“Body positive” has become somewhat of a loaded term, one people are ditching for “body neutral”. The idea behind it? “Body neutrality” is less about loving your body and more about devoting time to pursuits that don’t actually involve thinking about your body.
While we firmly believe in the latter, we also have to applaud the body positive women who have opened up the discourse on body issues and flaws and helped to reframe what sexy and healthy and aspirational beauty looks like, over the past several years, using social media to inspire countless women (and men).
Body positive heroes come in all shapes and sizes: they are Jameela Jamil getting fed up with overly edited celeb photos and launching iWeigh in protest; they are supermodel Chrissy Teigen and her “mom bod” stretch marks, they are Lizzo saying that her mere existence is a form of activism. And they are also women like Imogen (The Feeding of the Fox) and Ruby Allegra, who offer a candid insight into life with a disability.
Here are some of our favourite body positive women who are honest and authentic, and whose words of wisdom make us feel a bit better each day.
Lizzo is on a roll: the hip-hopping flautist’s debut full-length album, Cuz I Love You, is number one on the US charts and Lizzo’s message – in her music and her interviews – is all about self-love (listen to her 2015 song, “I’m in Love with Myself” to hear her self-love mantra in action, and follow her on Insta for inspiring pics of Lizzo in all states of dress (and undress).
“I’m doing this for myself. I love creating shapes with my body, and I love normalising the dimples in my butt or the lumps in my thighs or my back fat or my stretch marks,” Lizzo told Essence magazine.
A plus-size model, host of Channel 4’s Naked Beach (which frequently sees her sporting nothing more than body paint) and ambassador for the body positivity movement, Ayesha Perry-Iqbal is outspoken about everything, including the beatings and fat-shaming abuse she received from her ex-boyfriend. She had this to say about body positivity in an interview with Glamour:
“To be positive about your body means to have a healthy mind, body and soul. I believe to be truly ‘body positive’, you have to be positive about all aspects of it. Looking after your mental health and feeding your mind positive thoughts, exercising to keep your body healthy, active and feeling fresh. Also making sure your soul is happy, whether that be through reading, meditation, praying or listening to music. Live your best life and do not let society or other people’s opinions stop you from loving yourself. If you want to wear that dress girl, wear it and feel fabulous."
The author and advocate for mental health and body positivity famously took on the London Marathon in a bra and knickers and her most recent book, You Got This, is all about encouraging teenage girls to love themselves exactly as they are.
“I get a lot of messages from women saying ‘I wish I had your confidence’. I don’t have confidence, I have the same hateful thoughts everyone else has, but what I do have is a desire to not spend any more of my time hating on myself. I’m sick of this world where we, as women, have this obligation to take bits of our bodies and do them down. It’s really sad,” she told Good Housekeeping.
For a body positive role model that pushes the boundaries of acceptable femininity, look no further than Venice Biennale star, Renate Bertlmann. The subversive, avant-garde Austrian artist has embraced the body-positive feminine form since she started exhibiting in the 1970s, and has been obsessively investigating and creating provocative art concentrating on the female (and male) ever since. Her 1976 performance art piece, Pregnant Bride in a Wheelchair, sees her, veiled and spooky, giving birth to a fake baby which she then abandons. She also uses fetishistic props (condoms, dildos) in her radical artworks.
People have argued that Teigen can’t be a body-positive role model because of her supermodel status, but we beg to differ: she’s been vocal about so many difficulties that women face: infertility, postnatal depression, getting to grips with a postnatal body, and she always manages to be funny and real, showing the world that she has the same anxieties as the rest of us, via her social media accounts. “Also I don't really call this ‘body confidence’; because I’m not quite there yet. I’m still super insecure. I’m just happy that I can make anyone else out there feel better about themselves!” she posted on Twitter in 2018.
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Kaur spent most of her teenage years being bullied for her facial hair – a symptom of polycystic ovarian syndrome, which she suffers from. The social activist and motivational speaker, who campaigns for body acceptance via Instagram, told students in Bristol in May 2019: "Stop telling people to love themselves and start telling them to be kind to themselves instead.”