There are a lot of things that sound great on paper, but become a major problem when put into practice. Why else would anyone think that communism, slavery, or every reality TV show on TLC was a good idea at some point?
I’m not saying some ideas become a total disaster when put into practice. There are varying degrees of problems, screw-ups, and failures when it comes to to the extent of that disaster. Some are manageable. Some can even be glossed over and overlooked. Just look at the ideas behind every Adam Sandler movie ever made. That’s not to say that “Don’t Mess With The Zohan” wasn’t a ridiculous idea on paper, but it was still entertaining enough to work.
This brings me back to the body positive movement. I talked about it a lot when I discussed body shaming in general, but I’m bringing it up again for the same reason I reminded everyone that it’s okay to find beautiful people sexy. There’s a frustrating, counter-productive problem emerging in this movement that threatens to undermine its good intentions.
I don’t deny that those intentions are good either. According to Wikipedia, this is the goal of the body positive movement:
“The Body Positive teaches people how to overcome conflicts with their bodies so they can lead happier, more productive lives.”
On paper, that’s a wholly noble goal. It’s right up there with comforting a crying child, feeding a hungry puppy, or getting Bill O’Riley to shut up. I’ve no objections whatsoever to that kind of endeavor. There are people who have unhealthy conflicts about their bodies that need help. Whether it’s their weight, their hair, or their belly button, these unhealthy conflicts can cause a lot of stress for people.
As is often the case with any movement, though, some take it too far. By that, I don’t mean people go as far as a typical episode of “South Park.” The body positive movement still hasn’t reached the level of the PC Bros, although I do worry it’s getting dangerously close.
Why do I say that? Well, much of it has to do with an emerging trend from the body positive movement, one that’s distinctly negative. In many respects, it’s a backlash of sorts. If you’re going to give love and encouragement to those who don’t fit the mold of a typical Barbie doll, then what will you give to those who do to some extent?
This is part of the overly crude nature of human psychology. Like the rest of the human condition, it’s a blunt instrument. It’s not a scalpel that’s capable of discerning the fine details of a situation. That means if someone is going to direct love towards one group, then they’re going to direct hate towards another. It’s not always intentional or direct, but it is there and it’s happening more often.
Remember this little gem from the advertising world from the summer of 2015? It involved a beautiful woman, a bikini, and a question about beaches. In terms of sex appeal, it checks all the right boxes.
In any other era, it would’ve been as non-controversial as chocolate, kittens, and cartoon ducks. It’s visually appealing. It evokes an appealing mental pictures in those who see it. It generates some level of arousal in our brains. By all accounts, it’s as basic as it gets in terms of advertising.
However, those behind the body positive movement were exceedingly upset over this ad. From their perspective, this ad was shaming every woman who didn’t look like a goddamn bikini model. Never mind the fact that it doesn’t directly insult anybody. Never mind that it never directly says that people who don’t look like bikini models shouldn’t be allowed on the beach. This was the message the body positive movement gleaned from this ad.
As a result, those behind the body positive movement and those who protest against fat shaming decided to get loud, angry, and upset. Some protested it. Some parodied it. By and large, it was fairly healthy wave of outrage that social media did too good a job of fueling.
On some levels, I can understand why some wouldn’t like this advertisement. I can certainly see why some priest, mullah, or monk who takes a vow of chastity or laments at people thinking impure thoughts would be offended by an ad that features a beautiful woman. Those people, however, have far greater concerns than the body positive movement.
I can even understand why some self-conscious people might not like it. They may see that they don’t look that good in a bikini, get depressed about it, and not even want to go to the beach. Again though, it’s worth pointing out that this ad, and most others that involve beautiful people, don’t directly attack these people. They are just utilizing the current standard of beauty that most people find visually appealing.
For the body positive movement, that’s just untenable. To them, the mere existence of these ads is akin to lining up everybody who doesn’t look like a bikini model, standing them in a row, and then spitting on every one of them one-by-one.
This is where the body positive movement falters. It’s also why I have a hard time supporting it. The body positive movement has gone from a supporting role to an either/or, us-against-them struggle. If you don’t support people of every body type, then you’re a bad person. You’re mean. You’re a bully. You’re immoral.
From my point of view, that kind of approach is downright hypocritical in a movement that espouses positivity. It’s also wholly unequal in that the body positive movement focuses more on women than men. By that, I mean it disproportionally shames men more than women. Fat men are still pigs and slobs. Fat women, however, are inspirations.
As a man, I don’t just find this insulting. I find it to be an outright affront. It contains two of the few traits that most people find untenable, hypocrisy and inequality. It’ll cheer a woman like Ashley Graham, a plus-sized model who has been on the cover of Vogue. However, when it comes to men, they still haven’t given the likes of John Goodman or Drew Carey a call.
It sends the message that men are the enemy. They’re the ones behind all the fat shaming and insults. As such, they don’t get to be part of the movement. They can still be shamed for being fat slobs. However, if you dare shame a woman, then you’re a horrible person and it’s the job of the movement to make you a villain.
Now I get that men and women are wired differently. We’re a sexually dimorphic species. However, when it comes to being an asshole, the standards are gender neutral.
I still support efforts to help those who have unhealthy body image issues. Those people really do need help, love, and support. What I don’t support is immediately labeling someone who finds the old Barbie and Ken bodies attractive as somehow immoral or wrong.
No social movement has ever succeeded by insulting large swaths of people and shaming them for misguided reasons. Add traces of inequality and hypocrisy to the mix and that movement is bound to falter. It won’t always crash and burn, but people will eventually stop taking it seriously. In the end, apathy and annoyance will kill the body positive movement faster than any bikini model.