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Body Positive Movement

The Body Positive Movement is a movement that encourages people to adopt more forgiving and affirming attitudes towards their bodies, with the goal of improving overall health and well-being. Whether people are nurturing their bodies and maintaining their weight, or finding a place in life where they are comfortable through working out, or changing their lifestyles to find a better attitude, the body positive movement focuses on building self-esteem through improving one's self-image. The body positive movement targets all body shapes and sizes.[1] The movement is not only about working out and striving to be positive and creating a better lifestyle for oneself, but deals with health as well. A debate within the movement surrounds the question of whether social media sites, including Instagram, Facebook, and blogs,[2] are helping or harming people's perceptions of their bodies. People involved with this movement challenge themselves daily to learn how to grow and love themselves to the fullest.



The Body Positive movement aims to help people overcome conflicts with their bodies so that they can lead happier and more productive lives. The movement itself aims to inspire youth and adults to value their health, unique beauty, and identity so that they can use their vital resources of time, energy, and intellect to make positive changes in their lives and the world. The movement itself has sparked much attention as various other organizations aim at helping young girls to promote self-acceptance and love of their body image as well. In their teen years, Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott originally created the Body Positive Movement campaign in 1996 after hanging out in a living room with some friends. Together, they hoped to create a mission statement of accepting unique, realistic body images that lead to a more balanced self-loving life. While the body positive movement developed based on body politics focusing on the social stigmas associated with being overweight, the campaign came to include size discrimination based on extremes in physical size, such as very tall or short; extremely fat or thin.

Body positivity stems from the fat acceptance movement of the 1960s' second-wave feminism, which focused on issues of body politics and discrimination against fat bodies.[3] Present fat acceptance activists have sought to redefine media portrayals of oversize women using popular social networks like Instagram, to send the visual message of the plus size physique as one that is beautiful and praiseworthy. The article, Feminism and the Social Media Sphere by Mereen Kasana, describes social media as systems of feminist spaces where women are provided with encouragement against pre-existing isolating standards that render them invisible in society.


Body positivity is about radically re-imaging how American culture views bodies, moving from a society where differences are ranked to one where they're celebrated.[4] The movement aims to make people (it does not target a specific gender) feel comfortable in their body, regardless of the negative aspects.

The Body Positive organization offers workshops that have five different learning competencies.[5] The first one teaches students how to tell the difference between positive messages and messages that have the potential to “cause self-destructive behavior” and is called “Reclaiming Health.”[5] The next competence is about being able to experience health through practicing self-care.[5] The third competence, “Cultivating Self-Love,” teaches students, “to move away from self-criticism…and become aware of the voices that raise criticism.”[5] “Authentic Beauty” is the fourth competence and deals with how to “find inner beauty without having to resort to the ideal images imposed on us by society.”[5]The fifth and last competence is called “Build Community” and its focus is encouraging “individuals to be connected with others in order to establish a community of support and harmony.”[5]

Similar body image movementsEdit

There has been research that focuses on the relationship between girls' and young women's bodies and images in "the media."[6] Projects, movements, and other organizations have been working to change the way young girls and women look at themselves in terms of their body image as well as self-image. Problems that arise from females constantly criticizing their weight and body image can lead to anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.

One movement is the fat acceptance movement, which stems from the fat feminism ideology.

The Adipositivity project aims to "promote the acceptance of benign human size variation and encourage the discussion of body politics through a visual display of fat physicality".[7] The ultimate goal of Adipositivity is to broaden the definition of physical beauty.

The body image project began in 2001 in Ontario, Canada. Its mission was to provide educators with some sort of assistance that focuses on curriculum that helps today’s youth develop positive body image and self-esteem. [8] In 2004 the book Reflections of me: The Body Image Project was created and used in many schools across Ontario that showed teachers a certain curriculum that would be helpful to students. “This body equity curriculum weaves together a study of gender, disability, race and class” (Rice, Larkin, & Jette, 2001). The curriculum was intended to “address themes such as representation of diverse bodies in popular culture, historical construction of bodily differences and the experiences of people who do not fit societal body norms” (Rice et al., 2001). Over a decade later, teachers are still seeking resources to help combat the societal, familial and media pressures on our children to “look or be like someone else”...when they have the “just right” body already.” [8]

These social movements are just a few of many that are working to promote self-acceptance at any age and any weight.

Offline Movement supporting Women's Rights and Body PositivityEdit

Hashtags, such as #FreetheNipple, were created to promote body positivity after many years of female oppressions and criticisms of the female body. Besides these online activisms, offline movements were also created. The most relevant one up to this day is the Women’s March on Washington back in January 2017. Here a large group of women, men, and LGBTQ members came together immediately following Donald Trump’s inauguration as the President of the United States. This drastic response was largely due to President Trump’s statements and stances that were regarded by many as offensive and anti-women. Noteworthy attendees who made statements in support of the Women’s March on Washington include singer Beyoncé Knowles, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, U.S Secretary of State John Kerry, and actress Scarlett Johansson.[9]

The Women’s March on Washington rallied for the protection of various women’s rights including reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, immigration reform, religious discrimination, healthcare reform, and equal pay.[10] Though it started with an online post, the movement primarily utilized the Pussy Hat Project, signage, and high-profile celebrity figures to support the cause. The Pussy Hat Project aimed to hand out millions of pink hats at the march to make a unified statement and reclaim the derogatory term “pussy” in direct opposition to Trump’s 2005 assertion that women would allow him to “grab them by the pussy”.[11] The Pussy Hat Project advocated towards female body positivity for all to resist sexist double-standards and support the  female’s body.

In the mediaEdit

Model Ashley Graham

Sports Illustrated released three covers for their annual 2016 Swimsuit edition—all featuring women with different body types. "What defines beauty today? The truth is, times have changed and one size does not fit all," Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Editor MJ Day said in a press release.[12] "So we don't have just one cover, because beauty doesn't take just one form."[12] One of the three covers features "plus-sized" model Ashley Graham; a size 14. Graham is the first plus-sized model to be featured on the Swimsuit edition. Graham has been the face of body positivity since her Lane Bryant #ThisBody ad campaign.[13] Sports Illustrated wanted to celebrate all different body types. Graham "has long been an advocate of body positivity", telling TODAY in an earlier interview that "there is no right size and there is no wrong size."[12]

The iconic Barbie doll has undergone major changes to reflect realistic body proportions. Mattel Inc., the company that manufactures Barbie, announced a brand new line of Barbies to represent figures of "real women." Previously, "studies have linked early exposure to ‘unrealistically thin’ Barbie dolls to the development of unhealthy body image in young girls."[14] The size and shape of the traditional Barbie is unrealistic and can only be attainable through plastic surgery. Therefore, the company has decided to release three different shapes: curvy, tall, and petite to represent the diversity of women’s body-types. Barbie no longer has the traditional thigh-gap and super-skinny figure. "Mattel seems to have jumped onto the body positivity/diversity bandwagon," said Ravneet Vohra, editor of Wear Your Voice.[15]

Social media as civic platformsEdit

Social networking has become an influential medium to support civic and social justice.[16] Studies show the power of social media lays in its ability to expose and spread political issues, where political advocators can direct higher positive change in a larger unison.[16] Social media’s capacity to communicate ideas in a global way can encourage more discussion and awareness on any civic or social justice to wider audiences. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, are all sites that gather supporters in common view and guide political-activist groups in learning information from different cultural perspectives. Media writers and activist like Kasana state diverse interaction among different networks as politically significant and more impactful to the public, because networks can expose social issues to uninformed groups.[16] Kasana further labels social media platforms as transnational online spaces that act as support networks of solidarity and unity to social media users.[16]

Social media as a negative platformEdit

Body Positivity is one of the most discussed topics today and the power of social media platforms has created much of that discussion. But as more support for acceptance for plus-size women is happening, “skinny-shaming” is becoming a new type of criticism in these same networks. As sites and media have begun to promote positivity, they have unfortunately also become places for a different kind of negativity. Thus has skinny-shaming begun to appear against celebrities, models and women who may either be unnaturally forcing their weight down, or who may actually have naturally slimmer bodies.[17] But the true intention of skinny-shaming might be different, as it may be a way that some women express they feel others they are having “thin privileged.”[18] Actress and model Jaime King has suffered unfair criticism over her naturally-thin body and was accused of being thin-privileged.[19] In social media, especially Instagram, people have posted criticizing King’s thin body and even cruelly suggested that she should “eat more”. Taunts like “go eat a hamburger” are just some of the things written in poor taste under some of her pictures. When King was recently offered a movie role, the producers told her they were not happy with her weight and asked if she could even “lose some pounds."[3] According to King’s interview with the New York Post, she said “when I was diagnosed with endometriosis, I gained 40 pounds because my hormones were so crazy.” Social media and web sites often purposely give a misleading impression that someone, especially a celebrity, is living a life that is “better than yours”, with no worries or issues. Actress Sara Hayland, from the popular TV show [G1] [G2] Modern Family, came under criticism on Twitter and Instagram when she posted a photo of herself looking unusually slim. She was flooded with comments about her weight, and took to Twitter to post a lengthy response to the body-shaming comments against her on social media and celebrity news sites. "I haven't had the greatest year," she noted on Twitter, "maybe one day I’ll talk about it, but for now I’d like my privacy. I will say that this year brought a lot of changes and with that, physical changes."[4] Body-shaming", the act of humiliating someone for their size or shape, can happen to anyone - a celebrity, a regular woman, or a man. In this age of social media, any woman who uploads a photograph can quickly become a victim of body-shaming, regardless of her status, race, color, or age, and even if she or nature is the reason for her body being as it is.    

Popular "Free the Nipple" Hashtags Used Within the MediaEdit

In today’s day and age the use of hashtags has become quite prominent on social media in terms of drawing attention to specific words or topics within online posts. By using the ‘#’ symbol in front of a word or sentence, the content is turned into a hyperlink, which by clicking on it, can lead people to further online content which incorporates the same hashtag.[1] One hashtag, empowering the positive body image of females, as well as creating an equality movement online, is the #freethenipple hashtag. This equality movement “is one of the fastest growing movements of our time.” [2] The mission of the “Free the Nipple”movement, as stated on the movement’s main website, is to draw attention to the fact that inequality is still prevalent in today’s world.

Actress Lina Esco, the founder of “Free the Nipple” in 2014, began the movement in an effort to spark discussions on gender inequality. While the name itself holds a comedic ring, "Free the Nipple" brings attention to more serious topics: taboo public nudity laws and sexist double-standards.[3] The movement argues that female nudity is not only about sexualization, but also about maintaining society’s male-dominated hierarchy. “Free the Nipple” alludes to the irony in the acceptance of female nudity in pornography and other acts of public shame, and its rejection as a form of non-sexual female power. [4] For instance, Facebook moderators rigorously remove any content related to breastfeeding, labor, childbirth, and reproductive health from their website. Moreover, it is it is completely illegal for women to appear topless in three states and otherwise socially unacceptable in the rest of the nation. [5]

Since the movement that began in 2013, the “free the nipple” campaign has impacted the world in many ways. Many celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Chelsea Handler, and Chrissy Teigen have joined the movement and taken a stand against this double standard. Hundreds of thousands of people across the United States have come together to end the negative connotation of a female nipple[20]Demi Moore and Bruce Willis’s daughter, Scout Willis also took action on the movement by posting a topless photo of herself on Instagram. Shortly after, her Instagram account was suspended due to the nudity.  Another issue that is parallel to the campaign is the criticism of breastfeeding women. The issue arising is that it is inappropriate for women to breastfeed in public. There is a sexualization surrounding the breast of women, and the act of breastfeeding[21]

Amongst the three U.S. states that prohibit women from exposing their breasts in public are Utah, Tennessee, and Indiana. [6]Ever since the “Free the Nipple” movement was created women across the nation have been arrested for taking to the streets topless. The TaTa-Top, a bikini top resembling women’s breast, has become a part of the “Free the Nipple” movement. With this piece of clothing women, who do not feel comfortable exposing their breasts in public, but still want to be apart of this movement, are able to appear topless without actually being topless. By wearing this statement piece, women are able to support the movement without breaking any laws. Besides supporting the “Free the Nipple” movement the TaTa-Top also supports organizations such as the “Keep A Breast” foundation, which raises awareness on breast cancer health, as well as the “Chicago Women’s Health Center” which provides healthcare to women as well as trans-people. [7]

#FreeTheNipple ControversyEdit

While the #FreeTheNipple movement aims to fight social media censorship and uncover double-standards in male and female body perceptions, critics argue that #FreeTheNipple has not gained significant traction in regards to new legislation. In over three years, 3-million Instagram entries, and one documentary later, the hashtags have merely become a digital fad. LGBTQ campaigners and feminist groups argue that the movement caters to the select few white, skinny, CIS, and able-bodied women who already fall into the physical ideals constructed by society. Opponents argue that disabled, mutilated, and transgender women who digress from typical female bodies are not liberated when they expose their breasts. Instead, because their breasts are deemed not femme enough to censor, they are subject to countless criticisms facilitated online - further reinforcing oppressive gender constructs in the community. Moreover, the official merchandise for #FreeTheNipple portrays perky B-cup breasts, excluding other varieties of breast shapes prevalent throughout the nation. This stands to provide a platform only for exclusive women encompassing these preferred traits.[22]

Growth of #FreeTheNipple in the Fourth Wave of FeminismEdit

While social media played a crucial role in amplifying the #FreeTheNipple movement online, the movement has not made much impact on decision-making processes offline. The current onset of the Fourth Wave of Feminism redefined digital expression for feminist practice and theory. Moreover, social media platforms fostered a sense of global solidarity and made feminist conversations easily accessible through “logging in” to personalized accounts. Thus, instead of minimizing their thoughts into a single think-piece, women could now actively contribute to discussions in real-time and constructively voice their opinions in an engaging community. With this, social media instilled a sense of transnational belonging and confidence in women and young girls[23].

A decade before the eruption of Facebook and Twitter, it was extremely difficult to fight sexism and degradation on the female body in public spaces. On top of scarce discussions on feminism, activists for women’s rights were negatively stigmatized as “feminazis” by countless celebrities such as popstar Katy Perry, actress Shailene Woodley, and American talk show host Rush Limbaugh.[24] Without digital platforms for organizing social movements, dispersing information, and fostering communities, only people in those cities or within the vicinity at the time could participate in feminist rallies. Social media completely transformed this complicated process and expedited what once took months of traditional pre-planning to a simple click of a button. This cleared an online platform for body positive conversations on the #FreeTheNipple movement.

Perhaps the true power of social media stems from the ability for members to share stories that oppose the silencing of women and minority groups. By speaking up in these #FreeTheNipple digital spaces, women are effectively regaining their agency and autonomy. For example, after women’s rights groups adamantly resisted Victoria’s Secret’s “perfect body” slogan through Twitter and petitions, the company adjusted its White-dominated advertising campaign and changed its slogan to avoid promoting negative body images.[25] Additionally, women are now pushing for greater accountability and using social media as a tool to collaborate on projects to further feminist goals.


Since 2012, the Body Positive Movement has been popularized within the Instagram social circle. The emergence of photographic social media apps like Instagram, has amplified The Body Positive movement’s message of body acceptance and social change, by allowing users to visually see others proudly posting their imperfections. The body positivity selfie encourage others to proudly show off their unique and unconventional bodies, encouraging fat bodies are not to be hidden but flaunted. This strategy as discussed in Abigail Saguy and Anna Ward’s article, Coming out as Fat: Rethinking Stigma, can challenge society’s observation on fatness as a social stigma and transform it into a normality. As Saguy and Ward state in their article, “flaunting represents a politics of difference.”[26]

Bloggers will photograph activities usually “thought proper only for thin people,” [26] like fitness and yoga inspiration accounts, challenging the assumption that fat bodies are not strong and active bodies.[3] Oversize fashion bloggers tag their photos with hash tags, #plussizefashion and #plussizeootd (plus size outfit of the day) in order to challenge fashion standards and expectations on what oversize women should wear, proving they can be as fashionable as any thin woman.[3] Much of the research based on body positive accounts has been found through hash tags collected from profiles. Hash tags are the most popular feature used to connect the movement to users, often times acting as tools for advocates to identify multiple issues their images are attempting to address.[3] The hash tag #effyourbodystandards is the most popular. Bloggers’ voices are heard through hash tags and they speak about their issues in words rather than complete sentences. The tool acts as a link to other bloggers across the nation, and clues other bloggers to numerous body issues that they were not aware of. 

Expansion and advertisingEdit

Research of the body positive’s narrative within Instagram reveals body positive advocates began their movement discussion with images of their daily routines, including family and friends.[3] Later, that narrative changed into discussing their experiences with eating disorders, fat shaming, mental illness, and their self-image, through the use of hash-tags. Cwynar-Horta asserts the successes of the body-positive narrative in Instagram, reinforced through the increasing “likes” gained attention from not just followers but media magazines and article features as well. Hash tag narratives in Body Positive profiles now advertise jewelry, teas, and exercise equipment from corporations that have noticed and encouraged body positive advocators. Instagram’s transition into an advertising platform in 2013 has seen a new public interpretation of the positive body campaign. Corporations have picked up bloggers’ account newsfeed, and begun selling products through user endorsements. Recent backlash from bloggers claim corporation’s support of the body positive campaign, as a business tactic that is “hijacking..spaces that are meant to be democratic,” and adding beauty ideals that body positive bloggers fail to meet.[3] ) Modeling agencies looking to sponsor overweight models have recognized popular idols like Tess Holiday and Ashley Graham, both iconic names within Instagram’s body positive movement. Fashion Brands also “claim to be body positive” by including plus sized models into their advertising campaigns and launching plus size clothing lines.[3] American eagle’s Aerie clothing line for example promotes body positive attitudes by portraying realistic body types and unedited pictures. Recently, Advocates have noticed a standard size on overweight models, which does not “accurately represent a variety of large size women.”[3] Evaluation on today’s media and Instagram portrayal of body size by figures like Tess Holiday and Ashley Graham has been considered as limiting the all-inclusive goals of the Body positive campaign. Body Positive community members have criticized body positive media portrayal as only representing identities within the movement that are conventionally attractive white women; or those who meet society’s beauty standards most closely.[3]

Involved personalitiesEdit


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  2. ^ "Thinspiration". 
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  9. ^ "Speakers". Women's March. Retrieved 2017-11-28. 
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  18. ^ Brinded, Lianna. "Conflating "skinny shaming" and "fat shaming" masks the often forgotten issue of thin privilege". Quartz. Retrieved 2017-11-06. 
  19. ^ "Jaime King wants people to stop 'body-shaming' skinny models". New York Post. 2017-09-10. Retrieved 2017-11-06. 
  20. ^ "Here's How Many Nipples #FreeTheNipple Has Liberated So Far". Retrieved 2017-11-04. 
  21. ^ "Why Bruce Willis & Demi Moore's daughter wants us to see her nipples". Feministing. Retrieved 2017-11-04. 
  22. ^ Dazed (2016-03-30). "The problems with #FreeTheNipple". Dazed. Retrieved 2017-11-04. 
  23. ^ "How social media is changing the feminist movement". MSNBC. Retrieved 2017-11-28. 
  24. ^ "How social media is changing the feminist movement". MSNBC. Retrieved 2017-11-28. 
  25. ^ Bahadur, Nina (2014-11-06). "Victoria's Secret 'Perfect Body' Campaign Changes Slogan After Backlash". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-11-28. 
  26. ^ a b Abigail C. Saguy, Anna Ward, “Coming Out as Fat: Rethinking Stigma.” Social Psychology Quarterly, Vol.74, no.1 (2011): 53-75
  27. ^ a b c d e f "Peruskurssi body positive -ajatusmaailmaan: nämä hahmot kannattaa tuntea". Iltalehti (in Finnish). 26 July 2017. Retrieved 3 August 2017. 
  28. ^ "The Story Behind The Viral Post: 'Beauty Comes In Many Different Shapes And Sizes'". Women's Health. 2017-08-04. Retrieved 2017-09-05. 


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