Earlier this month, Disney star Demi Lovato announced partnering with Seventeen Magazine and the Jed Foundation, a foundation devoted to reduce emotional duress in college students, to spread the message that “Love is louder than the pressure to be perfect.” Lovato’s campaign comes on the heels of her release from three months at an inpatient program where she was being treated for an eating disorder and self-harm behaviors. According to a press release, the campaign will focus on “helping teen girls cope with the pressure they feel to be perfect in many aspects of their lives including appearance, popularity and performance in school and other activities.”
While Lovato certainly deserves a nod for capitalizing on her fame to address issues indigenous to her own life, her attempts at fostering body positivity are benign at best. Lovato uses the term “perfect” as a summary judgment—which, in the context of “appearance,” suggests there is a universally “perfect” weight we all feel pressure to maintain.
Logically, a “perfect” weight would be a healthful weight—a weight that’s easy to maintain with proper nutrition and an active lifestyle, a weight that coincides with a healthy heart rate and balanced cholesterol, a weight that is individual to a person’s frame and genetics. Since a healthful weight can vary so much from person to person, shouldn’t loving ourselves naturally lead to a “perfect” weight?
Thus, what Lovato is really saying about weight is, “love is louder than the pressure to be thin.” The problem is, she equates “thin” with “perfect” and thus reinforces the unrealistic beauty standard she’s supposedly trying to dismantle. She’s indirectly saying, “thin is perfect, but perfect is hard—so, you know, just love yourself because you’re never going to be perfect.” In Lovato’s world, “thin” remains a holy grail—made even more desirable by its seeming impossibility.
A truly body positive (though far less glamorous) campaign for size acceptance is the Size Healthy campaign, which comes from Canadian blogger and baker Angela Liddon of OhSheGlows.com. On her blog, Liddon opens up about her journey to health after years of struggle with an eating disorder. Now in her late twenties, she reports herself as the healthiest she’s been, so when a reader asked what size she is, she responded, “size healthy.”
Realizing she had honestly stopped fixating on numbers and had been maintaining a weight that was healthy for her for a few years, Liddon was inspired to go through her closet and replace clothing tag numbers with the words “size healthy.” Liddon subscribes to the set-point theory of weight, i.e. that the body has a number it naturally settles into dictated by genetics. Take good care of ourselves and we’ll reach that set-point weight—which for many people is larger than their “ideal” weight and thus “ideal” size. To combat size anxiety, Liddon invited readers to do the same, turning every outfit change into a celebration of health.
The cheese factor for both Demi Lovato and Angela Liddon’s campaigns run pretty high, but there are two fundamental differences that make the former less effective than the latter. One, Lovato’s campaign is largely passive, whereas Liddon’s is more pro-active; and two, Lovato still focuses on the idea of “thin,” whereas Liddon focuses on the idea of “health.” While sometimes individual efforts toward thin are disguised as efforts toward health (“I’m exercising three hours everyday and only eating salads because it’s sooo healthful!”), the important thing is that “healthy” becomes the ideal.Contact Micco Caporale.