Why We've Changed The Way We Talk About Women's Bodies
The recent backlash around a Victoria's Secret Fashion Show "best bodies" story reminded us why our own "best practices" when it comes to talking about women's bodies have changed over the past few years.
You've probably heard that admitting where you went wrong is the first step toward making it right. Well, it's safe to say that much of the internet-Shape.com included-has been getting it wrong with stories that compare, rank, or even list a group of women by their bodies or specific body parts. More specifically, we're talking about "best of" lists, such as our own The Best Bodies of 2012's Dancing with the Stars and Top 10 Best-Dressed Fit Females at the 2012 Grammys, both of which, despite no ill intent from the colleagues who published them at the time and despite the fact that they got a lot of clicks, are stories we'd never do the same way today in 2017.
Not only are we reframing these kinds of stories to give a standing ovation for strong (in every form of the word), badass women we admire and feel inspired by, but we make it an everyday mission to celebrate all women for their strength, tenacity, commitment, and courage-none of which has anything to do with their looks. That said, when we noticed the backlash from a recent story published by Vogue.com, titled "The Best Victoria's Secret Bodies of All Time, From Gisele Bündchen to Bella Hadid," we knew we couldn't just report on the reaction like a normal news story. Because part of our responsibility in moving the conversation forward is owning up to those old stories we aren't so proud of-and also doubling down on our pledge to be a (loud) voice in the body-positive movement.
If you missed the buzz, Vogue is under fire (aka a Twitter comment storm) for the story they published ahead of the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on Tuesday night, which features images of models from the iconic show's 1995 inception through today. Along with discussing their looks and outfits, the story also noted that Victoria's Secret, which has been in hot water for lacking diversity, has preferred more muscular and athletic bodies recently. Even still, the lingerie brand has yet to include plus-size models in the show-something that seemed to spark some subtle shade from Ashley Graham, and something we were calling for back in 2015. After Vogue promoted the story on Twitter, users were quick to respond, saying that simply choosing to feature only these select models as the "best" classifies as body-shaming. (Read up on the science of fat-shaming, and you'll see just how dangerous it can really be.)
"How is this even a thing?" one user wrote. "All their bodies are amazing hence strutting down a glittering runway in their underwear!" Another simply asked, "But, again, why are we comparing women's bodies?" Others called for the mag to use their reach to "boost self-esteem, not destroy it." Ultimately, the sentiment from commenters was not only that judging women on their appearances (even supermodels in lingerie) was a sexist practice we'd all like to see ended, but also concern that the practice helps foster an unrealistic beauty or body ideal.
Here's the thing: Vogue isn't alone. But while it's true that Shape and countless other brands have posted similar round-ups in the past, we are actually encouraged by these kind of comments that have helped us move away from these outdated "best bodies" stories. We love that our collective conversations have evolved. It's part of why we started the Love My Shape movement nearly two years ago, and why inclusivity and body-positivity is simply our way of doing things around here. #LoveMyShape isn't a story (although we have lots of them). #LoveMyShape isn't a social media campaign (yep, have that, too). #LoveMyShape is just a way of thinking, of showing yourself some self-love-something we hope becomes second nature to more and more women. Because feeling healthy and happy is for every body.
Are we still going to give you the insider info on how celebrities like Khloé Kardashian and Julianne Hough get their incredible bodies? Yep, because who says only the stars should get access to the best trainers? Are we still going to help you achieve your wellness goals, whatever they are? Yep, because living a healthy life means living a long and happy life. Are we still going to help you lose weight or get stronger if that's what you want? Hell yes, because bodies are incredibly powerful things, and crushing your goals feels awesome. But we're also going to keep reminding you to love yourself exactly how you are, that everyone's Personal Best looks different, and that taking a rest day (or three) doesn't need to be earned-you're owed it.
At the end of the day, the strong response from this most recent story is yet another reminder for all of us that we should pay close attention to the way we talk about women's bodies.