Should we (Re)define Beauty Standards?

The positive body movement is necessary for social media to tackle negative body image


Content Warning: Racism

This article explores the effect social media can have on body image by exploring the body positive movement, the evolution of beauty standards in creating a superiority complex in society and the meaning of body positivity.


The body positivity movement


As the body-positive movement proves its salience on social media, it is important to consider body positivity in an era that is hyper-focused on promoting unrealistic beauty standards. By scrolling through my feed, it is hard to ignore the multitude of perfectly toned bodies, flat stomachs, toned legs, and plump breasts that is often celebrated. Fortunately, there is a movement that does not adhere to these ideals:


"The body positivity movement shifts the notion of beauty standards to focus less on physical appearance and more on the overall health of the human body."

The movement originated in the fat acceptance movement in the 1960s, but it has since been through many revolutions. On social media, the movement is known to promote beauty standards to be acceptance of all bodies, regardless of size, shape, skin tone, gender, and physical abilities. This focus on inclusivity is necessary to shift the standardised notions of beauty standards on social media which have proven to have detrimental effects on our body image. According to a poll conducted by mental health charities on 4,505 adults on body image and social media, they found that:


"One third had felt anxious about their bodies, with 1 in 8 experiencing suicidal thoughts. The study also found 1 in 5 of all UK adults said advertisements on social media caused them to worry about their body image."

By reflecting on the impact that Instagram has had on my body image, I understand the harsh judgments I pin on myself. An aspect of my negative body image stems from this pressure on social media which conveys a superiority complex of beauty standards. For instance:


"I have felt ashamed of myself for not consistently working out to attain a women six pack or having a slim thick figure prior going on holiday to take pictures that preaches 'hot girl summer'."

The exploitation of beauty standards


Beauty standards have always been prevalent throughout history, they now drastically affect our day-to-day interactions with the media and commercial world. These standards determine what is "beautiful", from body shape to facial proportions, height and weight. Although beauty standards are not inclusive within society, they derive from our evolutionary mechanism to find an "attractive" partner is now exploited by dominant ethnic groups to create a system of domination and oppression in our capitalist world.


"Historically, Westerners brought their beauty standards to other countries and gained social power in this way. By convincing other races that they were less attractive than white people, they gained social capital amongst their members. White supremacy managed to creep into the everlasting concept of beauty."

These racist and western patriarchal values of beauty standards continue today, but these beauty standards are been challenged. In 2012, the third wave of the body positive movement emerged. It was largely fronted by plus-size, black and ethnic minority women, advocating progressive self-love and self-acceptance.


The movement led to black plus-size models on Instagram such as women like Lizzo, Enam Asiama and Paloma Elsesser, gaining a platform and deconstructing these unrealistic beauty standards which convey western patriarchal values of beauty. However, it is the meaning that these women and the movement conveys that has gained traction in much scientific research- cultivating positive body image through advocating progressive self-love and self-acceptance.


Body positivity can challenge negative body image and our beauty standards


"Our relationship with our bodies is rich and complex with manifestations in the cognitive, physical, emotional, and relational domains"

Much scientific research reveals that the meaning of positive body image is to have an overarching love and respect for the body, allowing individuals to:


  • Appreciate the unique beauty of their body and the functions that it performs

  • Accept and even admire their body, including those aspects that are inconsistent with idealized images

  • To feel beautiful, comfortable, confident, and happy with our body by associating this with our health

  • Emphasize their body's assets rather than dwell on imperfections

  • Interpret incoming information in a body-protective manner whereby most positive information is internalized and most negative information is rejected or reframed


Intuitively, it is the meaning conveyed in body positivity that becomes salient in an era where social media continues to promote unrealistic beauty standards. Body positivity conveys the notion of appreciating the unique parts of our body and interpreting incoming information in a body-protective manner. This means not allowing society or social media to define your definition of what beauty is. It is about acknowledging that our body image is not about how our body looks, but how it functions and serves our day-to-day life.


Many researchers have focused on practices to achieve body positivity. They found simple practices to embrace this meaning which is raising awareness of your body's energy levels during the day by connecting with the body. By focusing on what foods make you feel good, drinking enough water and stretching your muscles, and connecting with your body.


Ultimately, body positivity is a useful tool for valuing ourselves within a society that values unrealistic beauty standards that are exacerbated on social media. It is about developing an intimate relationship with your body by gaining awareness of what feels good for your health. Also, it involves building a legacy of inclusivity within beauty standards, promoting acceptance of all bodies, regardless of size, shape, skin tone, gender, and physical abilities. This becomes significant as we continue to live in an era that still values superiority complexes in beauty which intertwine with negative body image. Arguably, these superiority complexes can compound negative body image; social media needs the salience conveyed in body positivity to erase the ills of beauty standards which focus on the superiority of ethnicities and western patriarchal values.