Ariel Winter could not be more dissimilar from her character on Modern Family, Alex Dunphy. On the show, Alex is a mild-mannered bookish nerd whose sole priority is academic success, while in real life Winter’s focus is more aesthetic: being fashionable and finding clothing that she believes highlights her “body positivity.” In this case, body positivity is about finding clothes which show off as much of one’s body as possible, no matter that body’s size.
It’s not easy to be a woman these days (though it’s not clear it was ever really easy to be a woman in any day). Every generation of women faces its era’s body ideals, and for the last few decades, the ideal body type in the U.S. is rail thin with blonde hair, along the lines of Taylor Swift and her posse of best friends (excluding Lena Dunham, who has blamed her gorgeous circle of friends for causing some dips in her own well-documented self-esteem).
When your job relies on presenting a certain ideal image, as it does for any entertainer in Hollywood, the obsession you might have with possessing the ideal body type has the potential to become extreme (and unhealthy). When thousands of people are commenting online about your body in ways that can be classified as nothing but unkind and cruel, a woman in the spotlight has two options: change her appearance, or double down. Winter has chosen the latter route, wearing more and more revealing clothing in an attempt to prove she cares not what others think. Of course, given that Winter is choosing her wardrobe and showcasing it in public as often as possible in response to these “social media haters,” it’s clear she does, in fact, care what these faceless and nameless commenters think and say about her body.
By wearing this extraordinarily revealing clothing, is Winter proving something about body positivity? For women whose bodies more closely align with the Hollywood ideal (skinny), being proud of one’s body means showing it off; increasingly, that means showing as much as possible. Actresses regularly walk the red carpet practically naked. But should women of different body types follow the lead of their skinnier sisters towards near-nudity? Winter clearly thinks so, but it’s too bad she is equating body positivity with undressing to a level of near-indecency.
Actress Mayim Bialik, of similar body type and profession, could not be more different from Winter in this regard. One of the few women in Hollywood who prioritizes modesty, Bialik has said, “It’s important, especially for children and men and my sons to hear I’m not ashamed of my body, I just don’t feel the need to display it with two tiny pieces of fabric when I want to go swimming.”
By contrast, in an interview with Seventeen magazine, a publication marketed towards teenage girls, Winter explained why she’s not only wearing more revealing clothing, but also why she’s active on social media despite bullying she receives over her body type. She said, “My sister helped me understand that people will say those things regardless of how you look. I tell myself every day, ‘I look fabulous’.’’
It’s possible, of course, to look and feel fabulous without putting one’s body on display, a concept that seems to have escaped much of Winter’s generation. Modesty isn’t about covering up because you’re ashamed of your body, no matter what it looks like; it’s about honoring and respecting your body enough to know that not everyone is entitled to see every bit of it. If Winter and her generation really felt they had nothing to prove regarding their self-esteem, these young women wouldn’t feel the need to make sure everyone saw as many of their parts as legally permissible.
The motto of “body positivity” activists like Winter should be “Love your body, respect your body.” We are told to do so in many different ways: eat healthy, exercise, moisturize, and exfoliate. But respecting your body comes in other forms too, such as knowing that there are few people who should be given the sacred permission to see all of it.
Every major religion on earth has strict rules regarding who can enter its holy of holies and how they can behave. In Judaism, it was only the high priests who were occasionally allowed inside during Temple period; in the Mormon Church, one has to be silent, and only a Church member in good standing can be allowed in; for Buddhists, visitors must take their shoes off in pagodas and display quiet reverence while inside. Ladies: Treat your body like a temple. Set some rules, establish some boundaries, and reap the rewards of what real self-love and self-respect brings. That’s genuine body positivity.