauty is not the one thing that makes us and our bodies worth loving. We don’t have to distort an already fucked-up definition of beauty, and pretend we fit into it, just to feel like we are people worthy of being loved.”

Powerful stuff, right? While I fully believe the intent of concepts like ‘Love Your Body’ and ‘Stop Hating Your Body’ have nothing but the best intentions, they have (at least) three very, very important flaws. They make people who don’t love their bodies feel guilty about it, they focus too much on beauty, and they simply aren’t inclusive.

The guilt one is a huge one. Sure, you can stare at pictures all day of people who love their bodies, read all the inspirational quotes and stories and anecdotes you want, but for some people, loving their bodies, or even liking, even not hating, is far harder than for others. And when you try and try and it still doesn’t happen, every time you see those images, it feels like a slap in the face. It makes you wonder ‘have I not tried hard enough?’ ‘What do I need to do differently?’ Not to mention, of course, there’s body dysmorphia, there’s depression, eating disorders and other psychological issues, there’s years of abuse from family members, strangers, and media. It’s a huge uphill battle to combat all that. It’s a struggle. And then you see all these other people who’ve overcome their body image issues, and on top of hating your body, you feel like a failure for not being able to just get over it. It’s a double dose of negativity.

Not to mention, it comes off like a command. Almost like a threat. Love your body! (or else!) The message should be more gentle. I know what it’s aiming at is to tell people that it’s okay to love your body, that you’re allowed to, that it’s possible. But it comes off as so demanding!

How many times have you heard some variation of ‘Everyone is beautiful!’? It sounds innocuous, but the fact remains that it’s still leaning so heavily on beauty. And beauty is an abstract and severely overinflated concept, that ideas like ‘everyone is beautiful’ only serve to perpetuate, however unintentionally. Beauty, at the end of the day, is something that can’t be qualified. It means too many different things to too many different people, and it doesn’t matter. Let me repeat that. Beauty does not matter. We get too caught up in trying to make everyone feel beautiful that we forget that to be totally honest, beauty is bullshit. It serves no purpose. It helps no one. On a personal level, I do truly believe that everyone is beautiful. Even if not to me, then to someone. I’ll always believe that. But I also firmly believe that the focus needs to be elsewhere, away from beauty. The power of beauty is one that we need to question and deconstruct, not further fuel with statements like ‘everyone is beautiful!’ I’m just as guilty of perpetuating this line of thought as most people are.

Perhaps most importantly, take a second to google image ‘stop hating your body’ or ‘love your body’. You’ll get thousands upon thousands of images like this. Or this. Or this. (the caption on the last one there actually makes me want to laugh because it does not match the picture whatsoever.) The face of all these ‘love your body’ campaigns feature mostly white women, who are thin (or perhaps a bit chubby at best), white, cis, able-bodied, long-haired, and pretty much exactly what the definition of conventional ‘beauty’ is. It alienates so many demographics of people who, in our culture, have every reason to hate their bodies. People who are fat enough that they can’t shop in regular stores. People who aren’t white, who’ve been told their whole lives that they’re too dark, their hair too kinky, their look too unconventional to ever be beautiful (or else they’re fetishized as ‘exotic!’ or ‘other’) People who are trans*, who are trapped in a body that doesn’t represent the gender they are. People who are disabled, whose bodies literally don’t work the way they’re supposed to. People who want a family so badly, but they’re not fertile. The list is endless! It’s not that easy to just buck up and ‘love your body!’ when you have to worry about whether you’ll be attacked because you used a certain bathroom, or when you’re swallowing pills like candy just to keep your pain at a decent enough level to get through the day. Seeing photos of thin girls writing hearts on their tummies with captions about how you DESERVE to love your body is frankly almost insulting.

All that being said, I don’t think that this article should really make anyone feel secure that it’s okay to hate their body. I’m not saying that this article is encouraging that, but while you can feel any way you want about your body, hating it is so exhausting and sucks so much energy that could be better spent elsewhere. At the end of the day, your body is a part of you, it’s not going anywhere. Hating your body is literally hating a part of yourself. I just can’t condone that. Of course, it’s not up to me, I can either believe that people are allowed to feel how they want about their bodies or I don’t, but it hurts me to see energy wasted on body hate.

Bodies changes. What is considered ‘beautiful’ changes. Moods change. But I think the most important part is to question what any of it really accomplishes, whether it be beauty, body hate, or the opinions of others.

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7 Responses to The problem with ‘Love Your Body!’

  1. A.E. Harrison says:

    I appreciate this so much,especially you talking about beauty as a construct. Most of my life, I’ve never wanted to be beautiful (it has to do with an assault and wanting to distance myself from it). Being black, make-up and beauty adds were not talking to me, clothes were definitely for me, and I was pretty much invisible. I can’t and won’t have children, and I don’t want to marry, so most times, I’m not even considered a “true woman” by most. After awhile, beauty was talking about someone else, not me.
    Recently, I started dating someone who didn’t care and didn’t understand why I would get nausea or laugh when being told I was beautiful. i had to realize that beauty is not “this” or “that” and it is definitely not about forcing yourself to proclaim you love something about yourself that you have to fight against. I do not love my body for being so malfunctioning I have to take my weight in medication daily, I don’t love the surgeries I have to had to have, I don’t love my bipolar disorder, my past alcohol abuse, or the fact that I have diabetes. Most of the things I love about myself have nothing to do with this physical form I am tied to. But somewhere along the way, the physical beauty gets tied to the internal…the thing we can actually change. Thank you, and thank Elyse.

  2. LittleBigGirl says:

    I really like this. I hope it generates lots of productive discussion.

    I personally do not mind the message “love your body,” because I do not interpret it to simply mean “accept your physical appearance.” I interpret it to mean “do what you need to take care of yourself.” I love my body by trying to eat the food I need, take the medicine I need, get the rest I need, get the exercise I need…etc.
    I choose to take (admittedly simplistic) messages like “love you body” to just be offshoots of the overall message of “life your life.”

    I do think the links you provided were ridiculous. I wish there was more diversity reflected in the body acceptance movement. I find it…interesting that it seems to be treated as an exclusively female issue.

    I have never had a problem with my body…until other people had a problem with it. As a child I didn’t consider myself fat until my classmates informed me that I was, and was also therefore ‘bad’ and worthy or scorn and mistreatment.

    If I can’t fit in a chair, I don’t hate my fat hips – I am annoyed at the chair, and resolve to find one without arms. 😛

    I don’t care if other people think I should love my body or hate it – that is there issue not mine. I’m the only one who has to live with my body, and we get along pretty good. Sometimes it bitches at me for working it too hard or not hard enough, but whatever.

    I don’t have to love everything about myself, but I don’t have to hate it either. The only thing I have to do is live with it. Some things, like my hair and nails, I don’t always like or get bored with and I can change them if I feel like it.

    I’m a pretty creative person and I think I could put a positive spin on just about any body part or aspect of my appearance you can think of. Seriously. 🙂

    Not because I love my body…but because I have a good relationship with it.

  3. I really appreciated reading this. I have a problem with slightly dysmorphic body image, and quite a lot of the time I hate my body. Being told (even by my lovely and well meaning other half) that I should love my body, and so long as I work at it I will love it, is frustrating. I’ve tried, but on the days when I hate everything about myself no amount of positive thinking is going to help. And that’s ok.

  4. While I agree with your general sentiment, I do have to take issue with a somewhat recurring message across the spectrum of your blog posts, one explicitly stated in this post:

    “Beauty does not matter.”

    While I recognize the point you’re trying to make, this certainly further muddies the issue. Beauty DOES matter, but it shouldn’t matter any more than being highly intelligent, or being able to run fast, or the innumerable other potential qualities a person could have (as seen through the eyes of others in many instances, intelligence is of course contextually relevant in many instances). To claim it doesn’t matter is to obfuscate your overarching message of “everyone can be/is beautiful” and it actually ends up doing a disservice to those who think that their beauty is all they do have (suppose a man or woman is relatively unintelligent, unsuccessful, etc. and all they truly find impressive about themselves is their looks, regardless of whether or not their perception of their beauty is in conformity with the societal norm).

    Beauty should be recognize as an important feature of one’s overall self-satisfaction, but certainly not the primary or only factor to focus on, no more than how funny they are, how outgoing they are, how well they can solve crossword puzzles, or any other arbitrary classificatory feature they may have.

  5. CHATpdx says:

    Reblogged this on CHATmosphere! and commented:
    Does Beauty Matter? What does it really mean to say “Love Your Body”?

  6. Anne says:

    I really enjoy your blog, and lots of good, thought-provoking comments, but I would challenge the following sentence: “People who are disabled, whose bodies literally don’t work the way they’re supposed to. ” This is a very medical model of disability view of the world. Basically, (and I’m probably not the most qualified to explain this so bear with me, but I am a disabled person so feel some right to claim this explanation), the medical model of disability says that the problem lies with the disabled people themselves for having “non-normal” bodies, not with the world that is made inaccessible to us every day in thousands of different ways. This statement also implies that there is a way that bodies are “supposed” to work. I think this thinking can be damaging to those who are disabled. Feeling constantly like your body doesn’t work the way it “should” is demoralizing and hurtful – maybe my body works exactly the way MY body should, it just doesn’t happen to be the way that some other peoples’ bodies work. This type of reasoning (represented by that sentence) leads to phrases like “wheelchair bound” and “afflicted by his/her disease”. Disabled people have the same rights to exist in our disabled bodies as fat people and thin people who aren’t disabled do in theirs. And I think we also have the right not to have them classified as “not working the way they are supposed to” which to me has quite a negative connotation. Being disabled isn’t automatically a tragedy, it is simply the way that someone is, whether they were born that way or became that way due to a disease or disorder. I think you do some very important and thoughtful things with your blog and writing, but perhaps you could take a bit of time to read about the medical model of disability and think about ways of talking about the disabled community that don’t imply our bodies are “supposed to” work a different way than they do. Thank you for taking the time to read and consider this.

    • Adipose Activist says:

      You’re absolutely right and I thank you for calling me out on it! I’m definitely on a learning curve and I think that even if I wrote this same post today, I would have worded it differently than when I originally wrote it.

      Do you have a suggestion of how I could reword this to make it less ableist?

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