Many of us love a good awareness campaign, especially when it’s within an area of professional and personal interest. It can be a time for education, communication, celebration and community. In Australia, Love Your Body Week (3rd-9th Sept, 2018) is a collaborative effort between The Butterfly Foundation, an eating disorder and body image support initiative, and major fashion brand Sportsgirl with a primarily young adult, female demographic. It runs concurrently with the Body image and Eating Disorder Awareness Week (BIEDA).
Love Your Body Week “aims to promote body confidence in all Australians by celebrating body diversity.” This incredibly important aim appears to challenge the dominant cultural narrative that only bodies close the thin-beauty ideal can be confident in their body. It indirectly touches upon issues related to weight stigma, fat phobia, and sociocultural influences which maintain the privileging of a smaller body type. These are conversations which need to be occurring in our current culture, especially when talking about prevention of eating disorders and body dissatisfaction.
When promoting body confidence for all bodies, it’s imperative that we explore what enables someone to ‘be’ body confident. How does one become body confident? At what point is body confidence close to unattainable for an individual? Body confidence doesn’t simply originate from within the individual by looking in the mirror and repeating affirmations, it’s influenced by the perception of how one identifies their body is perceived within society. The points of reference one uses to determine the social meaning of their body comes from mass media, social media, entertainment, health promotion, work places, friends and family. Beyond this, clothing, furniture, infrastructure, the “things” bodies interact with, physically and in terms of access, have an impact on how an individual experiences their sense of belonging, and in turn, informs body confidence.
The reason I cannot ethically support Love Your Body Week is that the collaboration with Sportsgirl weakens, dilutes and counteracts the aims of the campaign, further isolating and marginalising diverse bodies. It doesn’t further the promotion of body confidence through body diversity – which one would assume includes size diversity. As Sportsgirl is a ‘straight sized’ fashion brand, sizes AUS 6 -16, this range is not representative of diversity. Using the term ‘body diversity’ comes with a greater social responsibility. If we reflect on what enables someone to be body confident, a brand which only accommodates body sizes which are on the ‘small to average’ part of the size spectrum excludes larger body sizes from the message intended for Love Your Body Week. Again, I assume this is a population that this campaign seeks to reach. Through exclusion, people who have bodies larger than a size 16/L are sent an implicit message that body confidence, and body love doesn’t apply to them, irrespective of the intention. Actions speak louder than words.
At a certain point, we need to go beyond a hashtag on social media and do the work in addressing the social systems which maintain the privileging of a smaller body type. Part of this work is assessing the impact of a campaign and if it’s playing into the very systems which it is seeking to challenge. Campaigns like this are needed, and are coming from a well-intentioned space, however, as a clinician that sees the impact of fat phobia and weight stigma on individuals – I require more integrity, cultural responsiveness and accountability from the campaigns and initiatives I would like to support.
What can be done?
For Love Your Body Week to go beyond skin deep, we need to see actions which are aligned with intentions, including collaborations/partnerships which are supportive of the intended messages on explicit and implicit levels. Sportsgirl need to consider if they are to continue being ‘representative’ of a brand that encompasses diversity, how they may be contributing to the marginalisation of specific body types, and where this bias comes from in relation to bodies 16+. The partnership between The Butterfly Foundation and Sportsgirl has been long term, however, we are entering into a paradigm shift - many organisations are facing an overhaul of their ethics relating to marginalised populations. Time to dust off, step up, get educated, reassess and renegotiate.