Body acceptance movement fundamentally flawed

Has little to do with how you look in the mirror and everything to do with the condition of your inner self

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Louise McEwanSelfies are more ubiquitous than ever, thanks to the selfie stick.

I had never heard of the selfie stick until a few months ago, when I saw one in action. My husband and I were wandering around Victoria, B.C.’s inner harbour awaiting the departure of our whale watching tour (which, incidentally, delivered with a spectacular sighting of cavorting killer whales) when we spotted a couple with a smart phone on a stick. They were dutifully following behind the stick, oblivious of others and the surroundings as they took photos of themselves.

While I don’t know if the manner in which they were using their selfie stick is common, the entire selfie craze suggests that we are pretty darn pleased with ourselves. However, there is ample evidence to the contrary. We have a hard time accepting ourselves, with our physical appearance being a particular source of angst. The body acceptance movement is a case in point.

Variously known as “fat acceptance”, “body love”, and “ending fat shame”, the body acceptance movement is gaining traction. Women of all shapes and sizes are beginning to react negatively to advertising campaigns that restrict beauty to the ideals of the runway. A 2014 Victoria’s Secret campaign drew the wrath of at least 27,000 people who successfully petitioned the lingerie company to change its ads.

Some magazines are bucking the skinny cover model trend. Vogue Italia led the way a few years ago when three plus size models made the cover. This year, Tess Halliday and Erica Jean Schnek made headlines when their photos appeared on the covers of People and Women’s Running respectively, and ignited debate about obesity, health and fitness.

Although the body acceptance movement is primarily associated with obesity in women, plus-size women are not alone in the struggle to accept their bodies. Skinny or fat, young or old, and all points in between, women and men are constantly confronted with impossible and unrealistic ideals of beauty and vitality that encourage self-dissatisfaction. Children, too, are exposed to these ideals from an early age and internalize messages that conflate self-worth and physical appearance.

As a child, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, who was very loving and kind. She was also beautiful in my eyes and stood out from the crowd. She was on the tall side for her generation, did her core routine twice daily, dressed well and wore heels until the day she died.

People were drawn to her and described her as attractive and gracious, but when she looked in the mirror, all she saw were her wrinkles, and I remember her lamenting “these darn wrinkles”. From an early age, I internalized a message about wrinkles, aging and beauty with which I still sometimes struggle.

Some days when I look in the mirror my own darn wrinkles really get under my skin. Other times, when I am more inwardly and spiritually content, the wrinkles are inconsequential, playing second fiddle to a deeper, more profound me.

The body acceptance movement, despite its good intentions, is flawed. Its mantra to embrace your curves puts the cart before the horse. Beauty, as the saying goes, is more than skin deep. So whether it’s wrinkles or weight, dissatisfaction with our body reflects some sort of inner unhappiness that is rooted in relationships and experiences that shape us from the inside out.

No matter how much we profess to love our curves, so-called “body positivity” on its own is insufficient to change our interior narrative. To “embrace” fatness or thinness can become an excuse for ignoring the life-long process of inner transformation that leads to authentic self-acceptance.

Body acceptance has little to do with clothing size or the image captured on that high tech mirror called a smart phone. It has everything to do with the condition of our interior life.

If we obsess on our appearance to the exclusion of our inner transformation, we will never be comfortable in our own body. When we look in the mirror, we will see our self darkly, as through a smoky, gray cloud instead of illuminated with light, aglow with the beautiful colours of our soul.

That’s an image that not even the smartest phone can capture.

Louise McEwan has degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation. 

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Louise McEwan

Louise McEwan has degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation.

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