I’ve Had Enough of the Term "Body Positive"

As someone who struggled with an eating disorder for years along with other self-image issues, I was thrilled to see the body positivity movement come into full swing. It was exciting for many people to feel more accepted and less pressure to look a certain way. Finally, it seemed like people started to take the dark side of an appearance-centric society seriously. It seemed like things were changing. 

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 As I’ve progressed on my spiritual journey, peeling back layer after layer of my conditioning and egoic perceptions, my physical appearance has changed. Not glaringly, but something is different. The only real change is that my hair is a shade darker and I wear less makeup, but no one can put their finger on what the new “glow” is.

It’s caring less about what I look like.

That sentence is 15 years in the making, but it’s the truth. The spiritual journey orbits around one central fact: that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, not the other way around. Over the last year, keeping a steady meditation, kundalini and spiritual practice, I’ve moved further away from my old attachments.

Perhaps the most tightly held of my attachments stemmed from my appearance. When I was in high school and college, I would eat 500 calories a day and work out for over two hours every night. If my FitnessPal didn’t give me a warning that I was dangerously low on nutrients, I would do crunches until I saw the cautionary message light up across my phone screen. Throughout college, every one of my relationships skimmed the surface of who I was, only feeling comfortable enough show the exterior they appeared to like. I tried paleo and vegan diets, HIIT workouts and whatever other fitness fads that seemed to fit my lifestyle. I ran, biked, lifted, hiked and did whatever I could do to distract from the emptiness all of it brought.

In other words, the issue wasn’t really about my appearance. Every single external thing I tied my worth to, imagining the joy it would bring, fell short. Even when I felt “comfortable” in my skin, I couldn’t escape the fact that working out would only make me feel better for thirty minutes.

As body positivity became a topic people were willing to discuss, it represented a crucial turning point in the way we understand our attachment to appearances. Instead of only seeing one type of person as attractive, people could now enjoy their curves, but still within socially acceptable standards. Finally, people started to understand the detriment of a one-size-fits-all mindset.

However, as we’ve progressed, some of it seems commodified. For instance, instead of focusing on how a certain skin product is worth your hard-earned money, now it’s about paying lip service to the body positivity movement by showing people’s appearances affected by whatever they’re selling. Everything is about your body, your appearance and how something external can make it look better by a new, more-inclusive standard.

It’s still all about appearance.

We think that as soon as we love our curves, everything will get better. Once we lose 5 pounds, everything will fall into place. Once we see someone who looks like us, we’ll feel more comfortable. All of this is external validation for something that is already inherently within us: worth.

When I went on an extreme diet during the summer when I turned 10 years old, I couldn’t wait to get back to school to show off how thin I was and finally be happy. I didn’t realize that being thinner wouldn’t make my parents get back together, make my classmates accept me more readily or make my mother a consistent presence in my life.

In reality, products and things are selling us the idea of a better life. Once we have a certain amount of money, hit a goal weight and have met the perfect partner, then everything will make sense. This type of thinking leads to the never-ending domino effect of chasing external validation when everything we need is within us. Focus on appearance is a Band-Aid for what’s really going on. If you are waiting until all of your external expectations are met to feel content, you will be waiting until your death bed.

We live in a consumer-society which comes with costs and benefits. One of the long-lamented costs of this system is its unceasing focus on looks, selling products and convincing audiences that they need an outside source to make them feel like the fullest expression of themselves. The message is far from subtle — no matter what you look like, you still need something outside to feel complete.

Body positivity has digressed into a term used as a marketing ploy and I’m tired of it. Until you peel back the conditioning and layers of external coping mechanisms you’ve used to distract yourself from the wounds preventing you from understanding your inherent worth, you will always look to external sources for fleeting comfort. Once that comfort subsides, another hollow reprieve will present itself to veil the wound within.

Healing, elevating your consciousness and reconnecting with your soul is the way out. Wayne Dyer described it so aptly by saying, “That which is real never changes.” Your occupation, appearance and lifestyle will change. Your soul will not. Coming back to this truth represents the journey we are all here to take. In buying into more external appropriations, even the well-intentioned, we only skim the surface of an actualized life.