Does the Revenge Body Trend Empower Women — Or Not?

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The latest fitness social media trend the Revenge Bod is bringing women a sense of empowerment. (Photo: Women’s Health)

Credit Khloe Kardashian with kicking off the Revenge Body trend. Citing her rough divorce from NBA star Lamar Odom and being called the “fat” Kardashian sister as motivation, Khloe dropped 35 pounds thanks to an intense fitness regime and diet makeover. But instead of hiding away while healing her heartache, Khloe’s taken the expression ‘Looking Good Is The Best Revenge’ to a whole new level by sharing her success with her millions of followers and landing on the current cover of Women’s Health magazine.  It seems like other celebrities are following suit: Kourtney Kardashian (who’s getting over cheating boyfriend Scott Disick), Perrie Edwards (former fiancée of former One Direction member, Zayn Malik) and Teen Mom 2 star Jenelle Evans are flooding their feeds with photos that feature their bikini-clad, well-toned bodies…and that deliver the ultimate revenge message: “Eat Your Heart Out.”

Wanting to look good after a breakup is nothing new. In fact, it’s actually healthy. “Hitting the gym, getting a new style, going out and ‘reclaiming you’ are all fantastic ways to end the cycle of feeling bad,” explains Daryl Cioffi, M.Ed, an adjunct professor of neuropsychology at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI. It’s probably why singer Miranda Lambert just debuted a new platinum blonde bob after splitting from husband Blake Shelton. It also explains the number of women who invest in Breakup Botox, or who overhaul their smiles after a split. “We see more and more women including dental improvements or reconstruction in their post-divorce makeovers,” says Lindsey Marshall, DMD, a cosmetic and general dentist in Ardmore, PA. Their clients book their appointments after their settlements are reached and before starting to date again.

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Singer, Miranda Lambert, posted a picture of her short haircut after her split. (Photo: Instagram)

For twenty-year-old Kendra (her name has been changed), a college student in San Diego, CA, getting a hot body was what drove her to start exercising after breaking up with her girlfriend last year. “Knowing my ex would see my posts was absolutely my main motivation for working out in the beginning,” Kendra admits. Spreading stunning pictures on social media accounts is a surefire way for people to be certain that their exes will see their new look. “We’re in an era obsessed with ‘likes,’” explains Sara Magee, PhD., associate professor of communications at Loyola University in Baltimore, MD. “It’s become part of our psyche to care what others — including strangers — think.” 

However, once Kendra started to see her own progress, her perspective shifted. “It went from being about exercising to look good to creating a major changes in my diet, lifestyle and goals. That’s when I realized that I was actually doing all this for myself.” 

Jen, 35, who founded the blog MyRevengeBody.com after several hard breakups and unhealthy relationships, agrees. “It’s not about looking good as revenge anymore for me, it’s about living well.” She’s also out to ensure that younger women struggling with body image and self-esteem issues after failed romances will take positive, empowering steps to health instead of wasting time hating their bodies. “It’s validating to refuse to put up with anything less than you deserve.”

Another serious bonus stemming from this trend: women are being nice to each other online instead of trolling and insulting one another. Scroll through #RevengeBody on Instagram, or Khloe or Kourtney’s feeds and you’ll see plenty of comments like “#GetItGirl” and “You so have this.” Apparently, nothing unites sisters in solidarity like being wronged or dumped by a romantic partner — and frankly it’s a welcome change from the general rudeness that rules the Internet.

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Kourtney Kardashian shows off her Revenge Bod post break-up. (Photo: Instagram)

Which is exactly what Anna, 28, from southern Mississippi, found once she began posting on Instagram after her husband of five years announced by phone while away on a business trip that he wanted a divorce. “I’ve received so much online support and motivation from both friends and people I’ve never met,” says Anna who’s dropped 40 pounds. “Other users gave me ideas for workouts to try, and nutrition information.” What turned one of the hardest times in Anna’s life became a period of “can’t fail determination” that’s resulted in more self-respect than she’s ever had. 

But is it possible to take Revenge Body efforts too far? “It’s a vulnerable time just after a breakup,” says Shehla Ebrahim, MD, Medical Director of Afterglow, a medical aesthetics clinic in North Vancouver, British Columbia. Sometimes clients can mistakingly think excessive treatments, and over-exercising, are surefire paths back to happiness. In fact, Dr. Ebrahim frequently counsels patients against drastic or numerous treatments at a time when they might not be thinking clearly or dealing with other issues. “Sometimes it’s important to work on things inside first,” says Dr. Ebrahim.  

Maybe it’s time to envision a version of revenge that has nothing to do with appearance — one that doesn’t presume the thing that an ex might be missing most is flat abs or trim waist. “The Revenge Body trend is training all of us to think that we’ll be happier once our bodies are closer to a specific ideal,” says Jennifer Berger, Executive Director of About Face, a non-profit in San Francisco, CA, that aims to equip girls and women to resist harmful media messages. “And wouldn’t it be great if women found fulfillment in other ways than fishing for compliments and affirmation from strangers or followers?”  

Seems like we aren’t there quite yet. But maybe with some hard work and dedication, we’ll all start to see what we’re missing.

Related:

The Physical and Psychological Effects of Yo-Yo Dieting

5 Ways To Totally Own Your Sexy Body

You Deserve Body Confidence (and Hot Sex) No Matter Your Size