He Said, She Said

The war against outdated beauty ideals is far from won

Yolisa Qunta and Jason Mykl Snyman point out problems with the body-positivity movement

04 December 2017 - 12:47 By YOLISA QUNTA and JASON MYKL SNYMAN
Iconic supermodels who defined beauty in the 1980s, were identical in body: impossibly tall and thin.
Iconic supermodels who defined beauty in the 1980s, were identical in body: impossibly tall and thin.
Image: Supplied


I grew up in the era of the iconic supermodels: Cindy, Naomi, Linda, Claudia and Helena would strut the runway, dominate magazine covers and smoulder in George Michael music videos.

As the definition of beauty in the 1980s, they were identical in body: impossibly tall and thin. We mere mortals were acutely aware that we would never look like that, so westayed in our lanes and admired them from afar.

A few years after that, drives for diversity led to the runway debut of Sophie Dahl in 1997. The press lauded her more “realistic body type” and she landed some lucrative contracts. While she was not as slim, she was just as tall as regular models — so, not scoring many diversity points there, then.

Fast forward to the present day — where social media has done a lot to bring body positivity to the fore. Turning the lens on themselves, advocates of the cause promote embracing body types of all sizes, without shaming anyone.

With viral hashtags and beautifully shot images, the movement thrives online. In themainstream media, though, it’s a different story. The current crop of top models has the same body types as that of 20 years ago.

The lone standout is Ashley Graham, who has some curves and flaunted them for Sports Illustrated last year.

If you consider that she still conforms to industry-set standards of beauty, has nostretch marks, visible disabilities or sagging breasts like the average woman, this isn’t much of a step forward for body positivity.

It seems women’s magazines prefer writing reams and reams of content about body positivity, rather than actually using models who look different

It seems women’s magazines prefer writing reams and reams of content about body positivity, rather than actually using models who look different.

After appointing one magical unicorn of a model, who weighs slightly more, they keep doing the same old thing.

The ideal solution would be for body-positive proponents to disrupt the publishing industry by demonstrating true representation in the glossies.

A radical option is for magazines to stop pretending they care, and be very unapologetic  about the fact that they prefer to feature women with no hips — because those aesthetics sell more copies.


People have finally come around to fighting the age-old standards of beauty. Embrace your body. Love yourself. #MermaidThighs. People no longer have to feel ashamed, isolated or insecure — and that’s a good thing. But I say, within limits. Unfortunately, a  branch of the body-positivity movement, just like a branch of feminism, leans towards the extreme.

Extremism is a problem. People will call you out on it, disregard it and make a mockery of you. Extremism has the opposite of the intended effect. Critics often ignore and misinterpret the actual message.

The movement may have started as a way to encourage health, well-being and displaying a forgiving attitude towards your own body. It used to mean accepting what you look like, whether you were born deformed or ‘‘different ” or suffered from weight problems all your life. Now it almost glamourises obesity.

Now the movement overlooks health. Now the movement will never be validated by the profit-driven beauty industry. Now the movement only celebrates bodies at the far end of the weight spectrum.

Everybody jump aboard the (reinforced) bandwagon — because fit shaming is the new in-thing.

And, finally, men are often ignored.

Men, with their beer guts and their male pattern baldness and their receding hairlines. Men, with their weird, patchy, unmanly Keanu-beards. Men, who skipped too many leg days. Men, with their sagging testicles and their smaller-than-average penises. Men, forced to endure and envy these six-packed, toned, tanned gods appearing in every film,  every underwear advert and every magazine. Men, whose shirts say UFC but whose bodies scream KFC. Men, with wobbly chins and neckbeards and stretch marks and cottage cheese thighs.

By god, men, how will we ever measure up to the Calvin Klein models and the Brad Pitts  of the world? Our bodies aren’t temples. They’re bar and grills. We just took the  inventory and found that we’re overstocked in all the wrong places.

How emasculating. How weak. How sad, the way your belly hangs over your belt likethat. What a stigma, to communicate openly about these concerns, as men.

• This article was originally published in The Times.