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5 Reasons Why #BodyGoals Can Never Be Body Positive

Why tagging your fave’s pic as #goals may actually be problematic and harmful to your self-image

Having goals is always a good thing, right? Goals mark a desire for self-improvement and suggest a level of self-awareness and agency that is necessary in success-driven adulthood. That being said, many of us may recall that the latter half of 2015 was met with many feminist critiques of #SquadGoals as it mostly pertained to Taylor Swift’s exclusive army of her famous female friends. The problem with #goals begins when goals are based on appearances and you think critically of what is being placed as the juxtaposition to such ideals.

By now #BodyGoals has been a trending tag for a while, re-surging in popularity every time Kim Kardashian posts a nude selfie or after Teyana Taylor’s groundbreaking performance in Kanye West’s “Fade” music video debut at the 2016 VMA’s. Something about the hashtag always made me cringe but I did not know how to approach the subject, not even with my friends. I once asked them “What does that mean? What does it mean for someone’s body to be goals?” It felt like a really stupid question to ask but a part of me just felt like I needed to talk about it aloud. I was met with mostly confused looks, as I predicted, but one of my friends turned to me and said simply, “It means body goals, it means I want my body to look like hers.”

My friend’s response took me back to where I was in my first year of college, scrolling through Tumblr at 3 am past images of sad-looking emaciated women who had decided to share their suffering with other people online to “inspire” us to take the route they’ve chosen to take with their body image or succumb to their eating disorders in hopes of achieving and/or maintaining our collective #goal, to be skinny. Once I drew this parallel it was easier for me to recognize why hearing other people’s #BodyGoals always made me cringe and why it never has been nor ever will be body positive.

  1. #BodyGoals is the new #Thinspo

Yes, there are some stark differences between #BodyGoals and #Thinspo like for one #BodyGoals does not suggest any dangerous practices or self-harm to achieve such goals and #BodyGoals don’t necessarily have to denote someone thin. Ashley Graham has been tagged repeatedly as many women’s #goals, especially this year and last year as she’s reached a heightened level of visibility and has achieved so many accolades that no size 16 woman ever has before. However, I still do not count this as a victory and I don’t think Ashley Graham would either. Most plus-size models and bloggers identify as being body positive advocates, meaning they want to eradicate the standard, not replace it. Many people may think that wanting to look like Ashley Graham is automatically body positive, not considering that someone who’s a size 20 wanting to be a size 16 is not much different than someone who is a size 8 wanting to be a size 4. It’s true that there is a motley of ideal body types being promoted at the moment rather than just one, but promoting multiple ideals is very different from promoting body acceptance. #BodyGoals, just like #Thinspo and #Fitspo, is just a way to get images of socially accepted ideals in one place and promotes longing and personal dissatisfaction with our bodies in order to essentially torture ourselves because we don’t look the way society says we should look or refuse to love ourselves until we achieve said goals.

  1. #BodyGoals implies your body needs improvement

From reading my previous point you may think that I believe it’s wrong for people to want to improve their bodies. The question is, what qualifies as an improvement? Flat stomach? Six-pack abs? Wider hips? Being toned? Augmented breasts? Smaller thighs? Bigger butt? Does that mean that people who have these qualities have better bodies than those who don’t? Does that mean if you don’t have these qualities your body will always be a work in progress or a problem to be solved? How can that be body positive? #BodyGoals implies that some bodies are better than other bodies and some bodies are #goals and others need to be focused on becoming those goals.

Don’t get me wrong, it is okay to want to change your body to look a way in which you feel you could navigate space more comfortably or even just for fashion or aesthetics. It’s your body and you can do whatever you want with it. If your definition of #BodyGoals are a picture of a celeb that you’re going to show to your plastic surgeon to describe what you want done, that’s perfectly okay. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to change your body, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look different than you do naturally. The problem is the language often surrounding these changes that places body types in a hierarchy, where there is a 1% of body types that the 99% should be striving towards.

  1. #BodyGoals promotes diet culture and diet culture is not body positive

One of my fave bloggers, Corissa Enneking of @fatgirlflow recently faced an immense amount of internet backlash for posting a video declaring that dieting is not body positive and because her stance is so nuanced, many people could not understand her firm stance against it. Still, whether or not you agree with her declaration, it is clear to see why at least diet culture cannot be body positive. Diet culture essentially describes how the multi-million dollar dieting industry manipulates us into thinking that thinness is equivalent to being a happy, healthy, and productive members of society, even though dieting has often been proven to be unhealthy and counter-intuitive for several reasons, and being fat is a crime. #BodyGoals is diet culture’s new hot hashtag. Images of celebrities and athletes in combination with this tag is free advertising for all types of diet and weight-loss medications and regimens – the promise of being happier, loved, and accepted written as a fine print no-money-back guarantee in each caption section.

  1. #BodyGoals =/= health goals

“But what about being healthy?” a mysterious voice from out of the blue always asks. Not to trivialize the importance of physical health, but let’s be honest, most people only want to stress being healthy when it comes to fat people. There is no way that #BodyGoals can be used to describe someone’s goals for becoming healthier because healthy is not a body type. You can be a vegan and be a size 22, you can be a size 14 yoga instructor, you can be a size 2 and eat a diet of strictly Taco Bell, your size is not an indication of your health – period. When we equate the way someone’s body looks with how healthy someone is, it creates room for ignorance in the name of health promotion, aka “concern trolling”, that is used to perpetuate fatphobia and further marginalize fat people in society.

  1. #BodyGoals places too much emphasis on outward appearances

Your body is a vessel not an accomplishment or a goal. Your body is what you use to accomplish your goals. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good and loving the way you look is essential to many aspects of your life, but the purpose of body positivity is to no longer be bogged down by society’s expectations of our appearances to the point that it detracts from what you have to offer as a person, aside from the necessary dismantling of capitalistic, patriarchal, cis- and heteronormative, ableist, and white supremacist beauty standards. We shouldn’t have to squeeze into a mold in order for us to be taken seriously or accepted. Our looks do not determine our value or whether or not we deserve respect. Our goals should pertain to character development, success in our careers, relationships with loved ones, community outreach, charity and organization, and so on. So, I propose that in 2017 we set more meaningful goals that are a lot less problematic.

What Is Beauty? – It’s a Status: it’s Reaction and it’s Interaction

In trying to figure out exactly what beauty is, I found that first I needed to understand who it was for. All roads seemed to lead to an external confirmation of the outward expressions of oneself. Everything from beauty pageants to the show “Ugly Betty” alluded to the idea that our societal working definition of beauty, however vague, cannot be defined internally. You can’t be beautiful unless some else thinks you are. More than that, it’s not enough for it to just be known; beauty must be stated or reacted to in order to exist.

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A. So say others think I’m beautiful but I myself don’t agree. People smile wider when they see me, people go out of their way to make me more comfortable, people take every opportunity they get to offer their confirmations of the success of my physicality. Does the beauty exist then? And now since I’ve experienced what it’s like to move through space with the social status classified as beauty, what then? Most likely I will enjoy how it feels to be treated with an elevated regard from others. I will probably enjoy the compliments and in turn make an effort to maintain those features that garner those compliments, I may even make efforts to “fix” everything else so that other features will also become compliment-worthy. Now I start to second-guess why I did not think I was beautiful in the first place – only sometimes. For the most part I still maintain that I am nothing more than a vessel for improvement and each improvement I make provokes more and more positive reactions. These positive reactions give me confidence to approach and be approached because I have repeatedly received confirmation of my social status from others. Now something happens. I get sick, I oversleep, I’m stressed to the point of visible deterioration – something happens that makes it so my outwardness is below the usual standard I hold myself to, it may even still be above the standard of my former unimproved self, but whatever the case may be, it is a deviation. Just as quickly the warmness fades, the smiles disintegrate, compliments are replaced by others scrambling to offer excuses for appearing as less than the usual beautiful person that they have come to expect, if not require. It’s almost as if I have offended people in some way. It is like having a warm blanket ripped of my arms on the coldest day of the year. I never want to commit this transgression ever again, I just want my blanket back. So I recover or reemploy whatever regimens it takes to return to my former version of a version of myself. Without this I do not feel whole and I do not feel safe; I’m either vulnerable to the crisp chill of the world or a slave to the word “beauty”.tumblr_mxrgypYMVa1qlsrn9o1_500.gif

B. Now, say I think I am ugly. Others do not react to me accordingly. I get an average amount of compliments and nothing said or done to the contrary. I still think I am ugly. I see no room for improvement and so I do not try to improve. No one is bothered because the little I do is acceptable to them. They may even envy the obvious effortlessness, I may even receive even more praise because of this. The fact that I do not agree with them is not out of the ordinary, I may even be praised more because of my modesty. All the while my view of myself remains unaffected, but I still move through space socially classified as beautiful and possibly proceed as in A.

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C. Say I believe I am ugly and others believe so as well. There is no warmness, no smiles, no compliments and I am well aware of the reason why. Others write me off as inwardly unpleasant and unapproachable because that is how they’ve deemed my outward appearance. I’m greeted by unpleasant looks when approaching others. I see the familiar looks ranging from disgust to indifference whenever I walk into a room. Now when meeting new people, I anticipate them not wanting to be around me for very long. I do not look into mirrors for very long. I fear that when others are whispering around me that it is actually me they are whispering about. Even if someone does say something positive about my looks I do not believe them; I think they are lying to make me feel better, or worse, poking fun at my unsightliness at my expense. All social interactions begin to feel like this regarding other aspects as well. It’s possible that I choose a likable aspect of my personality to over-compensate for what I lack appearance-wise and play out that caricature of myself like a theater puppet in order to feel comfortable in social situations. It is possible that I have endured so much mistreatment because of undesirable appearance that I have become aggressive as a defense mechanism. I greet others with all the hostility I expect to receive so that instead of allowing others to find me unpleasant because of my appearance, they find me unpleasant because of my sourness. It is also possible that I detract myself from social situations altogether, wanting to be myself but not finding many who are interested in myself if my visible self is not appealing. And so I have two choices: strive to present a better physical self in order to gain enough approval to be my internal self and proceed as in A. or become a socially detached or overcompensating slave to the word “ugly”.

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D. Now let’s say that I think I’m beautiful, and no one else thinks so. Then what? If no one ever calls me pretty, if no one ever compliments me in any way, if no one ever acknowledges my outward self as something even slightly pleasing to be in the presence of, does that self-proclaimed beauty exist? Am I allowed to claim that status in society if I am not reacted to as a holder of that status? Is it enough for me to award myself the title being beautiful but to not experience the privileges that it would otherwise entail? In some ways it is because I am not deemed beautiful socially that allows me to be unconditionally beautiful in my own opinion; my beauty is contingent on a knowing and a feeling that is internally self-actualized. Still, on some level I am forced to be aware that my status as I move through space is less than that of someone who is considered beautiful because others react to me that way, but still, I choose to interact as though I am unfazed by that fact. Is this because I want to challenge others to see me the way I see myself? If so, if their minds remain unchanged is it a waste? Or do I do this as a means to try and transcend the working definition of beauty altogether? Reclaim it as something other than the world’s reaction to someone’s physical elements but instead as an internal attitude and a way of moving through space, as a force swimming fiercely against the current, a slave to neither beauty, because I’ve never been granted this status in order to fear its revocation, nor ugliness because I’ve disallowed myself to interact with others according to how they react to me.

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Ideally we all believe that we are beautiful  and are all reacted to as such but we all know that that is not usually the case. Many of us probably experience a mixture of one or more or all four scenarios at once or experience one or more these scenarios at different points in our lives. Some people feel like A. with makeup on and like C. without it. Some people might feel like C. in middle school and become B. after high school and D. in senior adulthood. It all varies, I guess.

So why didn’t I write a scenario where someone feels beautiful and is reacted to as being as beautiful as they feel? Frankly, because I haven’t the vaguest sense of what that’s like.

What is Beauty?

Beauty is an ideal sought after worldwide. People both live and die for beauty. For some beauty is tangible and for others it’s more abstract, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is regarded in one way or another by most living beings. In fact, to disregard beauty and its importance almost always has to be a conscious choice, whereas to praise the elements and characteristics that are deemed the most desirable to whomever it may concern is implicit; it’s just a way of life.

Why is beauty so important to us?

That’s a root I’m sure many of us would like to dig up, at least anyone who has spent as much time considering it as I have, but I feel that the answer, or answers, to that question lie in the definition(s) of beauty itself.

I’m attempting an eight part segment to attempt to explain all the definitions of beauty as I’ve pondered them in my poster-clad dorm room while eating French Fries and drinking Arizona. I’m neither an expert nor am I a sociologist or an anthropologist or anything of the sort, I’m just someone who’s been wondering things and wondering if people are wondering the same things I’m wondering.

Think of this series as more of a discussion than anything; interaction and feedback is more than welcome so long as it is constructive.

The Trigger Warning: Where my issues with my body image began

***TW: numbers associated with weight loss are mentioned

One of the hardest choices I’ve ever made was the decision to leave my small town in Delaware and my family and friends to go to university and pursue my dreams in New York City. The distance may not have been too great but the differences were abounding.

Adjusting to my new life was rough for many reasons: being away from home for the first time, missing my close friends and feeling the pressure to make new ones, and, of course, the new pace and attitude of the city.

All those reasons I predicted and expected; it didn’t make them easier to deal with but at least I knew what I was up against. However, other issues arose that I am only now starting to fully comprehend. At that point I was attending Parsons at the New School for Design and anyone who has ever been there knows that the students attending that school are largely Asian and White. I was one of only four black people that I met during my short time there which, besides being surrounded by so much talent that I felt I didn’t measure up to, made me feel like I didn’t belong there. I felt as if they were just trying to level out the demographics or something, like there was a quota they had to meet for some reason even though it is a private school. I later learned is called Impostor Syndrome, but I still to this day do not doubt that my accusations could be true.

Another representation issue I encountered was the overall lack of fat people. Every time I walked into a classroom, I felt like the complete embodiment of the proverbial elephant in the room.

Body image has been something I have struggled with since as long as I can remember, as is true for many of us I believe. My struggle traces back to puberty when my body was stripped of all neutrality. I started to develop noticeable curves and gain weight in some areas where there wasn’t as much fat before (i.e. my thighs and my ass) and before I even noticed these things myself, everyone else around me did. On one hand I was sexualized by male family members and classmates and on the other hand I was socially demonized by female members of society, including my mother. All of a sudden life went from being a carefree and oblivious child to becoming a woman whose main responsibilities were achieving thinness and becoming a woman that a man would want to marry one day while simultaneously doing nothing to attract male attention or stir up impure thoughts in the men around me, all before I even turned 12.

The unwanted attention from boys and men was the first issue concerning my body that I really had to face head on. As a 5th grader, I dealt with not only unwanted attention but unwanted physical contact from some of my male peers. Boys that I had considered friends just a year before, all of a sudden, became fixated on staring at my ass whenever I turned around, walked by, or bent over. Even worse than that was when they began to make a game out of copping a feel whenever they could. Not only did I feel unsafe to the point that I stopped going to recess, only went to the bathroom between classes when there were a large amount of people in the hallways, and tied a sweater around my waist every single day, I also blamed myself heavily. I thought that if I was thin and had a different shape, I wouldn’t have had to go through the harassment that continued for the entire school year and followed me until I moved to a new town and school district.

I want to note that my family and parents are African, specifically Zimbabwean immigrants and first generation Americans. Knowing this may also raise the question about the pressure I started to feel to become thin, outside of the sexual harassment. Typically Black people embrace thicker body types as the standard of beauty, especially Africans, but my immediate family did not see things this way, unfortunately for me.

Thus began my self-esteem’s downward spiral. Sometimes I thought I would try to diet but whenever I thought about dieting and how the only way I thought I could be deemed acceptable to the world was if I lost weight and became skinny, I would become really upset and do the opposite, which was to consult sugary snacks for consolation. At this point though, I started to become occupied by time-consuming school activities and countless crushes that prevented me from dwelling on too many internal issues. I was also, thankfully, surrounded by a positive group of friends that helped counteract many negative thoughts I had about my body so I was able to suppress them for the time being.

Graduation was bittersweet. I was glad to be out of the purgatorial hell-hole that was high school, but I knew that in 3 months, I was going to be leaving behind everything comfortable and familiar in my life. On top of being anxious awaiting the impending transition, I was mostly isolated from my friends the summer before starting college. Everyone was taking vacations, getting together their college dorm needs, working summer jobs, and otherwise occupying themselves with menial things just because we knew that this was the last time we could. The problem for me was that I hadn’t realized how toxic my home environment could be until then.

Within a month of being home I remembered exactly what I used extra-curricular activities to escape from. Being with my mother day after day constituted constant harassment about my weight and size. Every time I picked up a fork my motives and habits were verbally questioned. “Are you still eating?” “Do you really think you should eat that?” “You’re still hungry?” “Why is all the food gone already?” “I put food in your plate for you. No more eating tonight” These are but a few of the many quotes that began to perpetually circle around in my head.

It got to the point where I could not eat in front of her, or anyone really. I also reintroduced the concept of dieting into my life and it was the first time I really took it seriously. What got me was when I was told that I’m limiting my chances of succeeding in my career because I didn’t look the way a designer should supposedly look. Even though I knew the comment didn’t necessarily hold any merit, considering the wide range of outrageous appearances I know many successful fashion designers to have, I didn’t want to make my life and harder for myself than I already knew it was. So I went on a diet.

This diet consisted of a calorie counting app that I referred to like the Bible, taking multiple daily walks/runs, drinking about six bottles of water a day, getting on to the treadmill when I could, and sleeping constantly, fearing that being awake might make me think of how hungry I was. Using the app I programmed my goal to be to lose 30 pounds before school started in a month and a half. According to my weight and the goal I programmed, the app dictated how many calories I could intake and how many I had to burn each day. Many days I would eat under the amount of calories I was allotted in hopes of speeding up the weight loss process.

The first couple days were the most successful. I lost about 4 pounds in a week. I didn’t realize then that it was mostly, if not all, water weight. More days went by and the loss was less rapid. Then weeks went by and there was little to no change. I didn’t know how to deal with plateauing so far away from my goal. I still persevered anyway, telling myself that one day I’ll just wake and notice the transformation as if it were overnight as long as I stopped obsessing and kept persevering, so I decided to only look at the scale every other day.

By the time school started, I had only lost 10 pounds. I didn’t feel like I looked any different and the only difference I felt was utter emotional and physical exhaustion. In the last days before I started school I had made a tumblr account, for no reason in particular, but shortly after, discovered *thinspo (tw on link). It wasn’t long before I fell completely down the rabbit hole, lusting after thigh gaps, visible rib cages, and defined collar bones the way I used to lust after cute boys in high school.

Starting college, deprivation and self-loathing had already conquered my entire being, which made facing the other elements of my transition that much harder.

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