Body Positivity - My Thoughts
I've had this post tucked within the folders of my laptop for a few weeks now. I've had days where I've refused to look at it and days where I've gone through it with a fine-tooth comb and even now if you were to ask me what my thoughts on body positivity are, I would tell you that they're a jumbled heap and that I'm still not sure how to put my opinion into words. Nevertheless, these are SOME of my thoughts regarding the body positivity movement.
The Origins of Body Positivity
The body positivity movement is a social movement that was created by fat people, for fat people. It began in 1967 when a "fat in" was held in New York; the aim of this was to bring awareness to the social injustices and marginalisation that people living in larger bodies face. The body positivity movement advocates for people in all bodies but; heavily focuses on larger bodies due to the daily oppression they face. In recent years, social media has helped the movement to become more widespread, with the likes of Tess Holiday and bodiposipanda advocating for positivity in bigger bodies.
Before body-positivity (as we know it) came the "dress reform movement" - Created by and for Victorian women. Beauty standards during the 1850s saw masses of women using corsets and tight lacing to shrink their waists and achieve an hourglass figure. Despite health concerns and discomfort that corsets caused, women were expected to shrink themselves, smaller and smaller. Women that were unable to shrink their waists were taunted and, those that succeeded in shrinking themselves were also taunted. They felt as though this was a huge injustice, as though they would never be able to win. This lead to them standing together and fighting for the right to decide what they wore and whether they wanted to live a life of discomfort for a tiny waist.
Since then, the body-positive movement has evolved to fight against all realistic beauty standards that women face, demanding that the world accepts cellulite, rolls, and scars. The body-positive movement argues that all bodies are worthy of love and respect but places emphasis on bodies that don't fit today's beauty standard. For example, the movement stands up for people living in trans bodies, larger bodies, people with disabilities, bodies of colour, and queer bodies. While the movement heavily focuses on women due to the strict beauty standards that we face, men can still be a part of it.
MY OPINION ON BODY POSITIVITY (IN A SLIM, WHITE ABLE-BODY)
You can live in a slim, white, able body and consciously strive for body positivity, love, and confidence on a personal level. However, I think it's important to be aware of the difference between personal body positivity and the body-positivity movement (before using the hashtag).
Researching the body positivity movement has helped me understand it on a deeper level. Before I began to research the movement, I felt frustrated that slim-women would be told, "this movement isn't for you". To some extent, this still frustrates me but, not for the same reasons. Now, I can see how it can be annoying to see the body positivity hashtag filling up with bodies that are deemed "socially acceptable". Every billboard, magazine, and movie glorifies slim women and places them on a pedestal (there is no shortage of slim-bodies being represented) and so, it must be tiresome to live in a world that favours these kinds of bodies and then, to see the movement that was made for "socially unacceptable bodies" to fill with bodies that are deemed "acceptable". The purpose of this movement is to bring confidence and beauty to the bodies that aren't often celebrated and, so I can only imagine the frustration within the movement (a movement that was created for plus-sized people, by plus-sized people) to be "taken over" by slim people.
So, can you be body-positive as a slim, white able-bodied female? Yes (in my opinion).
A woman that fits today's beauty standards can still feel painfully insecure and, her insecurities are valid. She can be subjected to "skinny shaming" daily and feel lost in a world of diet-culture, the pressure to be small and cover any apparent flaw or error on her body. She could face other people's opinions regarding her body on a daily basis and for her, body positivity may make sense. It could be something that empowers her and helps her to accept and love herself. Personally, I don't see anything wrong with this. The soft part of my soul likes the idea of everyone striving towards love and happiness within their bodies and being friends regardless of weight, colour, or size.
However, while the insecurities of a slim person are valid it's so important to recognise the difference in treatment between a smaller-bodied woman and a larger-bodied woman within our society. While skinny-shaming IS wrong, fat-shaming is far more prevalent and carries greater risks such as, not receiving the correct health care as a fat person than a slim person would. If you're going to be a part of this movement as a slim woman, I think it's important to educate yourself about the discrimination that people face in bigger bodies and share this information with people. It's important to recognise who the movement was created for and, if you're going to become a part of it, you should help to spread the key and original message. This movement was a way for the oppressed to respond with pride.
I know some people will disagree with me on this because who am I to say who can be in the movement and who can't be in the movement? And, maybe to some extent you would be right.
In the past, I may have captioned a photo with "body positivity" or used the hashtag when posting an image to promote the idea of being positive about my body. In no way was I trying to boycott the movement, nor was I trying to claim my part in the movement. Quite simply, I was unaware and, uneducated. Similarly, I believe that the vast majority of people who use this hashtag are doing so with a good sentiment in mind, seemingly unaware of the depths of the movement. The majority of people aren't trying to hijack it; most probably, they're just trying to find a bit of positivity within themselves with no malicious intent. While, this doesn't take away from the fact that it's frustrating, engaging in an open and honest conversation about who #bodypositivity is for; will go a lot further and shrink the gap within the "them" and "us" mindset. Before our bodies, we are women - Our journeys may be different but, kindly educating those that are unaware but want to listen will help. Gently nudging people in the right direction and spreading messages with kindness will leave a lasting impact and hopefully spread the body-positive message further as opposed to saying "this isn't for you!".
However, now that I understand, I will refrain from using this hashtag.
BODY POSITIVITY AND WEIGHT LOSS?
The one idea of body positivity that I struggle with is that you can't be both body-positive and lose weight. I've tried to change my opinion on this, doing endless research with an eager and open mind. Yet, while I hear the reason why body-positive activists are against actively chasing weight loss - I don't agree with it.
Firstly, I understand how prevalent diet culture is within our society; I think almost all people have fallen victim to it at one point or another (me included). I'm currently on a weight gain journey to challenge my thoughts and behaviours to figure out which ones are my own and which stem from diet culture. However, we need to understand the difference between a personal weight loss journey and diet culture. Diet culture is shit and should be a thing of the past but, in our attempts to cancel diet culture, we shouldn't misconstrue and look down on anything related to weight loss, health, and nutrition. While weight loss is at the centre of diet culture, it doesn't mean that diet culture is at the centre of every single weight loss journey. In my opinion, there are numerous reasons that a person can want to lose weight or even have to lose weight, and they shouldn't be judged or shamed for that decision. Of course, it's not one size fits all, and physical health DOES look different on everybody - Slim is not a synonym for health, just like losing weight is not a synonym for hating your body.
It's important to realise that we all have value and worth that isn't dependent on our sizes. For me, I believed that I would only be worthy if I had visible abs; this thought caused me so much pain, stress, and guilt. Now, I'm changing this thought process and realising that I'm worthy whether I have abs or not but, I'm happier when I'm not chasing after them. However, I'm not going to judge a woman who has abs because my experience with them was toxic. I'm not going to assume that she hates her body and treats it negatively just because that's what my perspective was. In the same breath, a plus-sized person has value - Not because they are plus-sized, but because they are a human being. It seems so unfair to strip them of their value(s) and decide that they don't belong within the movement because they've made a decision - A decision that is personal to them and their journey. You can't begin to assume why a person is losing weight and tarnish it with diet culture EVERY SINGLE TIME.
Plus-sized body-positive women get criticised for going on a weight loss journey because (apparently) weight loss and body positivity can't coincide. It seems unfair and critical to tell someone that they're no longer body-positive; just because their journey doesn't reflect yours. We live in a world of seven billion people; it's almost an essential life skill to recognise our differences and individual journeys. If we're right in saying that our worth isn't built on how our body looks, it's almost impossible for it to be damaged by a whole other person's decision for their body. It feels as though diet culture has scarred the minds and souls of the many that even the mention of weight loss is a hidden taboo, something not to talk about or do because it's hateful.
From my research, the vast majority of BP activists believe that body-positivity means loving and accepting your body at any size and being healthy at every size (HAES). If a body-positive supporter decides to go on a weight loss journey, people perceive it as the individual turning their backs on the "true" meaning of body positivity. On a surface level, I can see how this makes sense. However, from an outsider looking in, it seems as though this aspect of the movement allows no room for nuance, understanding, or conversation. The idea that people have to pick one or the other seems unfair, cliquey and, toxic. It's easy to feel like no matter what size you are, as a woman, your identity still belongs to your body.
There is a difference between diet culture and practicing healthy habits. There is a difference between diet culture and losing weight for your physical health and, there is a difference between promoting weightloss for everyone and losing weight for yourself. It seems like the opposite of body-positive to shame somebody for doing something with their body. We have to ask questions, dig deeper and spot the differences instead of fighting with shame.
HEALTH AT EVERY SIZE
To me, health doesn't just mean physical health. For me to be happy, my mental health must be a priority, physical healthy secondary, and financial health closely behind - I understand that these are going to change and fluctuate in importance throughout my life. For this reason, I understand that physical health may not even be a priority in somebody's life but, because they prioritise the things that matter to them, they could feel at their overall healthiest.
For the simplicity of explaining what I'm about to say when I refer to health, I'm referring to physical health.
When it comes to health it feels as though our society has a one size fits all approach; to be healthy you must be slim, toned, and athletic - This is the optimum goal. I've believed for the longest amount of time that abs equal health and that if I didn't have abs it would mean I didn't care about my health. I can't begin to describe or comprehend how restrictive this thinking is and how much enjoyment it's removed from my life. A person could have abs and fit into every beauty ideal and yet, they could be malnourished, have lost their period and, be undereating/overexercising. Or, their diet could consist of fast food, sugary food, and drinks but, they have an extremely fast metabolism. As I said earlier, slim isn't a synonym for health, and being "overweight" isn't a synonym for unhealthy.
However, the notion that confuses me is that you can be extremely overweight (one hundred pounds plus) and say that you are physically healthy, and tarnish anyone that critiques this with the title of "fatphobic". While you can be any size and incorporate healthy habits into your lifestyle, it doesn't mean that your overall lifestyle habits won't catch up and debilitate you in the long run. While it's perfectly okay to live the life you want and share it online, it's not okay to promote an idea that isn't true and could be seriously harmful to younger and older people that are looking for sanction and safety. It's feeding people a lie (just as diet culture has done for many years) and promoting something that isn't sustainable for a lifetime for the vast majority of people.
Being severely obese (I don't know what other word to use) can cut your life expectancy and place you at risk of developing numerous diseases. On the flip side, being severely underweight can cut your life expectancy and place you at a higher risk of developing illnesses. They are two sides of the same coin. If you want a physically healthy lifestyle, consistently and massively over-eating or under-eating (in the majority of scenarios) will not help you to achieve a goal of physical health.
It's hard to round this post off with a conclusion when I've still not concluded my thoughts within my head. I guess I will come back to this. I hope this made sense (at least a little bit).