What does the word beautiful mean to you? Maybe you’d comfortably describe a flower or a sunset as beautiful, but what about a person? What about a person’s appearance?
The journey to body acceptance, body neutrality or body positivity tends to focus on size more than anything else. But learning to love ourselves is much more than accepting our body shape and size. It’s about addressing all those other harmful beauty standards that we’ve been fed during our lifetimes.
It’s about reimaging beauty as difference, radiance, personality and kindness. It’s about shunning that homogenised ideal and celebrating what really makes us beautiful - our individuality.
Here at Deakin & Blue we want to stick two fingers up at these beauty standards. We want to embrace our endlessly-different, ever-changing bodies. We want to change perceptions not people. Eff those beauty standards. Let’s reimagine beauty together.
The problem with body positivity
You’ve probably heard of body positivity. It’s a social movement that advocates all bodies, regardless of size, shape, skin tone, gender and physical abilities. It challenges present-day beauty standards as a social construct.
It asserts that beauty standards are created by society. Dieting is a $71 billion industry led by impossible aspirational ideals. Making us insecure about our body size not only makes money, but it's also one of many ways in which our appearance puts us on a certain rung of a ladder that values our desirability and power in society.
So, the body positivity movement is really important. But it still has a way to go and not everyone loves it. For a start, because its roots lie in the fat acceptance movement of the 1960s, many body positivity advocates still shine the spotlight exclusively on size and weight. Therefore, for lots of people, body positivity equals fat acceptance.
This is a problem because it can lead to what's perceived as ‘skinny-shaming’. It can give body positivity bad press as being exclusive or fetishising fatness. It can also lead to the accusation that glorifying fat leads to poorer health (one of our body stories will explore this further). And it can distract from discussions around other factors like aging, race, gender, sexuality and physical ability - in other words, people with body hang-ups can be made to feel that body positivity doesn't include them.
The body-positive idea of loving the way your body looks can be problematic too. Lots of people are put off because they feel it's a bit of a tall order - being ok with how you look, maybe... but loving it?
But body positivity isn’t just for fat people – it’s about celebrating all body types. And you don't have to love what you see in the mirror to enjoy your body and value what you can do rather than what you look like.
Beauty in what we do
So, is this focus on what our bodies can do the key to body positive self-love?
We talked to seven outdoor swimmers about their idea of beauty – we’ll be publishing their stories over the next two months – and what they think that it is.
For each of them, swimming outdoors had taught them to love – or at least appreciate – their bodies for what they can do rather than what they look like. Getting into freezing cold water, swimming across seas and pushing beyond their comfort zones has been key to learning to love their bodies and improving their self-esteem and confidence – in and out of the water.
Doing all this with like-minded women of all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds* has also helped them reimagine what it means to be beautiful. They all expressed the idea that the word beautiful describes personality and radiance, and that seeing other women in swimwear helped them look more kindly upon themselves.
Not only do they now feel more confident in swimwear, but they also felt confident enough to model their favourite D&B swimsuit or bikini!
“If you’d told me five years ago that I’d be prancing around in front of a camera in a swimsuit telling girls to get their shorts on, I’d have just guffawed,” says Vix. “And felt a bit sick at being so far out of my comfort zone.”
“I was nervous too,” says Mary. “I have previously felt too embarrassed to show all of my body and felt that different was unattractive. But this experience has shown me that different is beautiful.”
Eff your beauty standards
And there lies the crux of it. Reimagining, reclaiming, reframing the word beautiful is about shunning beauty standards. We want to show that women’s bodies are beautiful not despite their differences, but because of them.
“Humans are all one of a kind,” says Vix. “The world should celebrate that for the wonder that it is instead of making us feel that we have to conform to a bland, homogenous ideal.”
“Just be kind and smile,” says Lindsay. “I hope it encourages lots of people to celebrate their bodies rather than being embarrassed by them.”
Huge thanks to Vix, Mary, Lindsay and Hannah who are so beautiful and radiant in these photos. Over the next few weeks, you'll be able to hear their body stories along with those of three other Clevedon swimmers, Lucy, Ellie and Rowan.
Read the other Body Stories in our Reimaging Beauty series:
"At 72 I can do most things. I can still dance; I can still have fun and that's really all that matters. Everybody can do something – it doesn't matter what your limitations are, what you have to look at is what you can do." Read Lindsay's story
"Just as some people are hard-wired to think they’re not beautiful, I think that I am and no one's ever going to persuade me that I'm not." Read Ellie's story
"I don't see beauty as being traditional beauty. I think that's because I live with a quite obvious physical difference, so I don't conform to any of the so-called normal beauty standards." Read Mary's story
"It makes me really angry and sad that we live in this culture where we’re told that fat equals unhealthy to the point that people don't want to do the things that will make them healthy because they think they have no place there." Read Rowan's story
"It's not often what I look like that makes me feel good or bad about my body, it’s how it feels like it's working. Has it been used and do I feel fit, do I feel capable? I think that I stand up straighter when I'm feeling accomplished like when I’ve swum a cold kilometre." Read Lucy's story
“We, as grown-ups, have a responsibility to young people today… to show them that beautiful isn’t what they see on a curated, filtered phone screen. Beautiful is a lust for life. Beautiful is freedom from the shackles of media driven expectation. Beautiful is taking up the space you deserve. Beautiful is running into the sea in your pants.” Read Vix’s story
"I know that overcoming mental health is not to be sniffed at, as it were, but it's quite hard to quantify how difficult a struggle it is. You can't see it." Read Hannah's Story
*A lack of diversity in outdoor swimming is a huge issue, especially in a small seaside town like Clevedon. We'll be focussing on diversity in our next customer photoshoot. We recognise that all our models in this shoot are white.