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In the Media | When Did Body Positivity Get Toxic?

Written By: Elyssa Goodman

Published by: The Zoe Report

multiple women's bodies layered that showcase varying body types

“I’ve made my fortune on the ability to perfect women’s bodies with Brooke’s Butt-Buster Workout,” Brooke Windham (played by Ali Larter) says. But she has a secret. “On the day of Hayworth’s murder, I was getting… liposuction. It’s not like normal women could have this ass! If my fans knew I bought it, I would lose everything.”

I love Legally Blonde, but when I think of toxic body positivity, I think of this scene. The idea that you can achieve a look, an experience, a goal for your body that is, in reality, totally unattainable. Brooke tells her clients that if they do these workouts, they can get a body like hers. Toxic body positivity, similarly, is “representing an unattainable goal of just straight loving everything about your body all the time, in a way that is just I don’t know that anybody actually feels,” says Zoë Bisbing, licensed clinical social worker and founder of Body-Positive Therapy NYC. Toxic body positivity touts that “with this simple mindset, you too can love your body.” It’s in messaging that doesn’t acknowledge the difficulty of the endeavor to love your body. It’s in only mentioning the good days in the relationship with one’s body and never the bad. It’s in suppressing the negative feelings and pretending they don’t exist. It’s toxic because it’s just not that easy, for anyone, and forcing yourself to repress negative feelings is damaging to your mental health.

And here we are today, when diet culture has become a facet of “wellness” culture, dotted with mushroom powders, blue algae, crystals, and Instagram pop psychology. On social media, so many bodies are edited, posed, or tweaked to present false shapes and sizes, a new generation of Brooke Windhams promising such a physique with steps X, Y, and Z, never accounting for genetics, Photoshop, body contouring, or even, these days, Ozempic. The initial calls for body acceptance have become skewed as the need for content with limited characters or confined to a square became pervasive. The message lost nuance. “Body positivity” came to mean “loving your body all the time, no matter what.” It became impossible. It became toxic.

And of course, feeling like you’re failing at something is counterintuitive to trying to feel good about yourself. The other problem is that the nature of body positivity only spotlights, well, the body. “I also think that body positivity still keeps the focus on size, shape, and weight. And that’s not who you are, you’re not just body shape and weight, there are so many dimensions as to who we are as people,” says Paula Edwards-Gayfield, LPCS, CEDS-S, a therapist in private practice and the regional assistant vice president with The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders.

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