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Patel: The misguided body acceptance movement

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Patel: The misguided body acceptance movement

Meera Patel, Columnist

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The movement to change how America views body image has become more and more pervasive throughout the past few years. A few months ago, Meghan Trainor released her pop single “All About that Bass,” and it instantly became a hit because of its perceived unique look at society’s emphasis on “skinny” girls. More recently, Sports Illustrated featured a so-called plus-size model in its swimsuit issue. Robyn Lawley, the model in question, is 6 feet 2 inches tall and a size 12.

Many have complained about the media hype surrounding Lawley’s appearance. All it takes is one look at her picture to see why.

Lawley herself has maintained that she doesn’t know if she considers herself a plus-size model or not. She doesn’t believe in labels. I applaud her approach.

I have a problem with how much of the body image movement is centered on what is normal. People refer to what is considered a real person — an average size — and then debate ensues about whether what’s average is actually what we want featured in the media because it influences so many Americans. Once we start discussing the average American, debates ensue about whether America is becoming unhealthier, and conversations go in circles.

A campaign centered around body acceptance should feature a variety of sizes, from size 00 to size 24. When Meghan Trainor calls out the skinny girls for being their size and talks about how men like women of a larger size, she isn’t furthering the body image movement. She is furthering acceptance of larger sizes while belittling other body types. That’s not what we want to strive for. I’m not saying there hasn’t been a good deal of shaming people who are larger sizes, but our conversations need to go beyond size.

I’m a good example of someone who constantly struggles with my size, even though everyone has told me multiple times that I am not overweight and my BMI is completely normal. I work out, I eat healthily (or as healthily as a 21-year-old who loves deep dish can eat) and I get enough sleep in a night. I’m not saying this is what everyone should strive for — I’m saying this is what I like to do to feel my best physically.

Instead of arguing about whether the people in magazines are plus size or not, we should focus on their lifestyles. We should get a variety of people with different lifestyles, with different ideas of how often they need to work out to stay healthy, and see how people respond. Not everyone needs to work out five times a week to stay in shape, and there are people who miss the gym when they haven’t been there in a long time. It’s not about who is the skinniest or who is the most ripped— it’s about what people need to stay healthy and feel that their body is functioning at its maximum potential.

There is obviously an issue that needs to be addressed here. Even the word “model” marks a difference between the people you meet on an everyday basis and those you see in magazines. Seeing “models” everywhere seems to tell us who we need to be, and they’re generally surrounded by phrases that focus on losing weight or accepting themselves even though they’re not the “expected” size. But the way we are going about changing things, by labeling some people as larger than others and shaming those who do fit the norms, isn’t going to change how we look at the human body.

The body image acceptance movement shouldn’t be so focused on the physical appearance of bodies because that is exactly what it is trying to stop. It should be focused on lifestyles, on choices and on treating our bodies well. That’s what should be featured in magazines, not how to drop six sizes in two weeks or how to pack on the muscle before you hit the beach.

The next time you look at models in a magazine, or when you look up Robyn Lawley after you read this, take a second and think about what they do to their bodies on a regular basis. Is she eating enough to sustain her daily lifestyle? Is he working out 17 times a week and too exhausted to do anything else? Or is she just living her life, flaunting it because she feels healthy and proud of herself and her size, not because she fits some societal norm?

Meera Patel is a McCormick senior. She can be reached at meera@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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