Body Negative / Body Positive
Notions of the body are not traditionally seen as in the political realm. The body is typically the site for the personal and private notions of the self. Yet, power dynamics on how the female body, especially, is perceived beautiful and how it is regulated are at the core of public discourse. Governments legislate the female body’s reproductive rights and other intimate relationships seemingly in the purview of the private. The media, an influential social actor, also dictates the parameters of what is a desired female form in terms of shape, weight and race. Homogeneous bodies types are ubiquitous in advertisements, films and television shows and these form our notions of what is ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ in society.
This exertion of control over the female body has led to a collective malaise. If one does not conform, they are regulated to the periphery or even made to feel invisible. This aspect of invisibility is common to civil rights and social justice movements that aim to assert themselves as viable and visible actors in public and political discourse. Often, the body itself is at the center of this public engagement.
The ‘Body Positive’ movement, for example, has gained considerable momentum in the last decade. On social media platforms and also embraced by corporate interests, the idea of one acceptable body type is losing ground. For corporations, this can be seen as a rapprochement to their audience so they can continue to make profits on their products. Increasingly, there is messaging around ‘one size does not fit all’ and ‘empower all bodies’. The underlying notion here is that the shared public realm needs to hold space with difference but also with the idea of unity. We are different but we are one. We do not need to conform to one idea as we are all uniquely beautiful. Beauty, once perhaps in the eye of the beholder is now at the center of public debate. What is at stake is the idea that there is not an elite group of people holding the reigns of power but rather pushing forth the idea of a truly democratic public achieved through the site of the female body.