(De)Constructing Body Positivity on Twitter - By Emilie Lawrence
Our Beauty Demands blog is 5 years old this year! We have had many brilliant posts over those years, so we're going to revisit some of these, starting with the ever-important topic of social media. Below is Emilie Lawrence's discussion on body positivity, which introduces a paper she presented at our workshop back in 2016:
In this post, Emilie Lawrence (UCL) discusses her work on body positivity discourse as it plays out on social media.
I will draw upon the ethics of nudes, Kim Kardashian as a body posi powerhouse and how the body positivity movement aims to selfie into significance bodies that are routinely rendered invisible in mainstream media as they continue to privilege and promote thinness as ideal and reinforce Eurocentric, narrow beauty ideals as the norm. By making visible marginalised bodies, the movement aims to disrupt and challenge beauty norms.
The body posi movement, and Kim’s position within it has been critiqued; it is exclusive despite reprimanding society for marginalising and privileging certain bodies; hashtags that exist to celebrate body positivity are full of conventionally attractive women who DO conform to many of the standards society sets out as ideal – white or passing, able bodied, heterosexual, feminine. Disabled bodies are conspicuously absent, as are queer bodies on the most popular hashtags. Whilst criticising mainstream media for marginalising many women, the body positivity movement online seems to have its own criteria for what counts as subverting or troubling norms and what it will allow to be flawed; Stretchmarks and saggy breasts are ok but anything that tries to transgress these narrow parameters of what constitutes a middle finger up at beauty standards is noticeably missing.
Kim’s body might tentatively trouble dominant norms but ultimately she is ‘the right kind of wrong’ – whilst not overtly thin, she displays an hourglass figure that is celebrated for being sexual, sexy and sensual. Her boobs and bum might be big but her waist is small and nipped in – thus reinforcing the idea that the only parts of a woman body that are allowed to be big are those that are aesthetically pleasing to a man. In addition, she is often critiqued for her complicity in routine beauty work and her commitment to the performing of glamour labour. I will be exploring how far we can position Kim as a body positive figurehead whilst criticising the beauty labour she is heavily involved in.
However, there are numerous counter arguments that claim that the women engaging in this form of body positivity action are simply objectifying themselves – inviting sexual objectification under the guise of feminist empowerment. Are the women involved sexually liberated and freeing themselves from the male gaze by choosing to publicly engage with their bodies and therefore denying men the upper hand? Or are they merely fuelling the notion that women exist for male consumption but via feminist discourse that renders the behaviour hard to critique? In addition, what are the ethical considerations involved when using these nudes in social research, removed from the context (i.e. a twitter hashtag or individual’s timeline) or assumed audience?
LYB discourses are important and powerful because of the way they appear to interrupt the almost entirely normalised hostile judgment and surveillance of women's bodies in contemporary media culture’ key yet few body positive sites or spaces manage to fulfil this promise of championing and celebrating all bodies, instead merely constructing new parameters of acceptability. The body positive discourse itself, exists within a neoliberal arena – utilised in marketing, co-opting of feminist rhetoric, LYB campaigns position empowerment, higher self-esteem and body satisfaction as possible through the consumption of products. This contradictory, complex situation where women are told to love their bodies as they are whilst simultaneously expected to be consuming products designed to ‘better’ themselves has been discussed (Gill, 2007; Johnson & Taylor, 2008) and much of the existing academic literature on body positive movements is critical of the concept although research into body positive feminism is limited. My research aims to argue that they are interlinked yet distinct areas and that body positive feminism moves beyond the simplistic essentialist notion of loving your body as is and instead recognises the radical and political acts inherently present in subverting beauty norms. This paper will suggest that body positive feminism, whilst utilising similar narrative and notions to the body posi discourse, possesses a self-awareness that is playful, deliberate, reflective and reflexive.
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Emilie Lawrence is a PhD candidate at UCL. Her work is focused on the construction and performance of feminism online; using Twitter as a situational context, Emilie is currently exploring body positivity and the co-optation of feminist rhetoric in LYB narratives and discourse.
Emilie’s research interests include glamour labour; emotional labour and findom; fourth wave feminism; sexuality; fat activism; body positivity; affect; post human methodologies and Kim Kardashian. She has written about 50 Shades of Grey, body image and slutty Halloween costumes as well as co-authored a chapter on teen feminist activism.