Why Does “Body Positivity” Equate To Showing Your Naked Body To The World?

Let’s not base our intrinsic value on a movement that preys on our insecurities and only further dilutes what it means to be a beautiful woman.

By Andrea Mew6 min read

Earlier this year, Lizzo, who the DailyMail deemed the “queen of body positivity,” posted photos on Instagram in a barely-there bikini with nearly every angle of her objectively obese body on display. This is only one of many publicity stunts that “body positive” female celebrities (and, as a result, their followers) engage in to affirm their personal value and reduce any stigma around body types that span beyond the “sample size.” 

"The discourse around bodies is officially tired!” Lizzo said, later going on to say that social media users scrutinizing her photos in the comment section were “f***ing wasting” time “on the wrong thing.” 

Like a fisherman readying his fishing pole with bait, women in the “body positivity” movement are baiting trolls and everyday onlookers alike with purposefully incendiary content, and as a result, they are decreasing their own intrinsic value. Here’s how we’ve found ourselves deeply obsessed with artificial body positivity culture and are fostering a generation of slaves to the simulation. 

Let’s Explore the “Body Positivity” Basics

When you scroll through Instagram’s “body positivity” keyword, finding a fully-clothed individual (yes, men are guilty too) is just as likely as finding a needle in a haystack. If I’m cherry-picking, feel free to call me out, but more often than not, it appears that “body positive” content exclusively features women excessively baring their skin.

Sometimes, these posts come from extremely slender, modelesque women who look like Bella Hadid or Kendall Jenner clones. Jenner once proudly stated, “I just love my tits being out” in reference to how empowered she feels when modeling with her nipples showing. Similarly, her sister Kim Kardashian once said she feels empowered by her body and sexuality. 

Even Demi Lovato, who has publicly struggled with body image previously, said that her “nude” photoshoot felt empowering. The body positivity movement is clearly not just overweight or obese women insisting that we should look at the semi-nude photos they post and applaud in celebration. No, there is a serious (but likely uncoordinated) effort for nudity to be a prerequisite for a woman to feel “body positive” – and it needs to stop.

Called “radical fat activism” by some critics and defined as a method to “normalize all body types” by supporters, the body positivity movement has become a lucrative venture for lifestyle brands to turn a profit on. In fact, even the most radical activists – who bemoan the “remarkable absence of BIPOC, 2S LGBTQAI+, fat/thick/thicc/curvy, older, gender-nonconforming, and/or disabled representations” within the movement will admit that it has become “commodified and packaged into a product or service for consumption.”

Like with fourth-wave feminists, who outwardly disavow when women take on more traditional gender roles, body positivity activists want inclusivity up until the point that we include societal norm.

Aside from Lizzo, who sparks very heated discourse online clothed or in more risqué garb, plenty of other female celebrities show off their skin in an effort to affirm the worth of their physical body. Singer Bebe Rexha was given Lizzo’s royal title of “the body positive queen” by Grazia after she danced on TikTok in a sultry blue lingerie set. 

The video, captioned “Feeling like a bad bitch today,” included on-screen text such as “How much do you think I weigh?”, “No one’s business,” and “Cause I’m a bad bitch no matter what my weight. But let’s normalize 165 lbs.”

Grazia goes on to explain that Rexha’s revealing video is a “proverbial middle finger to the vile standards of body image projected onto women via social media,” and they emphasize how Rexha often uses social media to “clap back” at critics. They conclude with a direct quote from Rexha about how she wants to inspire women to love their bodies and feel beautiful at any size. But do all women draw inspiration from TikTok strip teases?

Comparison Is the Thief of Happiness, according to Science

When we view “body positive” content on Instagram – content that is intentionally or unintentionally sexualized – we’re meant to celebrate our differences and not use those images as points of negative or positive comparison. That said, a recent study actually indicates that viewing “body positivity” content online increases a woman’s bodily dissatisfaction and makes her more self-surveillant of her body image. 

The study suggests that, despite the movement having some good intentions, it’s actually achieving the exact opposite result: increased self-objectification. “This result seems quite relevant, given the paradox that images aimed to promote acceptance of their own body can end up triggering the desire to change it,” said the researchers.

What’s more, in some cases, this may even mean that more women are going under the knife for cosmetic and plastic surgery procedures after they’ve continuously soaked in content from role models online who have altered their own appearances, but the authors admit that more research must be done on this connection.

This may be a simple case of reverse causation, where X (the act of viewing body positivity photos online) and Y (having high levels of body dissatisfaction) are associated, but not in the way we’d expect. Instead of body positivity content causing people to feel worse about themselves, what could be happening is that people who already have negative self-image are more likely to seek out content that affirms they should feel “positive” about perceived body flaws.

Try as the media might, they don’t have as much influence over what is commonly considered attractive. Sure, magazines can place affirming, body positive remarks on top of unattractive photos, but that text can’t change our minds. I mean, isn’t it somewhat insulting to prop people up with lies just to make them feel better?

When publications, companies, celebrities, and influencers alike parrot the “everyone is beautiful” narrative, it doesn’t feel authentic, it feels patronizing. Perhaps some of them have good intentions, but instead of reducing negative body image, they inadvertently emphasize your appearance as being one of your most important traits.

Nudity Isn’t Always Sexual in Nature

Nudity or even just demure content that shows off some skin isn’t always intended to be sexually provocative. We know through countless works of art throughout history that this just isn’t the case. Female nudity in art has been celebrated through iconic works like Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Jean Fouquet’s Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels, or Titian's Venus of Urbino.

Public Domain
Public Domain
Venus of Urbino, by Titian, 1538. Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Oftentimes, the women in these paintings are meant to represent ideal female beauty. They’re graceful, sensual, and look nothing like the “body positive” content that gets posted online today. Even the masterpieces which include objectively overweight women, such as Peter Paul Ruben’s The Three Graces, has a beautiful composition that art historians say is meant to highlight “concepts of physical beauty, temptation, desire, fertility, and virtue.”

Yet as time has gone on, American culture has become hyper-sensitive to the words “naked” or “nude” and immediately assumes that they have sexual connotations. We can’t hold ourselves to those standards because a person can be fully clothed and exude sexual energy, and similarly, a person can show off a little bit of skin and not be sexual.

Here’s where I can find some common ground with progressives: I do feel as though the female body is often unfairly sexualized, even at young ages. Women are all too familiar with strict dress codes that school administrators understandably enforced to prevent their students from being viewed in a sexual manner. Don’t wear a tank top, lest you distract your peers!

But is that really fair? We know that, throughout evolution, men have become biologically inclined to objectify women. We also know that objectification doesn’t always equal action, and we can’t exactly police a man’s impure thoughts. There’s only so much society can do to recondition human nature, and while I’d never argue that it’s okay to sexualize minors, overly scrutinizing what a teenage girl wears could actually backfire and add more stigma. We can’t swing the pendulum in the opposite direction, however, and try to reduce stigma by having no standards at all.

Nudity As a Social Statement Comes with Consequences

The Lizzos, Bebe Rexhas, and Kendall Jenners of this world can go nude in glitzy photoshoots because they genuinely have privilege. They’ve got enough money to protect themselves (whether through security or legal measures), and though it may sound crude, their bodies have already become a commodity that has a dollar value assigned to it. To go naked as a celebrity is vulnerability without consequences; to go naked (or scantily clad) as a normal woman is vulnerability with plenty of consequences.

You don’t know what people online are going to do with your social media content. Sure, you may be able to put content behind an OnlyFans paywall, but there are plenty of rulebreakers out there who don’t have your best interest in mind. It’s a hypothetical circumstance, but a subscriber could easily store your most sensitive content and then use it against you. Future job opportunities could be compromised or your personal information could be doxxed and later found by a creep or criminal.

In the not-so-distant past, women sought freedom from objectification. They didn’t want their value to be determined by “oppressive” men who thought their sexuality was offensive or threatening. They wanted to feel empowered by their sexuality, but in seeking freedom they found themselves in chains to their own self-objectification.

Because their sexuality has become easily available, it’s less valuable and, for lack of better terms, it has become cheap. The sensual female figure is no longer provocative and challenging norms – she has become over-sexualized in a meaningless fashion.

The early feminists weren’t interested in this new self-objectification which was birthed out of whichever wave of feminism we’re in at this point. Sure, plenty of early feminists were reactionary and authentic in their declarations of independence from the male gaze and didn’t shy away from freeing the nipple, but I’d argue we’ve moved past authenticity and are now artificial.

The Body Positive Selfie Is a Symptom of the “Death of the Real”

What do I mean by this? In his stages of simulation, sociologist Jean Baudrillard suggests that postmodern culture is artificial; culture has gone from authentic to counterfeit, to overproduction, to simulation. In my opinion, the tireless barrage of cheap nudity we see on social media perfectly demonstrates Baudrillard’s “death of the real” and our descent into hyper-reality.

Pornographic images or videos are a substitute for the real deal. Sex, one of humanity’s most intimate acts, becomes reduced to an easily replicable virtual experience. Consuming pornographic content is consuming a simulation of idealized sex, and as such, will never be as satisfying as the real deal. The hyper-reality that pornographic content creates also backfires on us by setting unrealistic expectations. You may think you understand the human body from seeing it depicted online, but that content is disconnected from reality. 

Baudrillard suggested that the cultural space we’re living in is a “desert of the real,” a phenomenon I can only assume has grown more extreme as life continues to migrate out of the physical world and into the digital sphere. He would argue that, because of mass production, images on a screen – whether on the silver screen, television screen, computer screen, or phone screen – are more “real” to us than much of physical reality.

Yes, the body positive nude selfie is just a representation of a representation. It is mimicking a staged nude painted on a canvas or a still photograph of a nude woman in a magazine, both of which are just representations of the authentic female body. 

“In itself changed by sexual liberation, the body has been reduced to a division of surfaces, a proliferation of multiple objects wherein its finitude, its desirable representation, its seduction are lost. It is a metastatic body, a fractal body which can no longer hope for resurrection,” wrote Baudrillard back in 1987, yet this message applies in today’s culture more than ever before.

Put simply, if your likeness is abundantly available for any takers, you run the risk of devaluing yourself. Onlookers will likely just see an object, and you will likely feel unsatisfied and desensitized. This is not body positivity, this is body depreciation.

Closing Thoughts

Social media continually pushes lowbrow pop culture content in front of our eyes. While it may seem silly to compare Lizzo’s semi-nude photos to classical paintings of yore, I find it fascinating to see the almost complete demise of highbrow content in exchange for cheaply produced, virtue-signaling media. 

You’d think that, based on criticisms of the West’s “patriarchal culture,” we would not place such a high emphasis on what social statement our bodies can make, or our resulting sexual-market value, and instead focus more on body neutrality. Instead, the role models we’re supposed to follow give away their bodies freely and pontificate about how their “bold” expression of radical self-love should empower each and every one of us. But we’re not empowered, we’re being sold out.

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