“I am a positive influencer for the body … but I hate my body”

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Dear Eva,

I am a body positive influencer, and spending my days creating content that (hopefully!) inspires other women to embrace their natural beauty. I interact with my lovely followers, encouraging them to enjoy their bodies and wear clothes that bring them joy even if society tells them their skirts are too short or their tops show too much flesh. I tell them to be themselves and love their flaws. But, there is something that I hid, that I did not tell anyone because it looks like the last taboo: I don’t like my body. I often feel fat and ugly. This morning I spent literally an hour trying to create an Instagram Story that didn’t make my thighs gross. The stakes are higher for me than for most people, I know that because it’s more than a little worry for me, it’s my career. I’m afraid it can be felt in my voice. I guess my question is: how can I tell people to love their bodies when I hate mine?

Love, Mrs. Hypocrite

I’m so glad you wrote. Not just because I would love to help, but because your letter is a welcome opportunity for us to peel away the many layers of truth that we all go through on a daily basis.

Your problem is common – many mothers, for example, similarly feel unfaithful when telling their daughters that they are gorgeous while finding their own reflection unbearable – but yours is made trickier by the fact that telling this beauty story is your job. Yes, you want other women to hug their curves, but yes, you also look at your own body and see a series of flesh issues stacked on top of each other in an ill-fitting jumpsuit. You think people should like their flaws, but unfortunately you also think that your faults are offensive and shameful. This is how most humans exist, swaying delicately from foot to foot. And body image, I think, is a particularly confusing conversation, both to have out loud and to have with ourselves, inside the bowels of the body that we are discussing.

Notably because many of us have been quietly trained to hate these bodies, mentally chopping them into smaller pieces in order to hate them more effectively – those pegs, those bingo wings, those thighs that stretch out over the chair like a rising tide. It has become so crucial to our upbringing that this is how female identities are formed, how women traditionally make friends, by spreading our vulnerabilities on a bathroom floor and inviting well-meaning criticism. This is a problem, there are many problems, the most important being that those who are made to believe that their value lies only in their body will feel helpless when said bodies are found to be imperfect.

And in recent years, as you no doubt know (and no doubt took advantage of), the game has become more complicated. The body positivity movement celebrates all body, a joyous festival dotted with buntings of limbs and nipples. But what this holiday lacks is a real understanding or even recognition of why so many of us (and body positive influencers are not immune – you too, grew up in this sharp, sticky world) have such a violent relationship with our bodies to begin with. The impact of this cognitive leap that we are encouraged to take, from yesterday (sad, fat) to now (delighted, plump) is that the responsibility for loving one’s body lies solely with the individual. The reasons you hate your body might sound silly and silly to me, but to you they are logical and learned, and no doubt rooted in a number of the following: emotion, politics, workplace, race, parents, sex, capitalism, sizing at Zara, media, sanity, class, porn, feel free to check off as you read.

This doesn’t mean that the work you do is bad, but rather that it is limited and that its impact is less direct than advertised. Being told that everyone is beautiful, when everything we have experienced says otherwise, leaves many people confused and isolated. And, like you, guilty. Guilty of looking badly, and also guilty of wanting to change. Your letter makes me more sure than ever that it’s time for much of the body positivity movement to step back and make way for body neutrality. Here, a body does not need to be “happy”, or a statement, or even beautiful. It can just be the thing we live in that opens jars for us and gives us pleasure.

If using your body in this way is having a negative impact on how you feel about your body, then the time may be right for you to move on to other work. Unless there is a way that besides ‘kissing your curves’ you can embrace the nuance of life lived in a body like yours, and on days when positivity is hard to achieve, and find out why. There’s a lot to be said for ambivalence, and you can keep your cardigan on as well.

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