Trending: The revolution is here. And it’s body positivity.
As a qual research company serving clients across categories, themes emerge in unexpected and surprising places. Seeing emerging events and cultures that define what it means to be human in today’s tech and social media-rich world makes our work inspiring and humbling. The sense of discovery of themes and trends fuels more nuanced understandings of the lives of participants across the studies we conduct. In this series, we share some of the most exciting trends we’re seeing, which we hope will inspire you, too.
'"My body is not yours to critique and discuss. My body is not yours for consumption. My body is my vessel. An archive of experiences. A weapon that has fought battles only I understand. A library of love, pain, struggle, victory, and mystery.” Sophie Lewis
People are tired of narrow conceptions of beauty and yet many simultaneously strive to fit into a specific ideal that’s circulated again and again across generations to discipline bodies into certain norms. For those who don’t fit in, it can mean a lifetime of striving, failing, falling again and again into a pool of self-loathing. This feels familiar to most of us, either because it’s how we feel about ourselves (or have felt about ourselves in the past) or because we can see it in someone we love.
But a revolution is stirring. People are fed up. They want to love their bodies – yearn to love their bodies, their round bellies and thick thighs, their cellulite and scars, their dark skin and natural hair, the lines in their faces as they age. They want to feel beautiful and they want the standard of beauty to divorce itself from specific kinds of bodies, faces, and fashion.
Our study participants speak with nuance and frustration about the effects of social media on body image, even as social media can be a place of meaning and connection with others. It’s well known that the “Instagram effect” has driven many users to feel dissatisfied with their bodies, their lives, their jobs, their relationships, and the nature of their very being. Carefully curated selfies and photos of people living their best lives breed comparison for a type of life that can never be fulfilled because it’s not real. It’s easy to forget the curation in these posts, the unseen messiness, the pain, the struggle for self-confidence, and the failure that doesn’t make it into the feed.
But the headwinds of beauty are changing. Across categories, women, men, and nonbinary people are telling us in confident, unapologetic terms that their bodies are beautiful, and that they’re sick and tired of feeling ashamed. They’re telling us that beauty is fundamentally rooted in the body and simultaneously transcends the body. We come to the world, embodied. But we’re more than our bodies. The best stuff is underneath, where the very essence of who we are is kept, carefully nurtured, cultivated, and shared with those we feel we can trust.
In our research, we hear story after story of the body as an “archive of experiences,” reflecting the searing pain of disappointment and loss, the euphoric jolt in moments of joy, the deep, loving connection we have with others. On the body is written the ecstatic experience of childbirth; the victory of a mastectomy to save someone’s life or the hair lost during chemo; the exultant relief following gender affirmation surgery when someone can finally, truly feel like themselves; the mobility and freedom a wheelchair enables to roll down the street, taking in the fresh spring air; the sagging and wrinkled skin that bears the blessing of old age. People are proud of these things. They’re what make us beautiful. And they’re what make us human.
And we have evidence of this revolution. For multiple global fashion brands, we’ve heard consumers demanding more size inclusivity in clothing and an indignation at (and even a rejection of) brands that aren’t on board. In a study on travel, respondents shared that they feel more comfortable and freer in their bodies on vacation than they do at home. We are told stories about struggles with mental health and the role learning to love their bodies has had in helping them to heal. Ice cream research for a global CPG brand revealed expressions, not of guilt in the indulgence, but the deep feeling of nourishment they felt when enjoying it. When studying waxing, where our client anticipated feelings of shame and embarrassment as a driver for why people wax, we instead found celebratory narratives of self-care and self-love at the heart of the practice. A search for body positivity touches every aspect of people’s lives, forming a tapestry of strength, encouragement, and meaning.
At the heart of the revolution is an electric feeling of hope – that societal norms can change. That people can learn to see and feel differently. And that brands - and society - have the opportunity to respond to this desire to change, to take action toward growth and evolution, and to be leaders in this space. Let’s be co-agitators in the resistance!