Free To Be Judged: How Western Countries Fail At Body Positivity

by Ella Jameson

Body image is one of the most serious issues facing young American women today.

This is not surprising, considering the huge role physicality plays in youth culture, and how we’re bombarded by idealistic images in advertising.

The effects are starkly obvious.

In a recent national survey by The Girl Scouts Research Institute, nearly half of girls ages between 13 and 17 "wished they were as skinny as the models they saw in fashion magazines."

Why is body image such a problem in America, and what can we learn from countries where women are happier with the way they look?

Body Image Across The Globe

In 2015, research firm YouGov carried out a global survey on body positivity of men and women in 25 different countries.

Indonesians are the happiest with their bodies overall, with 78 percent claiming they are happy with their body weight and shape.

Residents from Saudi Arabia (72 percent), Oman (70 percent) and Qatar (70 percent) are the next happiest.

By contrast, only 57 percent of Americans said they were happy with their bodies.

What’s really interesting about the results is that all the happiest countries are Muslim states, where women’s culture is very different to ours in the West.

The most outwardly obvious difference is the way women dress.

Forget obsessing for hours over whether that skirt goes better with which top or which clutch; many Muslim women have just one choice.

For example, women in Saudi Arabia wear the abaya whenever in public, which covers every part of their bodies but their eyes.

This requirement may seem stifling and oppressive to us, but ultimately, it’s liberating for women to be removed from the public pressure to appear a certain way.

The result is they’re a lot happier with their weight, they’re less worried about getting old and makeup is never even considered.

Of course, dressing like this is completely at odds with our own culture, which greatly values choice and freedom of expression.

However, you could argue that this freedom has been abused and is now being used against us.

The Harm Of Celebrity Culture

Fashion is not the only issue here.

After all, only a few of the countries ranked more body-positive than the US practice the same strict Islamic law as Saudi Arabia.

Over in the UK, a study of Muslim women found little difference in body positivity between those that did and did not wear hijab.

There are other factors to consider.

The YouGov survey also showed us that in 17 out of the 25 countries, more than half of responders said that celebrity culture has a negative impact on young people.

Interestingly, in countries that scored highly for body positivity, people were more likely to agree that celebrities can have a positive effect on body image.

Contrast this with the US, where 66 percent of responders said they thought celebrity culture was damaging to young people.

It might be reassuring that so many recognize this problem.

However, other countries with similarly low body image were actually much more critical of celebrity culture.

Although the UK is only slightly more body-positive than the US, a massive 74 percent of respondents agreed that celebrity culture was damaging.

How To Improve Our Body Image

There’s no doubt we must think harder about how our culture affects body image, and we must find more ways to challenge the status quo.

This is especially true for young women, who are most at risk at being sucked into this vortex of self-hatred.

Thankfully, Millennials are showing they’re willing and able to break the mold.

We’re no longer confined to the bubble of mainstream media.

The Internet age has given us a great opportunity to vote with our likes, comments and shares, giving us the power to raise a nobody to a somebody.

There are tons of body-positive fashion and beauty bloggers out there, and in other countries, they’re getting noticed.

Take, for example, Georgina Horne, a plus-size fashion and beauty blogger who’s written about body positivity in top UK publications like The Times.

She's also appeared in popular lists of top UK fashion bloggers, along with other plus-size bloggers.

An equally good example would be Stéphanie Zwicky, whose site Le Blog de Big Beauty is one of the most popular beauty blogs in France.

US plus-size bloggers are out there, too.

Chastity Garner-Valentine has appeared on and in The New York Times.

But they simply aren’t enough, and they’re not getting the coverage they deserve.

We need to support these young women. Follow them, or even become one yourself.

By creating our own role models where the mainstream fails us, we can totally revamp our attitude toward beauty and become the body-positive country we deserve to be.