No thanks. I actually don’t want to see your naked or partially naked body.
That seems like a reasonable enough attitude, and yet every time I open any form of social media, I am inundated with posts showing mostly nude women. I’m not talking about Kardashian-style “naked selfies.” I am talking about “body positivity” selfies, in which a woman, always a woman, shows herself either (a) in two different poses to demonstrate how different poses make the body looking bigger or trimmer, or (b) just poses as herself, usually if she is plus-size or postpartum, in order to somehow make all women feel better about their bodies.
None of this makes me feel better about my own or anyone else’s bodies. It just makes me feel uncomfortable.
I don’t deny that there is a very real crisis today surrounding women and their bodily perceptions. The numbers are actually pretty horrifying. Eighty percent of women are “dissatisfied with their bodies,” according to one poll. Another found that the average woman has thirteen negative thoughts about her body every day, and that 97 percent of women have at some point had the thought, “I hate my body.” Yet another found that 54 percent of women dislike their body, a 13 percent increase over the past three decades, and that 80 percent of women don’t like what they see when they look in the mirror. That same report found that while lack of success at work is the number one cause of unhappiness for men, for women, it stems from unhappiness with their bodies. That tens of millions of women struggle with an eating disorder, then, is disturbing, but unsurprising.
This has all given birth to the so-called “body positivity” movement, whose goals are noble, but whose methods are questionable.
For starters, does an endless barrage of images of almost naked female bodies of any form, shape or size help to mitigate our culture’s myopic obsession with the female body?
Here is one that popped into my Facebook feed this week: “Fitness Star’s Honest Photo of Her Postpartum Stomach Goes Viral.”
“When fitness guru Alexa Jean Brown took to Instagram just four weeks after giving birth,” the Facebook caption read, “it wasn’t to show off a photo of any post-baby six-pack abs.”
I guess we are supposed to look at the picture and think this lady guru looks fat, and yet something tells me that most women today would just wind up feeling worse about themselves, because she is still pretty skinny and looks a lot smaller than most women do just four weeks after giving birth.
Another one graciously bestowed on me by HuffPost Lifestyle showed how another “fitness guru” “got real” in “side-by-side” photos to show me “exactly how misleading Instagram can be.”
She looks like a Barbie doll in both, but okay.
And in my recent favorite, Ashley Graham (who I think we are supposed to think is plus-size?) “celebrates empowering other women as she poses half-naked,” according to the Daily Mail.
“I’ll get an email,” she says, “saying, I just had sex with my husband with lights on.”
Did it ever occur to anyone that the best way to make women feel empowered is to encourage men and society to focus on something other than their bodies?
Instead, women are assailed every moment they’re looking at social media by images of fitness gurus (whoever knew there were so many?) all of whom have a-typical figures, showing themselves slouching with a roll or two and we are supposed to think they “got real.” We live in a world where female flesh is featured in a perpetual digital parade, dressed up with a heavy dose of humble brag, and then we act perplexed when women confess to feeling worse about their bodies than ever before.
It’s time for the positivity movement to “get real” and call out fake humble selfies for what they are: a way for some women to indirectly brag and continue the shame train. Removing the hardly-clad female body as the object of our gaze is the first step in correcting a culture that has succeeded in making women’s bodies objects.