9 Things I Hope To See Happen For Body Positivity In 2016
Almost every week this year, it seemed like my smartphone was buzzing with yet another Google Alert for body positivity. From people walking half-naked in the streets of Germany to protest beauty standards to campaigns celebrating every size, shape, ability, and color, it started to feel like our culture, in quite a macro sense, was ready to begin embracing the simple notion that all humans deserve visibility and that all humans deserve to feel worthy, catered to, accepted, and, yes, beautiful.
However, despite that body positivity was a buzzword of sorts in 2015, things remain far from perfect. Fashion Month revealed that 80 percent of the models in spring/summer shows were still white. Eating disorders continued to kill more than any other mental illness. We found out that most girls still begin dieting around age 10. And representation of non-white, non-cis, non-able, non-slender individuals in our media streams (be it TV or film or general advertising), well, that still felt pretty limited.
But at least we've been talking about these things, right? At least the conversations — the difficult ones that shed light on any aspect of our diversity problem in contemporary culture — were started. I hope this means that come 2016, we'll continue to take more steps to ensure body positivity is a concept that actually infiltrates our day to day lives, rather than just our social media streams. For me, these nine advancements would signify tangible change:
1. Representation Of Non-Hourglass, Size 22+ Women And Models
In 2015, we saw plus size women land major roles in fashion. From taking part in campaigns with leading brands to presenting collections at Fashion Week, visibility was, indeed, amped up. However, the visibility was largely for plus size women below a certain size, and of a certain shape. Mainly, the hourglass shape; with women above a size 22/24 remaining cast aside.
In 2016, I would love to see more babes of all sizes and shapes land even more roles in the industry. I want to see bodies whose fat is distributed in all sorts of ways — regardless of how "proportional" or not they may be. From visible belly outlines to wobbly arms to pear shapes to apples to whatever other fruit-shape someone might relate to, let's make 2016 a time for all fat bodies to get some limelight.
2. Visibility For Non-Abled Bodies
This was the year that Jillian Mercado was in a major campaign with Diesel. It was the year Jamie Brewer walked New York Fashion Week in Carrie Hammer's #RoleModelsNotRunwayModels show. It was the year that Who What Wear Magazine included a model in a wheelchair in its body positive photo shoot. But these three moments are isolated. After all, 2015 was also the year that Interview Magazine put Kylie Jenner in a wheelchair as a kind of fashion statement, seemingly without considering the ableism such images might be promoting.
With the exception of the positive aforementioned moments, visibility for disabled bodies was so minimal it'd be a challenge to think of many more moments. And until all marginalized identities are visible, well, we cannot really consider our culture that inclusive.
3. More Trans Visibility
At least in part thanks to world-famous stars like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, trans rights and trans activism were topics discussed with more fervor than I can personally recollect witnessing in my lifetime. It was also the year that Eddie Redmayne starred in The Danish Girl , sparking equal parts praise for Redmayne taking on a role that might familiarize cis individuals with the contemporary (and historical) struggles of trans individuals, and criticism for him taking on the role as a cis man. At the Toronto Film Festival earlier this year, however, he said, "The need for cisgender people to understand what trans people have gone through is huge and incredibly important."
With that, most of us can only agree. In 2016, we must continue to fight for trans visibility — and for trans visibility for all, including those who do not have the luxury of passing privilege; including those who cannot afford high-cost surgeries. This year might have seen an increase in trans visibility, but transphobic violence has also been at an all-time high in the United States, particularly for trans women of color. Until these statistics drop, body positivity and its intersection with trans activism can still do a whole lot more.
4. More Genderqueer Visibility
In all honesty, this was the year I truly began to understand just how varied a spectrum gender and sexuality are. It was the year I most heard about the struggles of being genderqueer, or non-binary. It was the year MTV made a True Life episode about all of the above. It was the year writer Meg Zulch talked openly and bluntly about being a genderqueer journalist and the tokenization that can come with that. It was, of course, also the year that NY Mag put together a feature on the vast spectrum of gender and sexual identities, bringing these issues to the forefront for demographics of various ages. But with the exception of the visibility genderqueer and non-binary individuals have carved out for themselves on corners of the Internet and in select media, I can't say most people I know outside of Millennials who spend a ton of time online and on leftist media sites are even familiar with the term, or the importance of not assuming the pronouns of an individual, or of respecting non-gendered pronoun usage.
We need to see more representation of non-binary individuals all around; of non-binary individuals of all shapes and sizes and ethnicities and identities. It might have started to become a reality this year, but the fact that most people you ask outside of select liberal and/or LGBTQ-friendly bubbles still won't likely have a clue what "genderqueer" actually means is proof enough that we need to amp up the visibility, and the body positive conversation as it applies here.
5. Discussions Of Body Positivity In Schools
There were some pretty fantastic moments for body positivity in schools this year. The first that comes to mind for me is Lynelle Cantwell's brilliant response to being voted one of the "ugliest girls" in her school. Usually when we hear about kids standing up to bullying, however, it seems they're doing it of their own accord; and not because the academic institution is backing them.
How groundbreaking would it be, however, if instead of all the rhetoric around "lose weight or you'll die" that I can personally attest to having been told in many a high school health class, we began educating kids on health at every size? Or the aforementioned eating disorder and dieting stats? What if we taught them about the body positivity movement; and showed them diverse imagery? What if we stopped giving them obesity report cards, and instead taught them that there are more ways than one to be healthy — and that health isn't something derived from aesthetics? I cannot help but be hopeful that some of those aforementioned stats might just drop. And even if only a little bit, that would be worth it.
6. Genderless Fashion
When Target removed gender-based signs in its kids' sections back in August, Twitter sort of exploded. Although there were certain people who felt the shift was impractical and unnecessary, most of the commentary surrounded how groundbreaking a move it was. This was also the year that gender-neutral underwear became slated to appear at the Victoria And Albert Museum in London, but the fact that Target implemented its change in the children's section of its stores felt like the hugest deal.
So much of society at large is run by gendered language. Whether we're talking about bathrooms or clothing stores or job applications, the pressure to tick the "male" or "female" box is real — the pressure to like "male" or "female" things much the same. This can make things pretty difficult for individuals who don't want to be that boxed in or who don't intrinsically feel like either gender is representative of who they are. By changing the way we talk about gender and binaries and norms — and by doing so in conversations with children — maybe we can make some of the stigma surrounding falling somewhere in between a little less pronounced.
7. Diverse Bodies In Beauty And Shoe Campaigns
When we talk about the push for diversity in fashion, I cannot help but feel that we often exclude beauty and shoes. Let me explain: Plus size models are getting more mainstream work, sure — but do you ever see them in your beauty ads? Do you ever see them repping that drugstore brand's new lipstick or those designer heels Carrie Bradshaw would throw a fit over? With the exception of Louboutin casting its first plus size model this month and MAC's MACnificent Me Campaign, I cannot say I saw much of this throughout 2015.
Visibility for marginalized bodies and identities should mean total visibility for marginalized bodies and identities. Just like there's no reason a fat body or a queer body can't be modeling a brand's clothes, there's absolutely no reason a fat body or a queer body can't be modeling our makeup and shoes.
8. An End To The "Epidemic" Label When It Need Not Apply
FYI, this is what you're calling kids when you talk about childhood obesity (or obesity in general) being an epidemic:
In other words, all those campaigns (some spearheaded by folks like FLOTUS) are essentially dubbing a huge portion of the population, kids included, an "infectious disease." Not only do such comments run the risk of making the kids in your life feel like being fat is the worst thing they can ever be, and that weight loss is the grandest thing they can aspire to achieve, over intellect or compassion or friendship, they're also factually incorrect. Fat isn't "infectious." You can't catch it or give it to your friends; and it's certainly not going to be transmitted because you shared a drink or kissed your little cousin on the cheek.
A great starting point for teaching people about health and nutrition sans body shaming and weight loss talk is through the word of Dr. Linda Bacon. Her texts highlight ideas like "no study has ever shown that weight loss prolongs life," and "biology dictates that most people regain the weight they lose, even if they continue their diets and exercise programs." Additionally, if we introduce people to the concept of subcutaneous versus visceral fat (the former being the squashy, tangible stuff you can touch with your hands, and which isn't necessarily hazardous to your health; the latter being the more fat that wraps itself around your organs, that you cannot see, and that people of all weights can have), we can also hopefully eradicate a lot of misconceptions straight off the bat. Further still, we need to be more transparent about our knowledge, and lack thereof, when it comes to health, nutrition, and weight, starting, perhaps, by recognizing that the "thin is always good; fat is always bad" conversation is flawed.
Perhaps in 2016, we can also focus on health in a way that encompasses the mental, as well as the physical. Because on the quest to improved health, numbers are not usually the be all and end all; and our kids — and all of us — should know that.
9. More Dismantling Of Diet Culture
I cannot, for the life of me, understand why more people are not alarmed by the fact that most girls have ventured into dieting by the age of 10. Ten: You know, one of the years in that very limited amount of time before the world gets in the way of your fun and idealism with its "responsibilities" and "adult" BS. You know, all the things that seem to make that childhood spark in us crash and burn. I personally think we should be allowing our 10-year-old kids to be kids. But to tackle this diet problem, we need to tackle diet culture at large: A multi-billion dollar industry that arguably controls so much of how we feel about ourselves.
Diet culture is the thing that tells you that you won't be good enough until you lose the weight. It's the thing that tells you you're not worthy of the nice dress or the good boyfriend or the rad job. It's the thing that makes women bond over weight loss rhetoric to the point where you can't seem to be around a group of ladies without hearing about the juice cleanse someone is on or the kale diet that promises big results or the insecurities someone feels when they wear a short skirt.
A good place to start dismantling diet culture is by reading and becoming involved in activist, lecturer, and writer Virgie Tovar's #LoseHateNotWeight philosophy. As Tovar wrote on her website, "Our culture's current understanding of health and beauty is limited. Health encompasses many facets: Mental health, sexual health, spiritual health, as well as physical health. The truth is: They are all connected. Likewise, despite what we've been taught, beauty is not a finite resource. It is all around us." If that doesn't seem like a more productive, self love-inducing, game-changing mentality than diet culture, then I don't know what would.
So I don't know about y'all, but I'm hoping that in 2016, we continue not only to talk, but to do. It's one thing to preach body positivity from behind a computer screen. It's one thing to understand, fundamentally, that we've been brainwashed by beauty standards. It's another entirely to act; to change. I guess what I'm hoping for next year is just that: Change.
Images: MTV (1); Google/Marie Southard Ospina (1)