Is the Body Positivity Movement Really So Bad?

Yesterday, psychologist and bestselling author Jordan Peterson decided to take a break from Twitter after posting a picture of a plus size model on the cover of Sports Illustrated and saying, “Sorry. Not beautiful.” He then proceeded to criticize the choice of model, calling it “authoritarian” as though it were meant to re-wire our brains to see objective ugliness as beautiful.

I have a few problems with this:

1) Just never, ever post a picture of any woman online captioned “Not beautiful.” No one should have to tell you that.

2) While the model is technically “plus sized” by magazine standards, she is not obese, and in fact looks like the normal, realistic size of many beautiful women I know.

3) This is not the kind of “objective truth” that he thinks it is. Different people have different taste, and all Peterson has really told us in this post is that he doesn’t like curvy women. I believe firmly in objective reality, and I, for one, truly don’t believe this model is ugly. This isn’t some issue of people claiming that biological women can actually be men. There is no tenet, whether divinely revealed or logically infallible or even simply obvious, that tells us that this woman is not beautiful. Portraying a realistic woman as beautiful is, if anything, more true to objective reality than only choosing the ridulously skinny and heavily made up models we’ve been seeing for decades.

I have noticed a heavy amount of suspicion of, if not outright opposition to, the body positivity movement among conservatives. One conservative women’s magazine in particular, Evie, has several different articles expressing their major concern about the movement: namely, that it glorifies obesity and doesn’t encourage women to be healthy. I can definitely see why they’re concerned: many icons of late have tried to turn obesity into something to be proud of, and fans have criticized them for losing weight or even just eating healthier food. Still, Evie, alongside these many articles expressing distaste for the movement, only ever has what look like stock photos of perfectly polished women, all the same size and shape, in all their other articles (unless it’s a tribute to Marilyn Monroe). In addition, they insist that there are “ideal measurements” for a woman that men are just more naturally drawn to. Seems a little weird that a magazine that promotes sexual conservatism (there are many articles against casual sex) would also be so concerned about sex appeal. Like, we normally don’t want to flaunt our stuff, but when we do we better make sure our “stuff” precisely matches what men have been seeing in porn for years.

Conservatives, let’s stop immediately taking the stance of opposing the body positivity movement, and instead focus on what it does right. We are the ones having all the babies, and therefore know better than anyone how horrible it feels to have postpartum bodies underrepresented in media when they are so common in the world. We know one of the horrors of porn is that it portrays as beautiful that which is not even real, and we know that this leads to unmet expectations in real sexual relationships and leads to problems in many marriages. We know that women all around us vary in size and shape, and that there isn’t only one healthy shape/size combo. We have been putting up with hyper-glamorized and hyper-sexualized images on everything from billboards to magazines to movies for far too long. Body positivity isn’t forcing an agenda, but rather going against one that’s been indiscriminately harming male and female alike by distorting reality.

3 thoughts on “Is the Body Positivity Movement Really So Bad?

  1. Well articulated, Bibi. Peterson seems to have gotten carried away. He’s probably reacting to some problem he perceives, but the problem with reacting (instead of just doing what is right) is that it can lead us to make outlandish statements and get dragged into positions we don’t really believe. I have some personal experience with that. I’m not excusing Peterson, either. He should get off Twitter, which is an insane asylum.

    I want to hear your thoughts on the distinction between beauty and realism. We all agree that the West has overemphasized the importance of the form of a woman’s body- but we can also admit that there are standards of beauty. After all, why doesn’t Captain America have noodle arms? Why isn’t a balding middle-aged dad shirtless on the cover of GQ? It’s realistic, sure- but we like to celebrate certain ideals (like Michelangelo’s David). This is an honest inquiry; I’d like to hear what you think about the David example.

    Peterson shouldn’t have said that that woman was ‘not beautiful.’ That’s a harsh claim, and I think he made it because he was being reactive. But I think he was driving at some distinction between what we celebrate, and what is realistic. Thoughts?


    • Good point. The best distinction I can draw here is that between constructed beauty and natural beauty. Constructed beauty has some underlying principle or ideal informing it, whereas natural beauty simply exists. Constructed beauty is ordered, often following strict guidelines of proportionality, symmetry, etc.. Natural beauty, on the other hand, can be wild, haphazard, and asymmetrical, yet still incredibly and inexplicably beautiful. Think Notre Dame vs. Half Dome in Yosemite. Both kinds of beauty are…well, beautiful. In fact, I think part of what makes Michelangelo’s David is that he is an excellent example of constructed beauty working harmoniously with natural beauty. His proportions have been carefully measured out, yet his pose is dynamic and his features realistic (*cue Graham chuckling in the background in art class*).
      I think, while both kinds of beauty are obviously both…well, beautiful, magazines such as Sports Illustrated have never had that kind of stuff in mind with the ideals they’ve presented. Though they have certain standards, those standards are often unhealthy, superficial, and focused on appealing to something other than a pure desire to appreciate what is beautiful. I think, in some instances, it might be helpful to turn away from that construct and instead turn to natural beauty, as there are many examples of people in the natural world who are truly beautiful despite not being Captain America. Representing more people like that in the media might lead to a healthier way of looking at people in general. Still, there is obviously the danger of just veering in the opposite direction and fetishizing or romanticizing that which, while natural, is still not beautiful enough to be on a pedestal. I think the body positivity movement fluctuates between presenting more natural beauty and just straight up glorifying obesity, and that we should assist it in the former but not the latter. I get that that requires a level of appreciating nuance that most people looking for a fight on Twitter or Facebook are not capable of in the heat of the moment.

      Liked by 2 people

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