Why body positivity is about more than just accepting different body sizes

The burgeoning ‘body positivity’ community is here to share the message that all bodies are beautiful, no matter the size, shape or shade.

By Fiona Ralph
"How to get a beach body? Take your body to the beach."
This statement, along with the rallying cry that "every body is a bikini body" has been trending on social media over the last few years, initially in response to a UK advert asking "Are you beach body ready?"
In June, Nike, who introduced a plus-size clothing line in 2017, made the point that every body is a fitness body by installing a size 16 mannequin in their London store.
Although the move drew messages of support online, the number of shockingly negative reactions it also attracted shows that society still has a long way to go in its acceptance of larger bodies.
But the growing 'body positivity' movement, or 'bopo' as it is known on social media, is about more than just accepting different sizes – it's about celebrating ALL bodies regardless of size, colour, ability or gender identification.
It's also about rejoicing in all those bits that don't usually see the light of day – the saggy, stretchy, scarred, hairy bits we're told need nipping, tucking, fixing and waxing.

"Normalising accessibility" is one of the missions of All is for All, an online store, modelling agency and consultancy service created by fashion lover and wheelchair user Grace Stratton.
The Kiwi writer and law student has long advocated for a more inclusive society for those with access needs, and this year launched All is for All with Angela Bevan, and the help of PR firm SweeneyVesty where Angela works.
The shop features clothing which can be easily worn by people with a range of access needs, and makes shopping easier by providing alternative text for those using screen readers, detailed garment descriptions and multiple categories such as 'zip at front' and 'loose fit'.
"I've experienced access needs my entire life," says Grace.
"I've always needed help with things like getting dressed. Requiring help with such things can sometimes make you feel like you aren't fully in command of yourself, especially as you get older, so I wanted to build something which gave people as much agency and power over their expression as they could have."
Angela has worked in the fashion industry and with charitable organisations for years, and has previously founded two other model agencies championing diversity, Hoipolloi and The Others (both no longer operating), the latter of which had a policy of not taking models' measurements.
All is for All's models have a range of access needs and Grace says they will be cast in some of the biggest New Zealand Fashion Week shows this year.
"We're creating a different narrative, one which presents people with access needs as dynamic, sexy, capable people who are able when accessibility is implemented."
Australian model agent Chelsea Bonner has been bringing curvy bodies into mainstream media for years through her modelling work and agency, Bella.
She has recently released a book, Body Image Warrior, detailing her fight for change in the fashion industry.
Launching Bella in 2002, to represent curvy and other unique models, at a time when anything bigger than a size 8 was seen as non-fashionable, was a big risk.
But she has proven that brands want to work with a diverse range of sizes, and she now represents top models such as Jessica Vander Leahy (who is also the founder of Project WomanKIND, a platform dedicated to celebrating women).
Chelsea says launching Bella was driven by her own need to find a place to belong as a curvy model, as well as witnessing the health issues suffered by friends and family members trying to fit into society's unrealistic expectations of beauty.
"I knew that if I felt left out of life and not represented anywhere that other people must feel the same," she says. "If you don't see yourself reflected anywhere, you feel under a constant weight of shame and undeservedness. I had to try to change that."
Bella collaborated with Project WomanKIND, founded by Jessica Vander Leahy, for the shoot above, which features Jessica (second from right) with (from left) Sophie Sheppard, Margaret Macpherson, Stefania Ferrario and Olivia Langdon.
Kiwi success story Lonely Lingerie has been championing body diversity for years, featuring real women of different ages, races and sizes, with attributes such as visible body hair, stretchmarks and scars, in their campaigns.
Many other lingerie companies have followed suit, with a range of international lines launching with body positive values, including Rihanna's Savage x Fenty.
Australian brand Bonds introduced its Intimately collection this year with ads starring Bosnian-Australian transgender model and actress Andreja Pejic, top Kiwi model Maia Cotton, Aussie Savage x Fenty star Shanaya Peters and flame-haired and freckled model Madeleine Hunt.
Australian transgender model Andreja Pejic (second from left) fronts the campaign for the Bonds Intimately collection alongside models (from left) Maia Cotton, Madeleine Hunt and Shanaya Peters.
It's not just in the fashion, beauty and media worlds that larger sizes are discriminated against.
Jess Campbell, a weight-inclusive Christchurch nutritionist currently in her fifth year of a medical degree, works with the principles of Health At Every Size (HAES), a movement working to end weight discrimination, stigma and bias in healthcare.
HAES healthcare providers focus on health, not weight, and aim to "accept and respect the diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealising or pathologising of specific weights".
Jess started using a more intuitive eating approach at her Body Balance Nutrition clinic, which specialises in eating disorders and chronic dieting, after realising that regimented eating plans weren't working for her clients.
She now advocates on Instagram (@haes_studentdoctor) and elsewhere for other healthcare providers to change their ways.
"Sharing the body positive message is about body liberation for all bodies, achieved through disrupting diet culture and challenging many of the current beliefs society teaches us about bodies," Jess says.
"I don't think for one second that anyone enters into the field of nutrition or dietetics with the intention to cause harm or to be complicit in the toxicity of diet culture, especially towards bodies that are at higher weights – yet we do.
"We need to spend a good deal of time unlearning a lot of what we have been taught to think about bodies and health if we want to provide affirming and accessible care for everybody in any body."
Beauty brand Dove has always aimed to showcase diversity in its advertising, but when it launched its latest project, Sophie Galvani, the company's global vice president, acknowledged that "this is not enough and we cannot make the systemic change we need alone".
To this end, Dove has collaborated with photo agency Getty Images and creative agency Girlgaze to create Project #ShowUs, a library of over 5000 stock images for use in media and advertising.
Photographed by women around the world, the images capture a diverse range of women. Some have skin conditions, others are transgender, some are living with illnesses – a welcome change from the typically thin, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied type seen in stock images, and in a large proportion of the world's advertising and media.
Italian paralympian Veronica Yoko Plebani, who contracted bacterial meningitis as a teenager, causing scars and physical impairment to her body, is one of those featured.
None of the images has been digitally manipulated, a movement which is also gaining momentum, with Gillette Venus announcing last year that they would no longer retouch any models in their adverts.
Dove quotes Professor Phillippa Diedrichs, body image expert at the Centre for Appearance Research at the University of the West of England: "When women and girls experience body dissatisfaction, they experience negative consequences across key areas of their lives, including their health and wellbeing, their relationships, and their aspirations in educationand work settings.
"On the other hand, displaying diverse and realistic portrayals of women's bodies, like the images in Project #ShowUs, leads to improved body confidence."
Project #ShowUs, a vast photographic collection of women (including paralympian Veronica Yoko Plebani), aims to offer a more inclusive vision of beauty.
But brands, who are primarily selling a product, can only do so much.
That's where the Instagram community comes in.
Radical body activist Sonya Renee Taylor is one of many making waves in the 'fat acceptance movement' online.
The writer and artist launched The Body Is Not An Apology movement after a Facebook post of herself in a corset went viral.
The American, who has written a book of the same name, is currently living on Waiheke on an Edmund Hillary Fellowship.
More than body positivity, she promotes the idea of "radical self-love".
"Body positivity is valuable but it is individual-focused on how we feel about our own bodies," Sonya says.
"I am interested in how our beliefs about our own bodies impact the lives of other bodies on the planet. Spreading radical self-love means we can divest from systems that tell us that our worth can only be attained in a system of comparison where we are more valuable or less valuable than other bodies in the world."
Sonya Renee Taylor of The Body Is Not An Apology believes in "radical self-love".
Sonya was one of the interviewees on the first season of the Cool Bodies Club, a monthly podcast celebrating "all bodies", hosted by Christchurch friends Sarah Kelleher, Gemma Syme and Mike Field.
"I was fed up with the narratives around bodies and noticed how harmful they were for everybody," Sarah explains.
"I had an operation when I was a child that ended up being a medical misadventure case; it changed my body permanently. This experience has led me to have a pretty awesome and unique relationship with my body. My major struggle has not been the relationship I have with my own body but the ways in which society views body difference."
Each month, the trio interview a different guest on the experience of living in their bodies.
"Chatting with people about very personal things has been incredibly special and life-changing," Sarah says.
"It has taught me that connection has an important role in creating any kind of social change. And that listening to people talk about their lived experience is one of the greatest learning opportunities we have as individuals to create change."

11 bad-ass #bopo warriors to follow on Instagram

1 Eating-disorder survivor Megan Jayne Crabbe is a vocal voice in the body positivity movement, with a pretty pastel feed to boot.
2 Sarah Nicole Landry's 'gram offers a dose of mum-bod realness, full of stretch marks, loose skin and happiness.
3 Model and podcast host Zach Miko is helping to redefine what it means to be beautiful in the male modelling world.
4 Stevie Blaine advocates for body acceptance and gay rights on his account, sharing thoughts on embracing his "squishy, scarred, beautiful body".
5 Supermodel Ashley Graham has broken barriers as a cover star and is a fierce promoter of the #BeautyBeyondSize message.
6 Writer, editor and 'fat acceptance' advocate Marie Southard Ospina has excellent stuff to say on breaking down size stigmas.
7 Fashion blogger and designer Gabi Gregg promotes body love and fab style to her followers.
8 Top model and founder of popular #EffYourBeautyStandards hashtag, Tess Holliday is one to follow for bopo realness and a healthy dose of activism.
9 Actress Jameela Jamil uses her platform to advocate for self-love and founded the I Weigh movement as part of her 'revolution against shame', showing that people's real worth has nothing to do with numbers.
10 Mama Càx, born Cacsmy Brutus, is a Haitian-American blogger, advocate and model who proves that a prosthetic leg is no barrier to serious style and a life well lived.
11 Julian Van Horne is a trans advocate and life coach for LGBTQ+ individuals and those living with chronic illness, who shares his self-acceptance message online.