Body Positive "Representation" Only Includes Obesity And Hardly Ever Promotes The Average Body Size Of Everyday Women

Body positivity has ushered in fat acceptance and "health at every size," and the movement claims to advocate for better "representation" for women. But why does this never include normal figures of everyday women who are neither supermodel skinny nor obese?

By Gina Florio3 min read
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When Tess Holliday, well-known body positive activist, donned the cover of Cosmopolitan in October 2018, it was said to be a big moment for women everywhere. She wore a green one-piece swimsuit with nothing else and blew a kiss at the camera. The headline was "A Supermodel Roars: Tess Holliday wants the haters to kiss her ass." When responding to the backlash, Tess said that she did this photo shoot "for women around the world that need to see someone that looks like me to feel less alone and to understand that the way they look is beautiful." Tess even started her own beauty campaign called #effyourbeautystandards, which she still refers to today. The entire internet had opinions about the magazine cover, and many women claimed that they were thrilled at the "representation" that came from it. Women commented and said they spent much of their childhood crying over the fact that they don't look like the rail-thin supermodels, but seeing a large woman like Tess on the cover of Cosmo fulfilled their dreams and made them feel validated.

A couple years later, in February 2021, Cosmo released another cover featuring obese models, but this time with the headline "This is healthy!" It featured several different women who spoke about "why wellness doesn't have to be one-size-fits-all." Most of the women were either professional athletes or extremely overweight. They spoke about their struggles with disordered eating, feeling like they never really fit in, and experiencing "fatphobic comments." It was again hailed as an important moment for women everywhere because finally they were able to see some kind of representation in the world of fashion and media.

But every time there is a magazine cover or fashion campaign that is praised for its inclusivity, it features obese women. This leaves us with just two options when we peruse women's media or online shops: supermodel skinny or extremely overweight. Why is this hailed as such great representation?

Body Positivity Just Includes the Other Extreme End of the Size Spectrum

The body positive movement has always hailed itself as a champion of women—an initiative that will help women feel seen, heard, and accepted. In a way, it's easy to understand why body positivity is so popular. For such a long time, the only models we ever saw on the runway, in magazines, and in fashion campaigns were sized 0, ultra-thin women who looked like they hadn't eaten in three days—and in many cases, they had indeed not eaten in three days. The heroin chic look reigned supreme for many years, which was oftentimes coupled with eating disorders and unhealthy habits in the world of modeling. It was completely understandable for women to pick up a magazine and be disappointed or disheartened with what they saw, because they felt like that kind of slender frame was never something they could accomplish, no matter how many crash diets they went on.

The body positive movement has always hailed itself as a champion of women.

What we see and hear as young girls has a tremendous impact on us for the rest of our lives. Of course girls are affected by what they consume and absorb from the culture. It's a big deal for them, even if subconsciously, when they exclusively see advertisements and media that features very skinny women. This is why so many mothers supported the early years of body positivity—they wanted their daughters to grow up in a world that offered realistic visuals of healthy women.

However, the body positive movement quickly went from wanting to promote a more realistic figure in public to advertising morbid obesity as beautiful and even glamorous. Every famous model or activist that is placed in the body positive category is obese—Tess Holliday, Ashley Graham, Jessamyn Stanley, Megan Jayne Crabbe, etc. They're not a representation of the average woman; they're the reflection of the other end of the spectrum. We were told by early body positive advocates that the movement would help the everyday woman feel more represented, but what we've ended up with is simply the glorification of the other extreme—obesity—that is even more deadly and unhealthy than the first extreme of heroin chic.

There are very few brands that showcase the average size of women.

We've been told to accept this, and if we don't, we're just bigots with internalized misogyny. But the body positive movement has just shifted the unhealthy representation from one extreme to the other, and this is not helpful for young women. In fact, it's even worse, since obesity is the number one contributor to chronic illness, heart disease, and many leading causes of death in this country.

Why Don't We See More Normal, Average Sizes of Women in Magazines and Advertisements?

There are very few brands that showcase the average size of women in their advertisements and campaigns. Skims and Good American, owned by Kim Kardashian and Khloe Kardashian respectively, have been somewhat successful at using models who represent normal, everyday figures of women that are neither rail-thin nor morbidly obese.

But these kinds of photos and advertisements are few and far between. When you see these brands (or any others) showcased in magazine center pieces or in major campaigns, they intentionally choose to feature the models who are obese. It's as if the priority is to virtue signal rather than honestly or genuinely represent the average woman (which is what the original body positive movement initially promised).

Why can't we see more ads and photo shoots that feature normal-sized, healthy-looking women? Our culture is perpetually stuck in one extreme or the other. Reportedly, the average dress size in America is 14. For reference, Tess Holliday is a size 22. And the vast majority of advertisements and fashion campaigns feature women who are either a size 0 or a size 20. You rarely ever see a woman who is a size 10 on a billboard or heading up a major campaign.

Why can't we see more ads and photo shoots that feature normal-sized, healthy-looking women?

It's arguably even worse to promote obesity to young girls than the stick-thin figure. Statistically, obesity is much more deadly than being skinny or even being anorexic. We're now at a point where more than 40% of Americans are obese, and the fatter we are, the sicker we get. At some point we have to ask ourselves whether we really want to promote healthy, realistic images to young women or if we want to simply appease the progressive mob and their ever-changing standards of tolerance and acceptance. Young girls should be presented with reasonable images that represent two things: what normal women look like and what healthy women look like. There's nothing wrong with featuring models who are thin and fit, just like there's nothing wrong with featuring models who are healthy and at a normal size, even if they're not a size 2. We should, however, be wary of selling girls a glamorous picture of obesity when in reality it is a metabolic disorder that is linked to many chronic diseases and other disorders that cause despair, physical suffering, and even premature death.