The virtuous path to body liberationAugust 2021
With the help of the body positivity movement, brand marketing and advertising have undergone huge changes in the last few decades.
While brands once promoted their products through “perfect bodies” and a “perfect life” association, an increasing number of brands are now using “real bodies” and a “real life” association. 90s marketing trends, for example, which were defined by supermodel beauty and unreachable beauty standards, have been replaced by more inclusive marketing campaigns.
“90s marketing trends, which were defined by supermodel beauty and unreachable beauty standards, have been replaced by more inclusive marketing campaigns”
Even still, body positivity campaigns may be failing, as three-quarters of Americans believe the media promotes an unattainable body image for women and the majority of people feel negatively about their body most of the time.
The evolution of body positivity
The body positivity movement was brought to life by and for people in society’s marginalised bodies – mostly Black, queer, disabled, and fat bodies – back in the “groovy” 60s. The movement seriously boomed in 2010 with the digital big bang of social media platforms, when influencers and bloggers in marginalised bodies began to work the movement into their content and use the #bodypositive hashtag. Rounds of applause and praise ensued – the general public ate it up. These voices were finally being raised, and people were listening.
Content creators with traditionally beautiful bodies also started using body positivity in their messaging. While their statements are valid, defenders of the original movement have seen its initial intention – defending marginalised bodies and giving them a voice – slipping through the cracks. These influencers unintentionally marginalise marginalised bodies even further.
Corporations have also caught onto the trend. As soon as brands noticed plus-size models and influencers were marketable, they began incorporating them into their campaigns, too. In recent years, body positivity has become something that helps companies and influencers turn a profit.
“As soon as brands noticed plus-size models and influencers were marketable, they began incorporating them into their campaigns, too.”
The movement has evolved over time and has since produced its own offspring: body neutrality. Instead of focusing on the acceptance of any appearance and pushing the “love your body” slogan, the body neutrality movement encourages people to focus on accepting their body, how it feels, and what it does for them – rather than how it looks.
This new movement has refocused the discourse and brought all body types, including bodies pushed to the side by the new wave of the body positivity movement, back into the conversation. Society is doing its part by continuing down the path of true body acceptance and liberation.
Brands and body liberation
Dove was one of the first big brands to hop on the body positivity train with their Be Real Campaign featuring real women’s bodies in their ads. While their intentions may have come from a good place and they’ve done great work, they’ve also been accused of featuring a body size that’s already readily accepted by society: women under size 12. After Dove came many other brands with similar campaigns that were, in a way, still marginalising the marginalised.
But Zalando took their interpretation of the movement a step further than most brands ever have. Based on diversity and inclusion, they feature disabled, LGBTQ+, Black, and fat bodies in their new spring campaign. It was well-received and even got an extra dose of praise for representing a broader view of gender.
As the body positivity movement changes and is interpreted in a thousand different ways by a million different players, brands need to be very careful with how they interact with this movement. Many have been accused of commodifying and repurposing the body positivity movement to make a profit. And consumers are fully able to identify when a brand’s messaging feels genuine and when it feels forced.
“Consumers are fully able to identify when a brand’s messaging feels genuine and when it feels forced.”
Big players join the talk
Marketing, advertising and society at large have all changed for the better thanks to the body positivity movement, and federal governments and big social media players are also joining the conversation. They’re taking the movement’s ideals and pushing them forward in the form of laws and regulations that have the general public’s best interests at heart.
Norway recently passed a law for influencers and advertisers to disclose photoshopped or filtered images on paid posts. An Instagrammer, for example, is required to state when they’ve erased wrinkles, narrowed their thighs, or exaggerated or played down any other feature of their body with a photo editing tool or filter. One of Norway’s most popular influencers, Agnete Husebye, has stated she fully supports her country’s decision. Other countries, such as the United Kingdom and France, have put similar laws into place to protect their citizens’ mental health and general wellbeing.
“Norway recently passed a law for influencers and advertisers to disclose photoshopped or filtered images on paid posts.”
And the image-based social platform, Pinterest, has banned ads for weight loss, including ones that idealise certain body types. The company had already banned body shaming and dangerous weight loss product advertising in the past, but added this extra measure to protect their users from harmful advertising.
We hope to see more platforms and lawmakers stepping up to the plate to safeguard the mental health and wellbeing of their users and citizens. Little by little, the world’s combined efforts will continue to create real changes in society.
Brands that encourage authentic body liberation can expect to see rewards
While the walk towards body liberation is ongoing – and whether or not brands and influencers are using the body positivity and neutrality movements for their profit and personal gain – we see a big, bright light at the end of the tunnel. Think about it this way: While a Gen-Xer (born between 1965-1980) is likely to associate the word “body” with the image of a supermodel in a bikini, a Gen-Zer (born between 1995-2010) is likely to see “body” through a body neutrality or positivity lens.
Gen Zers are the leaders of the current consumer market, and they require ethical values, social justice, inclusiveness, diversity, and a healthy body image of the brands they buy. If they don’t see that in a brand’s essence, you best believe they will look elsewhere for their products.
Brands and influencers have the responsibility and power to make change and help spread positive body vibes in their campaigns. But brands need to join the conversation in a genuine way. Remember, today’s savvy consumers can see right through any filter – whether it’s on Snapchat or in an insincere campaign. You can be sure that focusing only on the marketing potential and profit of a body positivity or neutrality campaign will hurt growth rather than help it.
In the end, what we all really want is a happy, well-balanced society that safeguards everyone’s mental health.Honest brands that truly care about body liberation will be rewarded with the respect and loyalty of their customers.
Illustration: Monika Sroga