From Perfect to Positive

Once upon a not so distant past, brands were all about selling the perfect life and advertising the perfect body. Yet there’s been a massive shift since the 90s—when marketing trends were defined by flawless bodies and unattainable beauty ideals—in how bodies are represented.

From terms like body acceptance and fat acceptance to body positivity and body liberation, the self-love revolution has gone mainstream and more inclusive marketing campaigns are all the rage.

But the body positivity movement still has a long way to go. Despite making massive strides for often marginalized bodies, the path to body liberation has also created its own standard of beauty that many find unreachable, leaving most people still feeling negatively about how they look most of the time and three-quarters of Americans believing that the media continues to promote an unattainable beauty standard for women.

From terms like body acceptance and fat acceptance to body positivity and body liberation, the self-love revolution has gone mainstream and more inclusive marketing campaigns are all the rage.

Love the Skin You’re In

Most people associate the body positivity movement with the 2010s and the meteoric rise of social media and their hashtags. But the journey towards self-love and body acceptance can be traced all the way back to the 1960s when the movement was first started by and for bodies that have historically been marginalized (think fat bodies, Black bodies, queer bodies, disabled bodies). Historically rejected by Western society, it was these bodies that triggered an interest in “body liberation”, even though the term #bodypositivity wouldn’t crop up until almost 50 years later.

As most movements do, body positivity has evolved over the years. By its very definition, body positivity is all about seeing our bodies as perfectly acceptable and perfectly normal, no matter the shape, size, or colour. The concept of body neutrality adds an extra layer, encouraging people to focus on what their body does for them, how it makes them feel, rather than on how it works.

This continued push towards full body acceptance and liberation, of “loving the skin you’re in”, is a message that many content creators have incorporated into their messaging. And while the push for body positivity has unquestionably brought all types of marginalized people into the conversation, some of its defenders feel like the original message has fallen by the wayside as the movement has become more commodified.

And while the push for body positivity has unquestionably brought all types of marginalized people into the conversation, some of its defenders feel like the original message has fallen by the wayside as the movement has become more commodified.

Brands Jump on the Bandwagon

This commodification of the trend by content creators and corporations alike has monetised and politicised body positivity, creating a different standard of beauty that many underprivileged bodies find out of reach. Take a look at Dove, the first big brand that comes to mind when it comes to body positivity.

elespacio-a-different-standard-of-beauty

Their Be Real Campaign, which features real women and real bodies, has certainly done amazing things for raising the visibility of bodies that are often left out. But it’s also been accused of creating its own standard of beauty centred on women society deems “acceptably fat” – beautiful women with smaller waists, hourglass shapes, and all under size 12.

There have been some exceptions, of course. Featuring LGBTQ+, disabled, fat and Black bodies in their new spring campaign, Zalando, Europe’s leading online platform for fashion and lifestyle, has gone further than most brands to take a stand for inclusivity and empowerment. Not only are these values reflected in its ads, but the company actively supports an inclusive corporate culture with employees from 130 countries.

As body positivity continues to shift and evolve, brands need to be genuine in the way they choose to engage with the movement to avoid being accused of commodifying body liberation to turn a profit.

It’s this celebration of real people, one that is reflected both outward and inward, that makes it possible for brands to engage with diverse customers. As body positivity continues to shift and evolve, brands need to be genuine in the way they choose to engage with the movement to avoid being accused of commodifying body liberation to turn a profit – and today’s customers know exactly how to identify when a brand’s “love your body” messaging lacks authenticity.

No Such Thing as One-Size-Fits-All

Body positivity is a good cause to champion, and federal governments as well as major social media outlets have started flying the flag for diverse bodies. Knowing that an unhealthy body image affects well-being and mental health, these major players have embraced the movement’s values to shape laws and regulations that tackle these issues.

After youth advocacy groups and the country’s Ministry of Children and Family Affairs called for stricter measures on image editing for years, legislators in Norway passed a law that requires content creators to disclose when they have retouched or added a filter to a photo.

The law is primarily concerned with advertisers, but it also applies to social media influencers, celebrities and other users who receive any compensation or benefit associated with posting on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter. Other countries, including France and the UK, have passed similar laws to protect their citizens from the harmful effects of unrealistic images and the unrealistic expectations for perfection they create.

Body positivity is a good cause to champion, and federal governments as well as major social media outlets have started flying the flag for diverse bodies.

Heavy social media hitter Pinterest has also embraced body acceptance with a new ad policy that prohibits all ads with weight loss language and imagery. The move makes Pinterest the only major platform to prohibit all weight loss ads, which is an expansion of the platform’s earlier ad policies that prohibited body shaming and dangerous weight loss products or claims.

The Power of Positivity + Authenticity

These new policies by governments like Norway and major social media platforms like Pinterest are signs of real, global change. And while the body positivity movement still has much room for improvement, these are stances that Gen Z (people born between 1995-2010) is eager to embrace.

This is a generation that is more likely to associate the word “body” with positivity or neutrality instead of associating the word with a supermodel in a bikini like the earlier generation of Gen Xers (born between 1965-1980).

So rather than being performative, brands need to learn how to reach these leaders of the consumer market (Gen Z currently accounts for 40% of all consumers) through values like inclusivity, diversity, and authentic body liberation.

Gen Z sees itself differently, which means brands need to change how they want to represent themselves if they want this new generation of consumers to buy their products.

If brands want to continue to empower by featuring all bodies, they need to do it in a way that’s genuine.

Gen Zers are savvy consumers who crave authenticity. If brands want to continue to empower by featuring all bodies, they need to do it in a way that’s genuine. Any attempts to influence these consumers with faux body positivity will fail for the “fake news” they are.

Brands willing to support and celebrate Gen Zers’ values will win their loyalty and be rewarded by their business. Those that don’t will be left behind in a market where consumers are forcing brands to take a stand on the issues that matter.

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