By Phoenicia Schiwng 

What is body positivity? The Body positivity movement seeks to reshape our thinking around body images and confidence through the idea that all bodies are beautiful regardless of size, weight, or “imperfections.”

It stems from those of us growing up in a world of paper-thin models and eating disorders wanting to challenge that mindset and learn to be confident and healthy in our bodies, whatever shape they may be.

It celebrates all bodies and strives to redefine the “perfect” body image and normalise typical bodies rather than idealising unattainable standards. This has gotta be a good thing for all of us, especially those who struggle to stay slim, right?

Champions Of Body Positivity 

Whether we like it or not, social media, media in general and the fashion industry, all have a significant influence on how we see ourselves and those around us. It’s easy to start comparing yourself and become critical of how you look if you are constantly bombarded with unrealistic beauty standards. Body positive social media influencers like Iskra, Winnie Harlow, and Sierra Schultzzie are speaking out on platforms like Instagram and Youtube by creating empowering body positive content to try redress this imbalance somewhat. 

Image courtesy Sierra Schultzzie / Twitter

Clothing brands like Universal Standard, Aerie, and ModCloth are challenging the norm by offering size inclusivity and advertising with real and diverse bodies. Even companies like Dove, Halo Top, and Glossier are embracing body positivity through their advertisement campaigns celebrating diversity and challenging diet culture. 

Body Positivity In Asia 

Yet it seems the body positivity movement hasn’t quite made its way to Asia. As a plus-sized American living in China for five years, I noticed a stark difference in beauty standards and the mindset towards body positivity. During those five years, the movement was making huge strides, but I was seeing very little of it where I was living. People constantly made comments about my weight, and I noticed a huge stigma towards bigger bodies as well as any minor “imperfection.”

People assumed I didn’t work out or eat healthily. I can remember people lovingly suggesting I stop eating for a while or ask about why I didn’t walk after dinner or photoshop my photos before posting. People at the gym would legitimately get offended if I could run or swim faster or further because I was bigger than them. People were surprised to hear I was dating and had any confidence in myself, particularly my weight or freckles! 

In my observation, Asian beauty standards tend to fixate on a need to be excessively skinny and perfect. Unhealthy diet culture is prevalent, and weight expectations are alarming. Photo editing apps are widespread and seen as essential to most people posting on social media. There seems to be immense pressure to look a certain way, and people will do anything to reach that standard. South Korea has the highest rate of plastic surgery per capita in the world with many young teens encouraged to go under the knife. 

Detrimental Effects Of Unrealistic Expectations 

This pressure to achieve physical perfection and fit into a specific, narrow mould can have a detrimental effect on our mental health and self-confidence. Constantly being shown or told you’re not enough or need to be better or don’t fit in, puts a severe strain on your self-image.

This attitude and mindset can drastically affect people and their mental health, reflected by the suicide rates of South Korea, which is one of the highest in the world. K-Pop stars take the brunt of this pressure by having to present themselves as the epitome of perfection in the public eye. 

Depression and suicide among popular K-Pop stars have been increasing over the past several years. In 2017, Jonghyun of SHINee took his own life after confessing in a note that he was “consumed with depression.” Just last year, two more K-Pop stars, Sulli of the band f(x) and Goo Hara of Kara both died by suicide just less than two months apart. 

Image courtesy Moshi Moshi Nippon

In light of this terrible loss of life, there needs to be change and a shift in thinking regarding social pressure and body image. It would be a mistake to say that there has been no progress made in this aspect, especially recently, but there is still a very long way to go yet. Many K-Pop stars and other Asian celebrities are slowly starting to stand out against narrow beauty standards. Plus-sized comedian and fashion icon Naomi Watanabe is a major role model for body confidence and positivity. Supermodel and fashion designer Vivian Geeyang is also very outspoken about size inclusivity and diversity. 

Any amount of change, especially that of deep-rooted ideals, is slow and hard to come by. Embracing body positivity is so important. Now, more than ever, we need to be kind and accepting of each other, perceived body “flaws” and all.