2016 was a year wholly typified by negativity. Aside from Brexit, Trump and the entire year playing out like a 365-day long adaption of Final Destination starring most of our favourite celebs, it was the personification of the shit-eating-grin shit emoji – a giant turd of a thing, laughing at our torment.
But despite all its negativity, one type of positivity has been inescapable during the last 12 months –that of the body. The idea of embracing, instead of simply tolerating, the average Joanne made its way from the corners of the Tumblr and was thrust firmly into the mainstream, cramming more representation into ad campaigns in one year than within the whole history of Western marketing.
Sports Illustrated made waves by making size-16 model Ashley Graham the cover star of its annual swimsuit edition. She was also chosen to front British Vogue's January edition, becoming the first plus-size model to appear on its cover since it's 1892 conception. The Lane Bryant campaign featuring actresses Gabourey Sidibe and Danielle Brooks went viral and not wanting to be left out of the self-love love-in, H&M released a vastly popular advert last year featuring plus-size, body-positive internet sensation Paloma Elsesser and 72-year-old American model Lauren Hutton. It probably is the first fashion ad to features a waifish ingenue unbuttoning her trousers not for foreplay, but to make space for an incoming bowl of chips.
No longer did bigger bodies only live within the Daily Mail's sidebar of shame. Nor was their sole purpose to be circled in magazines to make us feel better and worse about ourselves at the same time, with the knowledge that a) celebs sometimes look like us and b) that's exactly why they are being ridiculed. In 2016, bodies of all shapes and sizes were finally plastered on magazine fronts not to be annotated, but rather celebrated.
But despite being the year body positivity went mainstream it was also, conversely, the year of the plastic surgery boom. The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons said there were 51,140 surgical procedures in 2015 – up from 45,406 the year before and it's estimated there was even larger spike last year.
Loving yourself, as you are, has never been so popular and neither has chopping off and changing up the bits that you don't. A metaphorical 'warts and all' approach hit an all-time high, alongside requests for the metaphorical removal of warts.
So integral to our worth is beauty, that rather than rid women of the idea it is something to even bother aspiring to, we've simply swapped it for a woman-specific 'we're all beautiful' narrative
To me, the rise in both 'self love' and surgery aren't at all at odds. Though body positivity has been a big win for feminism, we still suffer from the equally sexist by-product that accompanies man-made beauty standards – the fact that women have to be beautiful in the first place. We can't seem to rid ourselves of the idea that a woman being unattractive isn't a form of fatal flaw. Regardless of all she may achieve, an ugly woman is still akin to a car without a steering wheel or a Capri Sun sin straw - utterly useless.
The logical outcome of self acceptance en-masse should be, at the very least, a dip in cosmetic surgery but instead we've seen the opposite. And because beauty is, by its very nature, exclusive, sponsored compliments courtesy of Dove don't quite cut it. So, we continue to cut off the things we don't like, and will continue to until beauty itself becomes obsolete, instead of the unbeautiful.
'Ugly' is still the worst thing we can call a woman, and therefore a go-to for Twitter eggs (whose opinions should really be invalidated by virtue of the fact they don't even have faces). It remains one of the easiest ways to render a woman's perfectly reasonable point redundant. So integral to our worth is beauty, that rather than rid women of the idea it is something to even bother aspiring to, we've simply swapped it for a woman-specific 'we're all beautiful' narrative. And if all women are beautiful then none of us are ugly and, therefore, all worthwhile. But flattery isn't the true antidote to low self esteem.
Attractiveness takes entirely no skill or effort and yet we continue to teach girls it's their superpower
The expansion of the definition of 'beauty' is essential. Beauty standards becoming less racist and less size-ist and less exclusive does matter, because they are usually standards aligned with white supremacy and body types that most women cannot achieve, without resorting to dangerous dieting. But even with increased inclusivity, a standard remains a standard – just a widened one.
If not attempting to align themselves with an aesthetic set by white society, women of colour still have to navigate the ones set within their own communities. While double eyelid surgery remains popular with East Asians with regards to 'assimilation', fat transfers and bum implants have steadily risen and gained popularity among black women to adhere to a #slimthick ideal within the black community.
The rigidity of beauty remains an issue, but so too the fact that it is important in the first place. If white men behind ad campaigns aren't telling black women what to look like, black men are – Western beauty standards are racist but even when expanded, they are still sexist and woman-only.
If white men behind ad campaigns aren't telling black women what to look like, black men are
We've dealt with part of the problem but not the problem at its root – how we view women and what makes them important. Attractiveness takes entirely no skill or effort, and yet we continue to teach girls it's their superpower – we're to be muses, inspiring the great minds and boners of much more talented men.
Whilst body image affects men too, we don't coddle and patronise them with the idea that they are objectively, unquestioningly handsome. Rather, we acknowledge that good looks are something nice to have among other, far more important attributes.
Telling women we are all pretty is clearly not enough to battle to scourge of self image – telling women they can be ugly and it has no bearing on their worth is far more empowering than any niceties a lotion ad sells you. The way to truly defang the word 'ugly' when hurled at women is to take beauty for what it actually is at face value – not very valuable at all.
Yomi Adegoke is a journalist. She writes about feminism, race and the intersection between the two. Follow : @yomiadegoke