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The rise of slim-thick body candles are just another example of toxic body positivity

You can’t go online without seeing a curvaceous candle, but is it confidence boosting or just making us buy into unrealistic body goals?

25 Feb 2021

The first time I saw one of those popular Coca Cola bottle body candles on my Instagram explore page, I didn’t think negatively of them. Just another small business venture as a result of lockdown boredom and large-scale job losses, right? During the pandemic, we collectively experienced waves of cultural moments; from quarantine-centred body positivity, and a  resurgence of arts and crafts for adults, to my (personal favourite), the sudden discovery of anti-racism. Like an unprovoked hangover, these candles surfaced, somehow combining all of those causes into one. 

Marketed as a celebration of women’s bodies, and playing off elements of ancient Roman sculpture, these trendy candles are a home decor dream packed with toxic positivity. While the supposed objective is to encourage people with breasts and bums to celebrate their curves, for many people like me they’re having the opposite effect. Often equipped with huge bulbous breasts, thin toned torsos and the most perfect curvaceous hips, the candles are simply another avenue for unhealthy standards to fuck with our psyches.

“The candles are simply another avenue for unhealthy standards to fuck with our psyches”

They also come at a time when our relationships with our lockdown bodies are massively bruised and where some BBL-enhanced bodies litter our screens masked as #fitspo and body positivity. In the same way that Kim Kardashian’s body-shaped perfume sold out in days, these candles have now swiftly become available everywhere. While it’s hard to pinpoint where the trend originated from, body candles sky-rocketed in 2020. You can find them all over Etsy and they are now being co-opted by big retailers like Pretty Little Thing and Missguided.  And generic candle moulds are widely available online. 

So when I inevitably scrolled past the one-millionth snap of these body candles last week, I took to my Instagram stories for a rant about their wild proportions. About a dozen friends replied in agreement. “Women have enough body standards to deal with”, my friend Beth wrote in my DMs. “I just don’t get why people need a candle with a two-inch waist and 34DDs”, said Charlotte. 

As a mixed Caribbean and East Asian woman, I was raised by women with natural curves similar to those displayed on these candles. I also have E-cups and curvy hips, which naturally caused me to spend years of my life covering up. If that highlights anything, it’s that companies are not only profiting off Black people’s bodies left, right and centre but also preying off women’s insecurities just to make a dime. As someone with a similar body shape, it doesn’t make me feel empowered – it just reminds me of the days when I was more self-conscious.

We all recognise that familiar pang of inadequacy from seeing a body shape you’ve been told you should have. Personally, it transports me back to being 14, my self-esteem buried within the dog-eared pages of Seventeen Magazine. For young people now, that inadequacy stems from simply scrolling through their own phones. Long story short, not one of us needs some slim-thick candles to be thrown into that mix.

“As someone with a similar body shape, it doesn’t make me feel empowered”

While you might argue that they’re truly just innocent decorations that people like having in their homes, their vast popularity (and particularly the hourglass-shaped ones) stands as a testament to the still powerful mind-fuck of beauty norms and the resulting ‘femvertising’.

This space that companies have occupied is rooted in body positivity, a movement once built on the foundations of fat acceptance but now shrouded in fatphobia and a wealth of contradicting messages. It’s the reason why candles like these sell so well alongside inspirational quotes and feminist mantras. 

But, in the same way that movements like Eff Your Beauty Standards and I Weigh’s radical inclusivity, have re-carved space for marginalised people’s bodies, you don’t have to search too far to find body candles with more realistic rolls, pouches and dimples.

“Toxic body positivity has all the power and none of the hesitation to infiltrate our impressionable minds”

Manchester-based Kalon Candle Co., for example, makes body candles with soft tummies and thick thighs, with model names like ‘perfectly imperfect’. Search ‘curvy body candle’ on Etsy and you’ll in turn get hundreds of results (albeit not all of them truly curvy or even showing more marginalised body shapes). London’s The Boob Pot Company takes the same approach, but with plant pots instead. 

At the end of the day, I won’t ignore the fact that these candles are an outlet for joy during otherwise bleak and hopeless times. And when women small business owners may be struggling to make ends meet, helping to support them will outweigh any need to ‘cancel’ them. 

Let’s just keep this as a reminder in our back pockets about how toxic body positivity has all the power and none of the hesitation to infiltrate our impressionable minds, especially during a time when there’s literally no escaping it. And if you’re going to buy one of these godforsaken candles, go for more realistic shapes, shop black-owned and do a bit of your own research.