Can Body Positivity Be Negative?

Words: Renee Cafaro

Just the other day, I was talking to a mom friend of mine and she griped about how inadequate she felt since her morning consisted of meltdowns and messes, but everywhere on Social media she saw pictures of perfectly dolled-up children, beautifully packed lunches and even some inspirational mommy yoga poses. How come she was “failing” and her friends were having it all while making it look Pinterest worthy?  I told her it’s for the same reason my selfies after watching a makeup tutorial don’t look effortlessly flawless and cloud eggs look like a mess in your own kitchen. Social media isn’t reality…at least not most of the time. People curate their image online so that you only see the best. Then it hit me…this applies, for the most part, to body confidence and the plus size movement too.

Everyday, I scroll through social to see #OOTD shots that look straight from a catalog or perfectly-lit artsy nudes. I am so proud of them for celebrating themselves and becoming thought leaders on body image, but I’ve started to have some nagging underlying feelings but I couldn’t put my finger on until now.

Instagram is the epicenter of the body positivity movement with trending hashtags like #effyourbeautystandards and #nowrongwaytobeawoman. Plus size influencers are taking over the world, your favorite brands, and your insta feed. Just when I thought we may have reached a size acceptance utopia, I started to find myself experiencing feelings of self-doubt that I haven’t felt since I was a 90’s kid during Supermodel mania. What gives? Why don’t I feel like I’m confident enough all of the sudden?

Everyone from Lena Dunham to your favorite plus size blogger tells us to let it all hang out, be proud, and be confident in all your flaws. I too have said this to myself and to many of our readers, but I’ve realized that creating a world where we say things like “Damn the haters! Love my tiger stripes!” doesn’t leave too much room for women to express their body confidence in their own ways. It almost certainly doesn’t leave much room for plus size women who are still on their journey to size acceptance or in recovery from eating disorders. I’m not hating on women who choose to put their whole lives and bodies on display, but we must think of all angles so that we don’t inadvertently alienate our curvy sisters on our path to social inclusion.

Most of the viral images that have been representing body positivity have become so uniform in their bare-all message that it is starting to strike me as yet another construct women must fit into: Either you are keen to show your stretch marks/fat rolls to the beach or whole of the internet, or you else you haven’t reached full body enlightenment.

The message is supposed to be beauty as YOU want it to be and that there is no wrong way, but I have been repeatedly asked by friends and followers why I’m “still hiding” under long sleeves. Can I no longer like tops with sleeves? What if I also post pictures without sleeves? Will that make other outfits acceptable? Why am I even asking these questions, because I thought I was supposed to be able to do what I please? When can I just be “enough” and live my life without explaining my choices?

This new-found sense of hyper-confidence brings up a lot of complex questions for me. Just in discussing that I am working on this piece, I realized that I am not alone either.

  1. Do I have to wear bodycon or skimpy clothing in order to prove I’m body positive?
  2. Am I a traitor to my bodipos sisters if I don’t think I am a queen all day, every day?
  3. If body positivity falls in the woods, and no one is there to Instagram it does it make a sound?

Let’s try to break this down by stating once again that I think you should do you. If you feel comfortable in bra tops and short shorts all the time, go for it, but please don’t confuse my one-piece or trousers as shame. Style and fashion is a choice. We must support a women’s right to choose what she puts on her body as much as we fight for her right to choose what she does with her body. Some women due to religion, upbringing or just out of fashion tastes, choose to dress modestly. It doesn’t mean that they do not feel beautiful in their own skin. Each woman has a different set of tastes and boundaries. This may sound obvious, but a woman is allowed to be two seemingly-conflicting things at once. I like a long sleeve tee and jeans and much as I like showing off in a strappy minidress. It depends on my mood and that’s OK.

A woman is simultaneously allowed to love her looks and not like a picture of herself (all people of all sizes have pics they don’t like for whatever reason). We are also allowed to simultaneously love a picture or our body and not want it on the internet. It should go without saying, but that is just as OK as another woman who wants to broadcast her life on Snapchat. I was very surprised that I recently had a discussion with a friend over pictures taken of me and somehow my issues with control on where my image was being posted was interpreted as me hating my appearance. “Don’t you think you look great?” is not the correct response to a question about image usage consent. These are two separate issues. Having privacy settings is not directly correlated to my confidence level.

Confidence is not black and white and I hate that Instagram makes it look like it is.

Ashley Graham just got in a heap of hot water for saying “some days she feels fat.” Girl. Fat is not a feeling and it’s not synonymous with bad, but I think what she meant to say is some days she feels bad about herself. Despite overcoming decades of abuse, bullying, crash dieting and forced body hatred, I still have days where I slip back into that awful mindset. I’m ashamed to admit when I feel bad about myself because I feel like I am a traitor to every other day when I help women embrace themselves. I know my self-doubt will be met with tones of shock and anger that I could let Vogue/ “The Man”/The World think I’m anything less than perfect. They aren’t wrong about that, but I was programmed. We all have been programmed to some degree and social brainwashing about beauty doesn’t go away overnight.

Let’s remember to be kind to our fellow woman, because we are all in a battle against Twitter trolls, haters, and almost every piece of media we see. Just like the fact that I don’t believe “perfect mommy bloggers” have never had a day filled with spit-up and screaming, I don‘t believe that plus models feel confident 24/7, despite being hard pressed to find any post that says otherwise. Social media, though not produced by a conglomerate, is still media. Some bloggers are not just people; they are brands. You don’t have to look and feel like the posts you like from the people you follow. We understand this about TV and magazines, but we still metabolize social media as reality, which can be dangerous if we hold our real selves in comparison to an influencer with 1 million followers and a makeup artist. So, when you see someone post gloriously self-laudatory content every day, that doesn’t mean that you are living wrong because you have normal human emotions. It means we only are only seeing what they want us to see.  We all have ups and downs. Just because I have a day where I hate everything I try on, doesn’t mean I think I am worthless. Just because I still use the term “flattering clothes,” doesn’t mean I subscribe to society’s beauty standards or think I’m ugly.

I hope all women think about what they putting out there and what they are consuming. We mustn’t become rigid in our thinking of what body confidence  “should look like” or what we are “supposed to do or feel.” If we do, we aren’t any better than the arcane beauty movements before us.



-- Editor-in-Chief SLiNK Magazine