Fickle beauty standards and the body positivity movement have one thing in common—they both equate how we look to how we feel. But beauty standards are not constant, and neither are our bodies. Although brands that embrace body positivity values might have the best intentions to stop perpetuating impossible beauty ideals, the messaging to love our bodies still puts the attention on the superficial aspects of who we are. Our appearance-obsessed society has left many of us endlessly chasing standards and notions tied to the one thing that always morphs: our bodies.
The messages we receive about our bodies from brands, influencers, and the media are loud and contradictory. We are repeatedly being told to love our bodies, while simultaneously witnessing the growing popularity of apps that can reshape our faces and make our waists slimmer. Today, everything is filtered, tweaked, brightened, blurred — by us. Enter the next cultural shift—body neutrality, a movement that removes the pressure to love or hate your body for how it looks, and instead, encourages you to love your body for what it does. Shifting from being body-obsessed to being body-aware, body neutrality focuses on how to take care of your body (even on the days you’re not in love with it).
We are realizing that we are more than our bodies. We’re untethering ourselves from impossible beauty ideals—choosing to focus on how we feel from the inside out, and we are feeling ourselves (ahem, hot girl summer). The hot girl summer mantra has set the internet ablaze with a rise of 4,700 percent in social conversation since the start of the summer and has potential to go into every season – not just summer (Netbase).
More than just a meme, hot girl summer is the emblem of this shift in mentality by redefining “hot” as a state of mind, not body. Megan Thee Stallion, the artist that inspired the movement, tweeted, “being a Hot Girl is about being unapologetically YOU, having fun, being confident, living YOUR truth, being the life of the party etc.”
Megan Thee Stallion is not the only one embracing this mentality. We are seeing social media stars, such as Average Fashion Blogger and Joana Ceddia, deviating from the super polished, glossy look that has dominated our feeds over the past few years in favor of a more raw, unfiltered look—focusing less on how they look and more on what they create—sharing a more real version of themselves. Body neutrality is even manifesting beyond influencers, survival guides like Beyond Beautiful and new fitness regimens like the be.come project are all tapping into this next evolution of how we relate to our physical bodies.
Brands need to embrace this subtle but essential shift from body positivity to body neutrality in order to stay relevant. According to Fullscreen’s Culture Report, 43 percent of 18-34-year olds agree that marketing from beauty brands makes them feel worse about themselves and 51 percent of 18-34-year olds agree that “we need to change the value of beauty in our society.” As we become more mindful of the relationship we have with our bodies, how can brands help consumers recalibrate and uproot the deeply embedded beauty standards that no longer serve any of us?
Reframe Self Worth
We are more than our bodies, so let consumers know that. Understand society’s role in perpetuating impossible beauty standards and strive to create deeper campaigns that highlight the full person. It’s what consumers want: 46 percent of 18-34-year olds wish brands would focus less on how to improve their appearance and focus more on how to build up their self-confidence. The fashion brand Universal Standard is redefining what it means to have ‘real’ women in a campaign. For its recent, “All of us. As we are. Anywhere” campaign, the brand cast women who were commuting on the New York City subway. The brand wanted these women to see themselves in the advertisements they see on their daily commute. Additionally, the brand upholds values such as ‘Revolutionary Inclusivity” and “Fit Liberty,” all centering around building confidence.
Real Talk, Present The Facts
Utility messaging can be refreshing. Present the facts about your product. Focus more on the technology, the fabric, or the ingredients rather than how it might change someone’s body. Last year, Bille Razors focused solely on its utility when it left the question—to grow or not to grow?—up to women. Not following traditional beauty standards, Billie was proudly the first women’s razor brand to show body hair. By “normalizing” body hair, Billie took a neutral position on body image—telling consumers you’re good the way you are and you don’t need to shave, but if you decide to, use Billie.
It’s Not All Rainbows
We can’t love our bodies all the time, so don’t tell us to. Embrace the realities of who we are as humans and understand that negative self-talk exists. Focus on the other parts of consumers’ identities that drive meaning whether that’s their relationship with others, their compassion, or their activism. Lively’s Instagram account is a blend of everyday wisdom and self-empowerment. Scrolling through the “leisurée” brand’s account and you’ll find reminders like “You’re more than enough” and “It’s okay not to be okay.” The brand also launched a podcast, “No Makeup Needed” with episodes that cover meaningful topics (outside of how we feel about our bodies) such as “The Art of What Feels Good” and “Creating and Cultivating Your Own Career.”
The body positive movement has come a long way since its roots in the 1960s, from brands ditching airbrushing and photoshop to body positive role models taking social by storm. However, there is more work for brands to do as consumers want to stop feeling the pressure to love their bodies every day. The future will be body-aware, where we focus on loving our whole selves — mind, body, soul, all of it.