Marie Claire Australia wants you to love your body.

Mainstream women’s magazines, despite their protestations to the contrary, are rarely an outright bastion of body positivity for any woman of non-model proportions and facial features. So it’s admirable that it was Marie Claire Australia that commissioned six ad agencies to create print ads encouraging women to love their bodies. The one I particularly like, also highlighted by AdWeek, is an OgilvyOne ad featuring an adorably chubby little baby of the kind you just want to pick up and chew on. (No? Uh, me either.) The copy:

She’s perfect. Until we teach her otherwise.

Flabby arms. Pudgy tummy. Double chin. Wispy hair. All the traits we love in her little body, we hate when we see in the mirror. Why? No really, ask yourself why. The truth is body issues are unnatural. They’re learned. We teach them to our daughters, reinforce them with our girlfriends and punish ourselves with them — every day. But there is good news. Because what’s learned can be unlearned. Take the pledge to end the vicious cycle — for her sake and for yours.

I’m not bashing these ads (and this is me we’re talking about; I live to complain about stuff), nor the sentiment behind them. I’m not even going to speculate on the magazine’s motivation in having them made. “Learn to love your body” is a great message, particularly since it lacks the “Learn to change your body so you can love it” message women so frequently get from media.

But is it enough? Learning to love your body is like learning any other skill — if you don’t already have it, you need instruction, from a teacher or a book or YouTube or some source that already knows how. Without that help, the “love your body” message becomes almost accusatory (look at the Publicis Mojo ad shaming women for negative self-talk). Love your body. Ignore societal pressure telling you to hate it. Ignore the unrealistic portrayals of women’s bodies in media. And for the love of God, stop passing your insecurities on to your daughters — what’s wrong with you? By sheer force of will, we’re expected to silence criticism and start loving our bodies just because an ad tells us to.

But how do we do it? What can society add to the “love your body” message to make it more than just a platitude?

1. Show us a variety of lovable bodies in media. Marie Claire itself isn’t the worst offender when it comes to the use of exclusively thin — sometimes extremely thin — models, sequestering any other body shapes into separate “fashionable at every size” sections, focusing on the thinnification of “figure flaws,” but they’re certainly an offender. Popular mainstream TV shows tend to cast conventionally attractive, thin, cis, able-bodied women as Woman and bring in women with other body types as Fat Woman, Trans Woman, Woman In A Wheelchair, despite their ability to carry the role of Woman. The range of body shapes among “normal” women is vast; representing “normal” women in media with such a narrow sliver of that range is ridiculous.

2. Stop treating body shape like a disease. The “obesity epidemic” is a popular trope, in part because larger bodies are easier to pick out and judge at a glance. But if the emphasis really is on health, as obesity agitators claim, the emphasis should be on health, not appearance. Give women information and options for staying healthy, regardless of dress size; update infrastructure to address barriers to health; counsel doctors to look at issues beyond body shape when patients come in with health problems; and then let women make their own choices about how or even if they want to manage their own health. To help women love their bodies, give us agency over our bodies.

3. Let women look like themselves. The irony about ad agencies crafting ads to promote body positivity is that probably, at the very same moment, those same agencies have another ad in production with a woman so ‘shopped her own mother wouldn’t recognize her. Aerie, American Eagle’s line of intimates and sleepwear, recently hit the news for forswearing retouching in their ads and online catalogue. Amber Tolliver, one of the models, said that while she does appreciate a little bit of retouching from time to time, excessive photoshopping can be plain insulting. She said, “To recreate a human being using a computer process is a bit of an attack on who you naturally are. Like, if I’m not good enough or if I’m not beautiful enough, then why’d you book me?” Why indeed? Particularly when agencies and companies go to the effort of booking plus-size models and then airbrush them into Barbie-skinned hourglasses. If a model isn’t even beautiful enough to portray herself in an ad, how can the rest of us even compete?

What else needs to be done? If you have body image issues, what could help you overcome them? And if you don’t, for the love of God please tell me how you do it.

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45 Responses

  1. Donna L
    Donna L January 23, 2014 at 4:49 pm |

    “Learn to love your body” is a great message

    As a general rule, yes. But I do think it would be nice if cis people could keep in mind that this is not only one of the most common messages addressed to trans people with body dysphoria, but one of the most damaging and least helpful.

    1. Ally S
      Ally S January 23, 2014 at 5:00 pm |

      Yes, this. I love my mom and all, but I would really like her to stop telling me that I should love my body. I completely understand that she’s giving me that advice only because she doesn’t want me to feel miserable all the time, and I know for a fact that she supports my decision to transition. But she really doesn’t understand how dysphoria affects people.

      When people other than my mom give me that advice, though, I get very upset. Especially if it’s backed by religious rhetoric like “God never makes mistakes” and whatnot. And it gets even more upsetting when they say it about specific parts of my body that make me feel dysphoric. Like, whenever I lament about how short my hair is, certain people tell me “Ally, you would look adorable with a pixie cut!” even after I politely tell them that short hair makes me feel dysphoric.

      So yeah, seconding Donna.

    2. Andie
      Andie January 23, 2014 at 6:37 pm |

      I’ve heard similar complaints from people with chronic illnesses or pain, in the vein of “Why should I love my body? My body is an asshole.”

      It makes sense. We’re not obligated to love something that causes us pain.

    3. Athenia
      Athenia January 24, 2014 at 10:02 am |

      Donna, do you mean that “love your body” is hurtful just in regards to trans issues or do you mean it’s hurtful to a trans person struggling with weight issues? (or maybe both?)

      1. Donna L
        Donna L January 24, 2014 at 10:39 am |

        I was speaking of trans issues; hence the reference to body dysphoria (as opposed to social dysphoria).

    4. irishup
      irishup January 24, 2014 at 11:45 am |

      Seconding this.
      I’m uncomfortable with the

      The truth is body issues are unnatural.

      framing. People have body issues for all kinds of reasons, and some of them are perfectly “natural’ as in not much attributable to cultural issues, and rational.

      Body dysphoria and body dysmorphia are things people are born with and live with, whether it be from chronic illness and/or disability, or being neurodivergent that way, or being trans* or Maud knows how many other things I have the privilege not to have had to think about. I can’t see how framing that as “unatrual” or wrong is at all helpful.

      Suppressing the urge to point at other people and tell them Ur Doin It Rong – and working hard to be aware of how our framing of various things can come across that way! – would go a long way to helping society be more HUMAN positive.

      For some related reading on the problems of Love Your Body messaging, from the POV of someone with lived experience, I love this piece by Carrie Arnold @ EDbites. [CN, eating disorders, disordered eating, BDD at the link]
      Why I Don’t Love My Body And I Don’t Really Care.

  2. Angel H.
    Angel H. January 23, 2014 at 6:35 pm |

    I’m giving this mess some serious side-eye.

    It’s no surprise that they referenced the “Dove Beauty” campaign as inspiration. Marie Claire and Unilever (maker of Axe body stank and Fair & “Lovely” skin whitener) make their billions off of women’s insecurities. But we’re supposed to forget all of that because OMG!!Cute[white]babies!!1¡¡

  3. Li
    Li January 23, 2014 at 7:11 pm |

    Ugh, the Publicis Mojo shits me to tears. It’s just like, STOP FEELING SHAME AND TALKING ABOUT YOUR BODY IMAGE FEEL BETTER ABOUT YOURSELF ALREADY and even though I’m not a woman it just hits me in every meta-anxiety about feeling anxious or upset about my body ever. Am I the only one who loathes it?

    1. Li
      Li January 23, 2014 at 7:13 pm |

      And for some reason, I managed to totally skip Caperton’s paragraph on it because jumping between links and grumpy today. Never mind, carry on.

      1. pheenobarbidoll
        pheenobarbidoll January 24, 2014 at 12:32 am |

        Lol

  4. jng
    jng January 23, 2014 at 7:50 pm |

    The add showing the little girl on the scale was intense. I actually made a sound when I saw it. I still don’t know if it was a sound of shock or pain.

    “Mommy I want to be like you” indeed. That image and text was the most effective here at least to me. Hearing my mom worry about her weight and talk about her looks are some of my earliest memories.

    As far as keeping a positive self image, it becomes a act of constant practice. Like forgiveness. Or so I’m told. I’ll let you guys know when I stop berating my weight gain and my appearance in my own head. I did find that pretty clothes that fit helped a bit. Too bad they’re expensive as hell.

  5. BroadBlogs
    BroadBlogs January 23, 2014 at 11:09 pm |

    I’m glad there is beginning to be at least some semblance of diversity of talk/imagery on the body. It shows that the pressure is working to some degree. But it also shows how much we need to keep up this conversation. And as you say, make it more than about mere platitude which places all the responsibility on the individual, while ignoring socialization.

  6. Karak
    Karak January 23, 2014 at 11:20 pm |

    Truth? I like Donna’s comment about how “loving the body you have” can be damaging and erasing too.

    My mother has some very serious scars and muscle damage because of a traumatic injury, and she told me she didn’t think of those scars as “part” of her or her identity, preferring to view herself as a strong survivor and focusing on the mobility she regained after her injury.

    But, how I cope with “standard” body image issues? Uh…pretty much like the magazines tell me to. The right clothes, hair, makeup, and products. I’m lucky to sit comfortably within the realm of conventional, acceptable appearance and don’t have to deal with targeted attacks (like women of color, people with physical disabilities, etc, etc).

    1. kittehserf
      kittehserf January 24, 2014 at 6:15 am |

      That’s interesting about your mother’s scars, karak. I have only one serious scar, a burn that covers my right palm. But it’s the opposite for me: it is part of me and I wouldn’t want to get rid of it, because I’ve had it since I was a toddler and can’t remember not having it.

      1. Karak
        Karak January 24, 2014 at 11:42 am |

        She got hers in her late teens and they radically changed her identity. And people tried to use her scars so they could define her and explain to her who she was.

        For her, it was identity loss.

  7. ldouglas
    ldouglas January 24, 2014 at 4:11 am |

    I think the ‘love your body’ message, which is pretty much intended to be an antidote to all the ‘hate your body’ messages; it seems to take the extreme opposite position for rhetorical purposes, which is probably less damaging psychologically, but not particularly useful in the real world.

    I’m not sure (read: genuinely uncertain) whether it’s particularly healthy to ‘love’ your body; it certainly isn’t necessary for mental health. The pressures to love or hate your body both seem to take for granted that people should have intensely strong emotions about the flesh they walk around in.

    My body is just my body. Sometimes it’s incredibly frustrating. Sometimes it does great things for me. Pressure to feel totally positive or wildly negative about it don’t square with my lived experiences and generally make me feel uncomfortable.

    1. ldouglas
      ldouglas January 24, 2014 at 4:15 am |

      That first ‘think’ should read ‘dislike.’

    2. kittehserf
      kittehserf January 24, 2014 at 6:12 am |

      Seconding all that, ldouglas. I save love or hate for other things than my physical shell. Sure, there are bits I like or that annoy me when they’re not working: like my hair a lot, could do without that stupid leg differential, etc, etc. But I’m not sure any intensity of feeling about one’s body is a good thing. I don’t feel pressure about it, hence don’t feel uncomfortable about the whole thing; it just seems odd, and very either/or.

    3. EG
      EG January 24, 2014 at 7:25 am |

      I think you’re presuming a particular philosophical relationship between self and body, a separation between them. My body is not the flesh “I” walk around in–my body is myself and my “I.” I’m an atheist; I don’t believe in a soul. There is no “I” that is separate from my body. My body is the totality of what I am. It’s not a shell and it’s not something I inhabit; it’s something I am. For that reason, it is essential to my emotional health that I love my body; otherwise, it is myself that I am rejecting.

      1. may
        may January 24, 2014 at 10:44 am |

        This!

      2. ldouglas
        ldouglas January 24, 2014 at 3:41 pm |

        I’m an atheist as well, and I certainly don’t posit any metaphysical ‘me.’* That said, it’s entirely consistent with materialism to use ‘myself’ as a shorthand for ‘my consciousness, a complex phenomenon resulting from the workings of my brain.’ In any case, whether we agree or disagree on this front, it isn’t the source of my problem with the ‘love your body’ mandate.

        For that reason, it is essential to my emotional health that I love my body otherwise, it is myself that I am
        rejecting

        The ‘otherwise’ in your statement is inaccurate. I don’t love my stapler. Do you believe I’m rejecting it?

        Perhaps the problem is that we’re using the word ‘love,’ which is notoriously ambiguous, differently. What do you mean when you say you love your body? That thinking about your body triggers strong positive feelings?

        *And if we’re going to get really nitpicky, the atoms in my ‘body’ interact seamlessly with the atoms in air around it, and the underlying waveform that describes both doesn’t particularly distinguish. Concepts like ‘body’ and ‘rest of the world’ are human ones that bound nonlocal phenomena in ways that makes conversation easier; they don’t reflect an underlying reality.

      3. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune January 24, 2014 at 3:57 pm |

        I think you’re presuming a particular philosophical relationship between self and body, a separation between them. My body is not the flesh “I” walk around in

        I dunno. Sometimes that feeling is the only thing that keeps me from feeling (dysphoric? disordered?) bad things. Reminding myself that my body being the way that most people would associate as “cis female body” (a cissociated body, perhaps) is pretty much just a fluke, and it has no “real” connection to the “real” me really helps me. But then I’m not an atheist – though I’m not necessarily a theist either – so maybe I’m not the target audience.

        1. EG
          EG January 24, 2014 at 5:42 pm |

          I’m speaking only for myself, Mac, because I read ldouglas’s comment as universalizing (“not necessary” for emotional health kind of thing). In general, I do find the mind-body division to be a deeply problematic one, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think parts of one’s body can be at odds or malfunctioning. I don’t love my scoliosis or chronic back problems, but I do understand them as aspects of myself. But I wouldn’t try to pressure anybody else to construct their understanding in the same way, most especially if that person isn’t an atheist (probably not even if they were, because I’m not really invested in making everybody conceptualize their experience of their bodies the way I do!).

        2. EG
          EG January 24, 2014 at 5:43 pm |

          That “can” should be a “can’t.” (I’m an American’t, definitely.)

        3. ldouglas
          ldouglas January 24, 2014 at 6:09 pm |

          Not sure if you read my follow up post, but I don’t disagree on the mind-body issue, and it’s not what’s at the root of our disagreement generally.

          I read ldouglas’s comment as universalizing (“not necessary” for emotional health kind of thing)

          That’s right, I said loving your body isn’t necessary for emotional health, that is, one can be emotionally healthy and not love their body.

          Are you arguing it is necessary? Because that would be the universalizing perspective.

        4. Donna L
          Donna L January 24, 2014 at 7:24 pm |

          that doesn’t mean I don’t think parts of one’s body can be at odds or malfunctioning.

          That “can” should be a “can’t.”

          Are you sure? Wouldn’t changing “can” to “can’t” make it a triple negative, so that by saying “that doesn’t mean I don’t think parts of one’s body can’t be at odds or malfunctioning,” you would be saying that you do think that parts of one’s body can’t be at odds or malfunctioning? I am confused, and probably just being obtuse.

          ldouglas, EG made it quite clear that she was not universalizing, and was simply saying that “it is necessary” for her. By contrast, when you stated that loving one’s body “certainly isn’t necessary for mental health,” you did not limit the statement, and it could easily be read as implying that it isn’t necessary for anyone’s mental health — which, of course, isn’t so.

        5. EG
          EG January 24, 2014 at 9:13 pm |

          ldouglas, I am arguing that for me, it absolutely is necessary, and thus that a universalizing statement that it isn’t necessary isn’t accurate. I haven’t read your follow-up yet–didn’t see it. I must’ve hit the site when it wasn’t in the recent comments list? I will read it, I promise. I’m just doing fly-bys on Feministe these days due to everybody in my household being sick and me being assistant chair of the department this term and thus buried under a slew of rather dull emails.

          You’re probably right, Donna. I have now repeated the sentence to myself about five or ten times, and am completely confused. Whatever makes the most sense is what I mean it to say…

        6. Donna L
          Donna L January 24, 2014 at 11:32 pm |

          Repeating the sentence out loud several times did me no good whatsoever — I had to parse it word by word and convert the first two negatives to an affirmative before I thought I understood it. I’m not usually that dense, but I woke up with a pretty bad cold this morning and my head’s been in a fog all day!

        7. Donna L
          Donna L January 25, 2014 at 12:36 am |

          PS: I am not remotely suggesting that EG was being dense; I respect her far too much ever to think such a thing! She has, I believe, her own cold to contend with.

        8. pheenobarbidoll
          pheenobarbidoll January 25, 2014 at 1:29 am |

          I guess it’s a southern thing but I understood it. We say things like we ain’t got none though, soo

      4. tinfoil hattie
        tinfoil hattie January 29, 2014 at 2:26 am |

        I love my body, too. It has carried me around for 53 years, and amazingly so.

  8. Drahill
    Drahill January 24, 2014 at 11:49 am |

    In my experience, “Love your body” gets twisted really easily. One of the largest examples for me was when I was really fighting to get a handle on my bipolar disorder. When I was in the toughest part of it, I gained a lot of weight. A lot of very well-intentioned people wound up telling me “You need to love your body (and by extension, yourself) enough to take care of it – and your weight is clearly evidence that you are not taking care of it.”

    The “loving your body” trope only works when there’s some kind of actual agreement as to what that means. Right now, there isn’t – and that has allowed the (usually) well-intentioned but harmful proponents of thin=healthy to come right in and co-opt it. I’m a fairly active person. I climb mountains, practice MMA and martial arts, etc. I’ve reached a place where my doctor cannot tell me anything to do differently, based on my tests. However, I still run into the same well-meaning people who tell me that loving my body means making it thin(-ner) than I feel is safe or reasonable for me.

    Honestly? How could I overcome my own body issues? I have run out things that I think I can do. At this point, I think about what society can do. Until we get the message that health is not, and will never, ever be, an aesthetic issue, I’m not sure what can be done. We’ve reached the point where the largest medical association in the country has declared overweight and obese bodies to be diseased! How can any person deign to love a body that they are told is defective or sick by virtue of its size and shape? Frankly, I’m a little tired of the argument that we should love our bodies, given that we can’t even get the rest of society to leave them alone, at the minimum.

  9. Angiportus
    Angiportus January 25, 2014 at 7:24 pm |

    I get so, so sick of anyone trying to tell me what to love, in any circumstance. Apart from having physique dysphoria/dysmorphia, a childhood clouded with abuse and now health problems that I am getting blamed for, I get people trying to police my emotions as well.
    I think Drahill put it very well, as did Caperton, about the twistability of that dictum and the contradiction it tries to cover up, in this society.
    It’s your body and only you get to judge it.

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