The concept of body positivity has been trending on the internet for quite some time now, which is great! It’s amazing that we as a society are starting to talk about the massive body image issues and unrealistic expectations mainstream culture has. However, the body positivity movement is not free of problems; specifically excluding the bodies of the people who started the movement. I believe everyone can benefit from body positivity, but the body positive movement is not just about you as an individual… it’s about everybody, especially marginalized bodies.
But the journey to true body liberation does have to start somewhere, and a great place to start is figuring out how to make peace with your own body, whatever that may mean for you.
However, we can’t forget that body positivity is a lot more complex and deep than “just loving your body.” It involves a lot of unlearning how we treat ourselves and others, challenging our automatic thoughts and beliefs about bodies, changing our vocabulary, realizing the diet industry literally profits off our self-hatred, and acknowledging the unique struggles marginalized groups experience in their bodies.
Some disclaimers before we start….
There is a general trigger warning for eating disorders.
I do use the word “fat” in this blog post because there is interest in reclaiming the word in fat positive circles. “Fat” is a term that is preferred to “obese” or “overweight” and is not used to be derogatory.
I am not a licensed medical professional nor a licensed medical health provider; content provided on this blog should not be used in lieu of professional advice or care.
How to Practice Body Positivity
Remember that unlearning body hatred won’t happen immediately.
Most of us have been taught from a young age to hate our bodies. One UK-based study suggests girls as young as 7 years old have negative opinions on their bodies, and another study suggests one-third of boys averaging age 7 feel they should be smaller. I’ve seen other studies put that age at 5 years old.
For me personally, I remember not really noticing or caring about how my body looked until I was told by family members that I should, which was probably around age 9 or so. Most of my friends say their experiences started before that age.
When you are taught to hate your body in childhood, it is exceptionally difficult to unlearn in adulthood. This rings especially true if you’re fat; after gaining a significant amount of weight in college, I didn’t realize not hating my body was even an option.
Don’t call people “brave” for how they present their bodies.
Calling someone “brave” for showing their arm rolls, cellulite, thick thighs, or any other body part we are encouraged to hide is not a compliment– it is thinly-veiled criticism. You may have good intentions, but you are basically saying saying, “If I looked like you, I wouldn’t wear that.” Not only is it none of your concern… it’s also really rude!
It’s also disproportionately said to fat people than to thin people. It gives the implication that there is something “wrong” with wearing a certain article of clothing, when in reality it’s not anyone’s business what people wear. Also, don’t forget that not everyone wants to wear clothes that flatter them. Clothing that is “flattering” can be more about the people looking at a body than the person wearing the clothes, so it can be liberating for some to not feel forced into choosing that as a path.
Remember where body positivity started.
The body positive movement as we know it today was started by fat women. So… your body positivity needs to include fat people, instead of excluding them under the guise of “health.” There is no weight limit on body positivity.
Unfortunately, there are people out there who don’t like seeing fat people who don’t despise themselves. When you exclude fat folks from body positivity, not only are you denying the roots of the movement, but you are also acknowledging that you believe (consciously or unconsciously) people deserve to be mistreated or excluded because of their size. We are making a lot of progress, but we also cannot pretend clothing stores going up to a size 3X is suddenly so inclusive. A lot of bodies are still being excluded there, especially when you factor in vanity sizing and manufacturing inconsistencies.
Do not leave disabled folks out of body positivity, either. We are getting to a point where we see some fat people in marketing campaigns (granted, they are usually not that much larger than their straight sized counterparts… and usually white) but I can’t remember the last time I saw a HAPPY disabled person represented in the media.
Diet culture =/= diet.
It is important to understand the difference between a personal diet and diet culture as an institution.
Your personal diet is your choice… you may prefer to eat a vegan diet, a high carb diet, a gluten-free diet… etc, just for your personal nutritional needs and/or what makes your body feel good. Having dietary needs isn’t inherently anti body positive, unless you start imposing your preferences on others.
If you want to omit certain foods from your diet, that’s totally different than “dieting” as a verb, which involves restriction, binging, and food guilt. Dieting is another harmful part of diet culture.
Diet culture is an institution that profits from people, mostly women, hating their bodies. Diet culture lies to us and tells us we need flat tummy teas, juice cleanses, and appetite suppressant lollipops. It perpetuates the idea that hunger is bad, and encourages us to ignore our body’s cries for food. Diet culture financially profits off of these ideas, while secretly hopes you’ll fail so it can sell you more products to keep you in a vicious cycle of hating your body and giving them MORE money.
Several studies indicate that 95% of diets fail. Diet culture knows this. This isn’t new, hidden, or secret information… and yet diet culture still tries to push diets onto us, telling us we need more willpower or that we aren’t strong enough to lose whatever weight we feel we’re supposed to lose.
You are allowed to enjoy the life you have right now, with the body you have.
This is something that I never would have learned without the body positive community. You do not have to put your life on hold because you aren’t at your goal weight or because you put on a few pounds. Give yourself permission to enjoy your life right now.
Personally, I only started practicing this recently. It is DIFFICULT, and I’m still trying to figure it out. I felt like I needed to be a certain size to apply for certain jobs, wear certain clothes… even take certain vacations. There are some really cool memories I have that are skewed because I focused more on my body than allowing myself to be in the present moment.
Don’t assume how others feel about their bodies.
Not everyone wants to change how their body looks! How other people feel about their bodies and their relationship with their own bodies is no one’s business but their own. Someone’s relationship with their body is influenced by lived experiences, trauma, mental illness, disability, eating disorders, gender dysphoria, etc. and is different for everyone.
When you are promoting body positivity, remember that not everyone wants to love their body. Many folks would love to get to a point where they can just feel neutral towards their bodies. Some people genuinely need the “love yourself” rhetoric, but that’s not the only version of the story. We need to be more mindful of that when speaking about bodies.
Health isn’t one size fits all.
We can’t have a conversation about body positivity without also talking about the concept of health. Diet culture has created a narrative about what health should look like, and that we as a society should scold (with varying degrees of harshness) anyone who does not fit into that definition. But here’s the thing… you cannot see health just by looking at someone’s body, and weight isn’t the only thing that dictates someone’s health.
Equating health with size is dangerous. I have heard so many people say that when they were in deepest parts of their eating disorder, people didn’t notice or care that they were ill; instead, they were being complimented on their weight loss. Fat people with eating disorders are often denied care or encouraged to lose weight anyway using dangerous methods, instead of receiving proper treatment. Weight gain can be a side effect of certain medications that are literally life-saving.
Health looks different for everyone. What is attainable for one person may not be attainable for another person, and you have no way of knowing what someone is going through when you make a comment on their size, under the guise of “health.”
We are all taught this from an extremely young age. No one is immune from it. We all have biases and judgements that we have been socialized to believe for decades. Acknowledgement of those biases does not mean we are bad or mean people; in fact, recognizing them is is the only way we can ever unlearn them.
Food has no moral value.
We seriously need to stop assigning morality to food! Humans need to eat to survive, and food isn’t inherently “good” or “bad.” You don’t need to feel guilty for eating a cheeseburger. You do not have to “make up” for how you ate over the weekend. If you want chocolate, or pizza, or fries… you don’t have to work it off at the gym later. It’s okay to enjoy those foods because A) we need food to live and B) they taste GOOD. When you assign morality to food and subsequently obsess over it, you are giving it power. Diet culture thrives off food’s power.
You never have to punish yourself for eating. Whether or not you ate too much yesterday, you will still need to eat today, tomorrow, and the next day too!
I didn’t just wake up one day and decided to suddenly be a more body positive person, or to repair my relationship with my body. It took a couple years and a lot of introspection to get to where I am now. I am still unlearning a bunch of unhealthy attitudes I was taught in childhood and adolescence. I am much happier and more content with my body and how I navigate the world than I ever was before. Also, I am way more knowledgable about the unique ways other people also navigate the world.
If you are looking for resources or more information, this resource list is a great place to start!
Until next time,
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