If body positivity is “feminist” then why is it so focused on what women look like?

So there I was, continuing happily along in my un-woke, body positive feminist sphere. I was retweeting things about Topshop’s disgraceful lack of anything above a size 18 in their high street shops, calling out magazine’s for their continued use of Caucasian-only models; firmly cementing by belief that “larger women/disabled women/transwomen/women of colour are pretty too!” (whilst still checking my white, cis, slim, able-bodied privilege of course).

But then I came across this article and the below poem by my main bae Rupi in quick succession and suddenly I wasn’t identifying with my body positive sphere anymore. The realisation that I can look at a woman who is a mother, wife, traveler, businessperson, gym-goer and general life-doer, yet the first thing that would jump to mind when I thought of her was how she looked, baffled me.

rupi kaur

I was thrown by the fact that I, along with the rest of them, would defend the statement “all women are beautiful” – without even thinking about the fact that in another conversation I would happily come out with the sentence “women aren’t here just to be pretty”.

I’m still struggling to reconcile both these thoughts. I am mad at myself for letting this idea of body positivity get in the way of a very basic principle of feminism, which is that physical appearance does not equate self-worth.

I am trying to rectify every time I have called a woman stunning before I have called her talented or clever by turning it on its head. Now, if I hear somebody call a woman ugly or fat, rather than going “all women are beautiful”, I am going to try and turn the conversation away from physical appearance altogether. Instead of defending her looks, I’ll talk about how great she is at cooking, or painting, or how she manages to hit the low-notes in Lorde’s “Green Light” without her voice breaking (not all heroes wear capes).

 “I am mad at myself for letting this idea of body positivity get in the way of a very basic principle of feminism.”

And it’s something I need to turn inwards too. My skin is really terrible at the moment, but I refuse to sit behind my laptop screen and tell you guys that I’m “embracing my flaws” because I’m not. I’m covering my “flaws” up with foundation and concealer, before spending the day at the library, working my arse off in order to pass the third year of my degree.

For me, body positivity doesn’t work anymore (to be honest, I’m not sure if it ever did). If it was enough to tell women “you’re all beautiful in different ways” – then why do a lot of women still feel ugly? And why is feeling pretty such a necessary part of a women’s day-to-day life? Ditching the need to be positive about the way we look means that we’ll free up valuable time that we spend dissecting our bodies in front of a mirror, in order to truly focus on the things that will actually enhance our lives.

I’m not trying to come across like I’ve reached some kind of enlightened state where my physical appearance doesn’t affect me anymore; it still does. But I’m trying to brush negative thoughts about the way I look away as soon as they enter my head – only this time not with a “no I am pretty”, but with a “it doesn’t matter if I’m pretty” instead.

Because at the end of the day, which one am I going to be more proud of? The fact I still felt pretty despite the mini breakout my chin is having, or the fact I wrote a 10,000 word dissertation and only had one minor breakdown about it?


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