Rebel with a Cause

And would you call that beautiful which wants and does not possess beauty?1

Summer is in full bloom. Our screens are filled with Love Island and the World Cup. Tanned, toned and athletic bodies are ubiquitous, and as we aspire to achieve these ideals, magazine stands are full of titles that promise to help us achieve beach body fitness (e.g. Men's Health) and beauty, through a variety of exercise or diet plansEmerging from the toxicity of popular media, are movements such as 'I weigh',  which has shunned conventional societal beauty demands and aims to move away from physical appearance as being a valuable determinant of self-worth. Many ‘body positive’ movements, fitness plans and media sites nonetheless still have at their core a particular physical ideal to which to aspire. Fitspo and ‘Strong is the new skinny’ (Holland & Tiggemann, 2016) strongly associate a specific narrowly defined physical ideal with good health, or fitness. In promoting strength and fitness, and departing from the traditional aesthetic of fashion media, these movements have claimed to be pro feminist. However, the founder of  'I weigh', actor Jameela Jamil, has criticised such movements as being "double agents for the patriarchy," as their focus is upon a strictly delineated control of the female body (Bownass, 2018). Despite these 'body positive' movements rejecting recognised traditional oppressive, unattainable or enhanced notions of a physical ideal, they still promote compliance with a specific physical appearance as acceptable. In addition, association of these ideals with 'health' serves to strengthen the implication that non-conformity is unhealthy (Holland & Tiggemann, 2016). In promoting recognition of individual value, without incorporation of a physical determinant, movements such as 'I weigh' are successfully identifying the growing recognition of the harmful physical and mental impact of media body objectification. 

Other media claiming a similar aim has been mired in controversy and criticism . The film I Feel Pretty claimed to promote positive and healthy body types and reject beauty demands. However, it has been criticised for reinforcing negative stereotypes, with the protagonist ridiculed for her weight and empathising with other 'victims' of fat shaming (e.g. Harper's Bazaar, Feb 2018). Whilst there are valid and constructive points made by this character portrayal, the aggressive rejection of media industry beauty standards by 'I weigh' is a far more positive action. Media promotion of conformity to specific body ideas, such as the 'summer beach body', and exposure to images of physical objectification has numerous harmful consequences. Strong evidence illustrates how this may lead to the development of body anxiety and dissatisfaction, and engagement in potentially unhealthy behaviours in order to achieve desired beauty ideals. This has been linked to an increased incidence of physical and mental health disorders, and even suicide (Dittmar, 2009; Frederickson & Roberts, 1997; Grogan, 2006; Mubarik, 2015, December). 

There is no fault in taking pride in our appearance. However, the societal pressure to change our appearance and to conform to a particular physical ideal is particularly acute during the summer months (Berger, 2003). Movements such as 'I weigh', which separate value and self-worth from physical appearance, are long overdue and a welcome addition to the media landscape. 

Ajmal Mubarik is a PhD Candidate at the Centre for Social Ethics and Policy in the University of Manchester School of Law. His research explores consent and regulation of cosmetic surgery, and the use of media and technology in healthcare.

References
Bownass, H. (2018) Jamelia Jamil gets real about periods, depression, and Kim Kardashian. The Stylist.  Retrieved from https://www.stylist.co.uk/people/jameela-jamil-kim-kardashian-toxic-weight-loss-role-model-good-place-stylist-cover-story/212867
Dittmar, H. (2009). How do" body perfect" ideals in the media have a negative impact on body image and behaviors? Factors and processes related to self and identity. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 28, 1-8.
Fredrickson, B.L.,  & Roberts, T.A. (1997). Objectification theory. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 73-206.
Grogan, S. (2006) Body image and health: contemporary perspectives. Journal of Health Psychology, 11, 523-30.
Holland, G. , & Tiggemann, M. (2016). “Strong beats skinny every time”: Disordered eating and compulsive exercise in women who post fitspiration on Instagram. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 50, 76-79.
Mubarik, A. (2015, December) Essena O’Neil: Sensation or sob story? The Mancunion.  Retreived from http://mancunion.com/2015/12/01/essena-oneil-sensation-sob-story/




1 Symposium By Plato. Written 360 B.C.E. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Jowett, Benjamin. The Dialogues of Plato-Vol Ii. Vol. 2. Jowett Press, 2007.

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