Riseponds: On Body Positivity and Self-Worth

Riseponds is a monthly series where a group of Risen members are picked, not based on viewpoints, but solely through a "first come first serve" basis to speak on a topic that they're passionate or apathetic about. The randomness serves so readers can gain different viewpoints from different individuals with contrasting experiences. 
This month, we’re talking about whether the self-love/ body-positivity movement reinforces the idea that a person’s worth is their beauty.

Cia: This is such an interesting question! I’m tempted to say that self-love equals happiness and that inner happiness manifests itself as outer ‘beauty’ (which has been redefined by the body-posi movement to mean more than looking straight out of Vogue). After all, in the age of Photoshopping bodies into oblivion, loving your own body in itself is an attempt to subvert beauty standards overall - a micro-rebellion, if you like. I think that this is a good thing because cultivating a healthy body image is far easier when you know that other people have stretch marks/hair/scars too and that it’s okay. Then again, I do feel sometimes that the self-love movement is rather focussed on one’s appearance - perhaps because of how heavily social media or our modern society relies on visual messages - as opposed to other aspects of a person, like their intelligence, creativity or kindness which are just as fundamentally important (if not more important) than physical appearance.  

Emily: Each and every time I wrote a sentence about how self-love hasn't anything to do with beauty and thus a person’s worth, I stopped halfway through. I deleted. I rewrote. Stopped. Deleted. Rewrote. The truth is: self-love and body positivity is to do with beauty, but not directly their worth. Self-love is about celebrating things you find beautiful about yourself and things you don’t find so beautiful about yourself. Self-love can be “I have acne and that is not beautiful. But I love myself despite that. And I forgive my skin for not being clear.” In a way, it can be a spiritual or meditative mantra: “I love myself no matter how I look”. Additionally, self-love can be about how you deal with things, your character, talents, etc. Therefore, I believe these movements show that a person’s worth is determined the way they see themselves rather than their beauty.

Moreover, I believe that self-love doesn’t reinforce the idea that a person’s worth is their beauty; I believe it perpetuates the idea that a person’s self-worth is the love they give themselves – not just for beauty, but for imperfections, eccentricities, intelligence, passions, talents and all the things that make a person human. In a similar way, body positivity can be celebrating the acceptance of not having the perfect body or having peculiarities that you may think people wouldn’t see as beautiful.

Beauty is ambiguous and subjective: beauty can be about the way someone laughs, the fact that they habitually smell their clothes to see if they can wear them another day, the way they smile when putting  makeup on, the kindness they emit. Therefore, beauty can’t determine a person’s worth, because it means something different to everyone.

Keira: As someone who is very wrapped up in both the self-love and body positivity movements, this question made me pause for thought. First of all, I feel like the self-love and body positivity movements are two very different things: self-love can apply to any aspect of yourself, while body positivity is undeniably physical. Therefore, I don’t think the self-love movement necessarily implies that self-worth is based on outer beauty, but body positivity is another story. 

After much pondering, here’s the conclusion I’ve come to: yes, the body positivity movement can feed the idea that your self-worth is based on outer beauty, but that differs from person to person. For some people, an important part of their self-worth is aligned with how they feel about themselves physically, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We can’t shame people for caring about how they look, and the body positivity movement is simply an encouragement and a reminder to like your appearance. Some people measure their self-worth on how much they are liked by others, some on intellectual feats like grades and test scores, and some on their outer beauty. What we value is just a part of how we define ourselves. We can’t look down on people for caring deeply about how they look, there’s no superiority there. 

The body positivity movement tells people that they are beautiful, and for people who value their appearance over other qualities, that can mean a lot. The goal of the body positivity movement is to show that every body is beautiful, and if that helps people who care about the perception of their bodies, then it’s definitely succeeding.