Everything I knew about Body Positivity was wrong
Updated: Sep 3, 2020
Okay, so as I mentioned in my first blog post, I am keen to learn more about Body Positivity. In starting to do so, I realised that everything I'd kinda thought I understood about it was quite wrong. Here are a few examples of ideas I've had to cast to the wind:
- Body Positivity = promoting obesity.
- Body Positivity = trying to making it socially acceptable to be fat.
- Body Positivity = anyone of any size can be happy with their body.
- Body Positivity = permission to eat junk food all the time.
- Body Positivity = skinny people can celebrate their little fat/skin rolls!
It turns out that Body Positivity is a social and political movement, NOT a feeling. Since it's inception, the objective of the movement has been to challenge the ubiquitous and inherent belief that fat bodies are bad, and the people in fat bodies are worth less than people in thin ones.
So just to clarify, Body Positivity is the name of a MOVEMENT, not a FEELING.
Writing this would be easier if my phone didn’t try and autocorrect Positivity to positicity or posiricty EVERY time wow. But yes, Body Positivity emerged as part of the fat acceptance movement in the 1960s and was specifically about creating a space for marginalised people to be seen as equal and to be treated as valuable human beings. We’re talking about black people, LatinX people, people with disabilities.
We’re not talking about slim white girls posting photos like this:
Body Positivity has been co-opted to fit the ideals of the oppressor, rather than being a space for the oppressed. This example demonstrates the applause and celebration that white slim girls get for spreading this 'body positive' message. Whoop girls, you go! Let your tummies stick out an inch you absolute heroines of the people! But in actual fact, these 'insta vs reality’ posts remain so far from reality for the majority of us, and certainly poles apart from the women who started the movement. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to be super horrible - this particular caption is great and it's definitely important to share our experiences of coming to terms with the reality that diet culture prevents us from living happy lives, but it is not Body Positive. Sadly it is these posts that gain the most traction online, in articles, on social media because they are more socially acceptable or 'attractive' than images of obese bodies - which again, completely and utterly defeats the point.
Over Lockdown I started learning more about reality of racism. I listened, read books, shared resources and learnt a lot (at least one positive to come out of the fiery hell aka 2020). The slogan ‘black lives matter’ is a powerful statement and people use it without much thought for the fairly radical political group which shares the same name. In educating myself about the discrimination that people in larger bodies face daily, I have drawn a lot of parallels with the BLM movement. When I was protesting in Parliament Square and shouting ‘Black Lives Matter’ along with thousands of others, did I really believe that obese black lives matter the same as thin black lives? Well the question didn’t come into my mind at all but, if I’m being brutally honest, I don’t think my May 2020-self did. Because it has only been over the last month or two that I realise how horribly prejudiced my own mindset was (is - still got a lot of work to do) about the relationship between someone’s body shape and size and their value as a person.
This is a whole new world for me. I definitely used to think that body positivity was glorifying obesity and that it may prevent people who need to loose weight for health reasons doing so. I also struggled to understand body positivity for the simple reason that I found liking my own body virtually impossible. How, if I could spend my whole adolescent and adult life (I’m now the ripe old age of 24) being absolutely terrified of being fat, could there be people who are medically classified as ‘morbidly obese’ saying that they love their bodies...?! The process of educating myself on the real meaning of Body Positivity has been (and will continue to be) part of a much bigger journey of learning to be compassionate and to love and respect everyone and hopefully myself (!) in a non-judgemental way. All Lives Matter, but Black Lives are the ones at risk which is why we need to keep protesting. All bodies are valuable, but fat bodies are not being valued equally at the moment which is why we need to preserve this space for them.
I was chatting with my bro about Body Positivity and we were thinking about the fact that in a job interview, a thin person is more likely to get a job than an obese person. This could be for a number of assumptions - fat equals lazy, fat equals unable to commit to things, fat equals health problems which might impact on work, etc. The point being, we’ve ended up with a society that truly believes thin/slim people are more valuable than fat people. Again, a few weeks ago I would probably have dismissed that statement as ludicrous, but it only took a second thought to realise that it’s true. Not in every single setting, not necessarily at an individual level, but on a societal level one huge measure of a person’s worth/humanity/value is their body and what it looks like. You don't have to consider everyone of every size to be beautiful - beauty is subjective after all. But you do have consider everyone's equal humanity.
I don’t think that, unless you’re an absolute raging Tory (if you are pls kindly leave lol), you would tell a poor person to ‘just work harder’. Most people with a brain can discern that the systems and institutions that enable some people to be rich, also trap more people in a cycle of poverty. People are poor for a huge number of reasons but not working hard enough is rarely one of them. I believe that fatness/obesity/living in a larger body is very similar. However, it is the norm to outright tell a fat person to ‘just eat less’, or more likely if you're British, to subtly bring up the topic of dieting or exercise. But, just as reasons for poverty are multifaceted and complicated, the reasons behind weight-gain and obesity are extremely complex.
The Body Positivity movement is about restoring a sense of value and practical equality for people who have had their entire identity reduced to their weight (or disability). It’s not about encouraging weight loss, dieting or exercise for the very reason that everything else tailored to overweight people is about that. It’s about subverting societal and political norms and expectations by showing that people in larger bodies have just as much intelligence, spirit, love, talent, ability etc. as people in slim bodies. It doesn’t ‘promote’ obesity but it does give a platform to people in larger bodies to share their thoughts, opinion, art, work. To be heard for what they have to say as opposed to ignored because of their weight. That space on social media is so important that I really do understand why it is so problematic to see the body positivity hashtag full of thin white girls being ‘real’ about the tiny bloat they got from eating a WHOLE PIZZA (yes a whole pizza, *everyone claps*).
There was a moment during the current BLM movement resurgence when people were calling for the hashtag to be reserved for information about protests and activitists only as the space was becoming clogged and diluted by thousands of people using the hashtags in supportive but peripheral or irrelevant posts. It meant that people couldn’t search for up-to-date info without having to trawl through a load of white people using the hashtag to demonstrate their solidarity or monologuing their recent revelations about their white privilege. The response seemed to be fairly prompt and other hashtags were used instead. I think it’s important to realise that whilst being positive about our bodies is incredible, whilst trying to be confident in who you are is imperative, whilst self-love is a goal we should all support one another in achieving, Body Positivity is not the term we should be using. If you search #bodypositivity on insta, the majority of top posts are slim white women. We’ve missed the point for WAY too long. Use anything from #bodyconfidence#selflove#positivemindset... literally anything other than body positivity. Let the people who built this table in the first place take a seat at it.
My plan for building a business within the fitness industry makes it even more important that I listen and try my best to understand the experience of people living in bodies that don’t look like mine. After all, we’re all different! Body Positivity is something we should all start to get a better understanding of, particularly within the fitness sphere. Exercise, fitness and sport have been incredibly hostile environments for so many people for way too long and it’s time for that to change. I love moving my body, working on those #gainz, playing sport all for the reasons that it makes me feel so HAPPY! Everyone should have access to that without fear of discrimination, judgement or trolling. It’s my aim to facilitate.
We are all equal.
Once again this fairly waffly post has barely scratched the surface of the topic but summarises some of the realisations and things I’ve learnt recently. I'm sure there’ll be more to come so sign up to keep updated!
I recommend following Raffela_mancuso on Instagram and also listening to Mia Findlay’s podcast ’Unfiltered’ to learn more. Both are more articulate than I am and have also been talking about it for FAR longer. I credit them for a lot of my new-found understanding and encourage you to check them out too!
Other images featured from: @saggysara, @curvynyome, @itslololove.
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