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.