Body positivity movement falls short in uplifting diversity of different shapes, sizes

By Kimberly Kapela , Echo magazine

Photo by Mikaela Helane.

Editor’s note: This article is from the Communication Department’s award-winning Echo magazine.

Just as fashion trends go in and out of style, so do the societal body and beauty standards of women who wear them.

In the ‘90s, Kate Moss’ “heroin chic” body type was the desirable standard for flaunting extreme thinness, pale skin and a flat stomach. This transformed to the sexualization of thigh gaps being modeled over Tumblr to achieve bone-like features in the 2010s. The ever-changing ideal has now settled to the current trends of Brazilian butt lifts (BBL), lip fillers and hourglass curves.

The social movement of body positivity goes beyond marketing “fat inclusivity” as hot and sexy, by promoting that all bodies should be celebrated. Fat inclusivity is rooted in the idea that all sizes should be normalized in conversations surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion. 

As body positive campaigns have become the norm and amplified the belief that every body is beautiful, the movement fails to uplift true diversity of the human body.

Kailin Noyola, a personal fitness trainer at XSport Fitness, says she wasn’t always comfortable with her body and pressured herself to look “perfect” because of the idolized fitness model physique.

Noyola’s relationship with the gym became healthier as she bulked up muscle from conditioning. She was once fearful that her broad shoulders looked hypermasculine, but she now feels empowered to be the best version of herself. 

“I genuinely have a lot of muscle on my legs, and have big thighs,” Noyola says. “I’ve always been really afraid of getting my body to be too muscular. Now that I work out, I feel so beautiful in my body and having muscles is cute.”

Outside of the gym, Noyola meditates and repeats words of affirmation to remind herself that she’s beautiful, no matter the status of her physical appearance. The gym acts as a supplemental outlet for her to show self love. 

“I believe everyone is perfect in their own body, and it’s important to remember we’re all different and have different genetics and cultural traits,” Noyola says. “We live in a society where social media has emphasized on what a woman should look like, and the media can be a risk factor for body confidence and self-esteem.”

BBLs have shown the highest growth of all cosmetic surgical procedures since 2015, with a 77% global increase, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

“Individual body parts are discussed as though they’re accessories rather than flesh inside a component of an actual human body,” Noyola says. “I feel that trends always fetishize hourglass shapes, big butts and huge boobs.”

Obsessions around attaining the ideal model figure can put pressure on young women to have a certain body type.

“Instead of working with our bodies, women are taught to work against them. How can you love something you are constantly in need of changing?” says Bari Rothfield, a licensed therapist and clinical social worker and clinical director at Cityscape Counseling, who specializes in treating patients for eating disorders.

Rothfield says “it’s incredibly harmful” that bodies are treated as disposable trends because women are taught from a young age that their worth is dependent on their size, and trends reinforce women being conditioned to work against their natural bodies. 

Body neutrality, the idea of prioritizing your body’s natural abilities and taking a neutral perspective toward loving your appearance, is an accessible goal to promote healthy self-esteem, Rothfield says.

The wellness industry is the most concerning issue Rothfield sees Gen Z and millennials facing in regard to nutrition and dieting.

“Disordered eating and dangerous weight loss behaviors have become normalized,” Rothfield says. “Dieting, clean eating, detoxing and compulsive exercise are the precursors to clinically significant eating disorders, yet most wellness influencers are promoting just that.”

Struggling with body dysmorphia can manifest in many ways, from wearing baggy clothes to closely examining one’s figure in the reflection. Bri Rameriz showed signs of body dysmorphia when she duct-taped her thighs in high school to resemble a thigh gap. She started to show love for her physical body by getting tattoos and wearing form-fitting clothes to accentuate her curves.

She is now vice president of Body Haven, a body empowerment club dedicated to creating a safe, supportive and informative space for individuals whose bodies fall outside of societal norms.

Rameriz’s natural body is currently seen as part of a trend. 

“What happens when you’re not the trend, and all that hate just comes spiraling in again?” Rameriz asks. “I have a big chest and a big ass, but that doesn’t mean I have a BBL body, because mine wasn’t surgically made, which means I have a stomach.”

For Rameriz, the body empowerment movement fails to capture the diversity spectrum of all bodies as the desired female silhouette is ever-evolving. 

“You can see in old Renaissance art that bigger women’s sizes used to represent wealth, and bigger used to represent beauty,” Rameriz says. “Beauty standards have been set by men, not women.”

Chicago-based fashion designer Joseph Rout designs for a range of body types, while encouraging universal sizing for different bodies.

Through his size-inclusive designs, Rout shows his body self-love by styling and wearing whatever clothes embody sexiness or femininity to him. His designs also serve as an effective expression for his definition of body positivity and gender identity. 

The core inspiration behind his fashion is kindness and interaction. He designs subversive clothing made for gatherings, clubs and parties where there’s joy and friendship to celebrate. 

“I firmly believe that the outfits you wear communicate things to literally everyone that looks at you,” Rout says. “The clothes that I design communicate that being kind encompasses acceptance, and it’s important to be accepting of all forms of life.”

Rout calls the body size trends “hugely problematic,” as they’re viewed as accessories – especially the Y2K era that romanticized size zeroes. Size inclusivity was lacking in the 2000s, Rout says, so the recent Y2K trend resurgence is an effective way to be inclusive for people to celebrate their identity and style.

“Just because there was a certain body standard in a time period, doesn’t mean that today we should be perpetuating that by not choosing to wear a Y2K subcultured outfit,” Rout says. “If you feel that your body doesn’t look right, we [designers] should be effectively making ways for people of different body types to fit into every subculture. The zeitgeist of today is really taking everything from the past and making it more accessible because of the internet.”

The subjectivity of beauty has stuck around nearly as long as humans have walked the Earth. Once body neutrality is embraced more through modeling campaigns, magazine photoshoots and runway stages, perhaps our society’s focus will shift from objectification to appreciation.

You can read the entire 2022 issue of Echo, as well as previous issues, on our website.