Learning To Love Yourself: The History Of Body Positivity

Learning To Love Yourself: The History Of Body Positivity

One of the biggest and most important movements we have seen in recent years is the rise of body positivity, and the important and powerful challenge they present to damaging and unhealthy standards of beauty.

It is a rejection of the idea that there is only one particular type of beauty that is accepted, and has allowed people from around the world to embrace themselves, wear erotic lingerie they would never have dared to in the past and love themselves the way they deserve to be loved.

Whilst we often think of the body positivity movement as a relatively modern invention, but can actually be traced as far back as the Victorian era, as a catch-22 for women became a catalyst for early body positivity and early feminism.


The Victorian Dress Reform Movement

Arguably where it started was with the traditionally impossible standards imposed by the Victorian age imposed early in the 19th century, which had seen push back as early as the 1850s.

In that era, corsets and the painful and abhorrent practice of tight-lacing were used to physically bind women into clothes that created an unnaturally small waistline, as well as potentially break ribs and cause internal damage to the unfortunate woman who had to wear it,

The very existence of tight-lacing was bad enough, but what made it worse was the no-win situation many women found themselves in, where they were either mocked for not being willing to or simply being unable to shrink their waistline, or hypocritically were criticised for their small waistlines.

This was the last straw, and a group of reformists created what was known interchangeably as the Rational Dress Movement and the Victorian Dress Reform Movement.

The primary aim of the movement was to win the right to wear clothing that was less likely to cause agonising pain, rearranged organs and early death, such as bloomers, looser more practical dresses and trousers.

At the same time, there was a more general movement that rejected the rigid beauty standards that demanded a particularly impossible hourglass shape.

Whilst there were smaller movements against this before the women’s suffrage movement in the 20th century, it was the work of the Suffragettes and the end of the First World War that brought with it a relaxation of some of the more ridiculous standards of beauty.

However, it would take a further 50 years before the first steps towards a healthier, more positive 
approach to beauty would start to be seen.

Health At Every Size

The birth of the modern body positivity movement began with the concept of Health At Every Size (HAES), a 1960s body acceptance movement that rejected the then-standard practice of relying on weight and size as the markers of health.

This had led to several decades worth of dangerous fad diets even up to that point, with people who were a larger body type but otherwise healthy were causing intense harm to themselves by trying to lose too much weight.

This would, by the 1990s, lead to several practical changes, such as the development of health programmes that helped to encourage a healthy lifestyle without tying it to a certain body type.

Whilst not the first time the conversation was raised, Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004 was one of the first times a major conversation was struck around body positivity, one that would help an organic movement that has increased in scope over the 2010s.