• Sarah Kimball

Want to be Healthy? Be Body Positive

There's nothing healthier than breaking down beauty standards and spreading radical self-love.

Image made by Sarah Kimball

For the past 22 years, doctors have told me that I have a healthy height and weight, but I’ve never believed them. The photoshopped models, the over-sexualized advertisements, and the unrealistic societal beauty standards send me the message that I need to be thinner. These sources tell me that thin is beautiful, thin is healthy, and thin is normal. And for some reason, I’ve believed them more than I’ve believed my doctors.


There is one emerging area of media, however, that sends a vastly different message – the body positive movement. This movement aims to denounce society’s unrelenting beauty standards and foster a sense of unconditional body love and acceptance, regardless of someone’s size, shape, weight, or overall appearance. Bustle’s Associate Fashion and Beauty Editor Marie Southard Ospina says, “On the most basic level, body positivity is the idea that all bodies are good bodies.” While mainstream media sends the message that only thin, white, and feminine bodies are good female bodies, the body positivity movement aims to celebrate all bodies, especially the bodies that are not usually deemed “good.” While the body positive movement has been criticized for encouraging unhealthy lifestyles and even promoting obesity, in actuality, this movement encourages people to live happy and healthy lives.


“On the most basic level, body positivity is the idea that all bodies are good bodies.” - Marie Southard Ospina, Associate Fashion and Beauty Editor at Bustle

The imagery that is encompassed in the body positive movement can help women (and men) achieve a healthier mental state than images that only define beauty as one body type. For years I struggled to love my body, and at times, I fell into bouts of disordered eating, constantly obsessing about every calorie entering my body, feeling extremely anxious around food, and filling my mind with hateful words about my appearance. While at times, I was physically unhealthy, it was my self-destructive mental state, telling me that I was fat, ugly, and worthless, that was harming me the most.



It wasn’t until I began managing the social media for a body positive film and exposing myself to images showing women of all different shapes, sizes, colors and abilities, that I finally started to achieve a healthier relationship with my body. As I learned more about body positivity, I also came to reject the unrealistic beauty standards I was previously striving to attain.


Body positive imagery is so crucial because it only takes 13 milliseconds for someone to conceptually understand an image. That means women are highly processing every advertisement, billboard, and image that they see of thin, sexualized models. To make matters worse, only 0.43% of the models seen in the fall season of 2017’s top runway shows were plus size. Meanwhile the average American woman is a size 16-18, or a Women’s Plus size 20W.

Women are in desperate need of body positive images that are more relatable and realistic, so they do not continue to feel left out of society’s conversations on beauty.


I understand that some people do not want these body positive images, that often feature overweight men and women, to promote unhealthy lifestyles, and I do not deny that today’s society widely suffers from illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure. However, health needs to be measured holistically and cannot be measured by appearance.



Jessamyn Stanley is a plus size yoga teacher and body positive activist. Looking at her figure, one may not think that she is able to contort herself into difficult yoga poses, lift weights, and celebrate her body (all of which she does with grace), but she is a great example of how health should be measured holistically. When I listened to Stanley speak at the Straight/Curve: Redefining Body Image panel “Embracing Our Unique Identities,” she brought attention to how self-love is at the crux of body positivity. “You can’t be body positive without experiencing a sense of self-love.” She noted that what people need to do even more than love their bodies is to love themselves, period. “There is an epidemic in our society and it is people thinking that they are not okay just to be.”


“There is an epidemic in our society and it is people thinking that they are not okay just to be.” - Jessamyn Stanley

While advertising has persuaded us that being thin is healthy, desirable, and something we should strive to attain, people who are overweight (defined as a BMI of 25 to 30) statistically live longer overall than people in the “normal” weight category. Based on this study, an “ideal healthy weight” would be heavier than the images typically shown in the media.


Health must be interpreted holistically, and it is more about what is going on internally (one’s mind and body), than externally (one’s physical appearance). Even though a doctor would not determine a patient’s blood pressure or cholesterol levels just by looking at a person, our society fails to recognize that someone’s health cannot be determined by the way someone looks. As the body positive movement encourages people to live happy and healthy lives, it is crucial that the public knows that health is not “one size fits all.”


But what about the people who aren’t healthy? Should the body positive movement celebrate and include the people who are unhealthily overweight or morbidly obese? To those who ask this question, I would ask them in return, “Are these people not worthy of love?” The body positive movement celebrates people of all shapes and sizes without exclusion because this movement is ultimately about acknowledging how everyone is unconditionally worthy of love.


The Body Positive, one of the first organizations to publicly use the term “body positive,” supports this underlying mission of body positivity by noting on their website, “We must demand that fat people be treated with dignity and respect and shed light on the ways that they are denied this basic human right. We must do our part to create a fair and just society for all people.”


"We must demand that fat people be treated with dignity and respect and shed light on the ways that they are denied this basic human right. We must do our part to create a fair and just society for all people.” - The Body Positive


The fact that Tess Holliday, a size 22 supermodel, receives slanderous comments on her social media posts is just one example of how fat people do not receive the basic human respect they deserve. While the body positive movement is criticized for promoting unhealthy lifestyles, this movement strives for what would be the healthiest lifestyle of all – one in which people give and receive love, regardless of outward appearance.


By working to rid all people of body hatred and its damaging symptoms, body positivity is what truly guides people to achieve a life of health and happiness. I should know. This movement changed my perception of what it means to be beautiful and helped me to come to terms with my innate self-worth. So, the next time you wonder if it’s healthy for that plus size woman on Instagram to post about how much she loves her stomach rolls, ask yourself, “What’s healthier than spreading love?”