The “Shape” Of Body Positivity

I get the most random things appearing in my Facebook feed. It often makes me wonder what sort of demographic the little internet robots think I’m part of. Nonetheless, the ads and posts in my feed provide endless inspiration for my YouTube videos and blogs.

Case in point: I recently saw an ad for a shapewear company featuring plus size women. These ladies have lots of extra rolls of flesh around their middles, but this fabulous shapewear pulls everything in and creates pleasing curves. And if that had been the end of the ad, that would be the end of it. A company had identified a frustration, a pain point, a need that many women have and created a product providing a solution.

But it wasn’t the end of the ad (and therefore, it’s not the end of it). With these plus sized ladies strutting around and striking sexy poses to show off their curves, the company talked about how “body positive” it is. (With the underlying message being: since this company is “body positive” that should make us feel good about purchasing products from this company.)

And this is where I take issue. I don’t have a problem with shapewear and I don’t have a problem with body positivity. In fact, I encourage body positivity. What concerns me is how easy it is to influence consumer ideas and beliefs through marketing. What concerns me is that weight and body image issues will continue to haunt women simply because marketers can use sleight of hand tactics to sell products that do not ultimately address and heal the underlying problem.

Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with shapewear. Shapewear simply helps create “more pleasing” lines in the body. It’s got nothing to do with a woman’s weight or size. Even size zero pageant contestants use shapewear for the purpose of “better lines.” And there is no prejudice or judgment in that. Artists and mathematicians understand the science behind the Golden Mean. There are simply certain ratios and proportions that are more pleasing to the human eye. And since very few of us are born with these natural proportions, we can create them artificially (should we desire) through our wardrobe choices – including shapewear.

But why do we need shapewear to be “body positive?” Can’t we love our bodies without the shapewear? This isn’t a trite question – especially in the context of the “Body Positivity” movements, which are famous for denouncing the use of Photoshop in advertising. 

If we are going to use shapewear to create more pleasing lines in our bodies, we can’t be pointing our fingers at the Photoshopped ads and magazines. (And this is especially true now that every cell phone camera has fancy filters and effects to “enhance” our photos before we upload them to our favorite social media channels.)

We can’t have it both ways. This lack of consistency and congruency contributes to the confusion, stress and distress we feel surrounding our bodies. And as long as we are confused, stressed and distressed, we are easy targets for slick marketing messages. But more importantly, we miss the opportunity to heal the underlying core issue.

We live in a society that suggests that we can – and should – control our body and our weight by controlling what we eat and what we do for exercise. But the fact that we are responsible for what we eat – and responsible for what we do for exercise – does not mean that we can therefore control our body’s shape through diet and exercise. That is a fallacy. That is the fallacy upon which the entire diet, fitness and weight loss industries base their business models. That is the fallacy that the publishing industry uses to sell its women’s magazines. And that is the fallacy that creates all of our underlying pain and shame surrounding our body and our weight.

When we can recognize this fallacy for what it is, we can “let ourselves off the hook.” We can release the stress and distress and find a little peace. And in that peace, we can start to hear the wisdom of our bodies. And when we follow the wisdom and guidance of our bodies, we begin to heal our hearts and souls – as well as optimize our physical state. When we can recognize the fallacy for what it is, we can wear any shapewear we want – or not – and truly find body positivity.