Understanding Body Positivity
Body positivity is a term I've been seeing quite a lot of in the past few years. Instagram accounts devoted entirely to body positivity and self-love have popped up with massive followings, companies and businesses have created campaigns supporting body diversity, and plus size models and body positive bloggers are more popular than ever. As a woman on the curvier side, I'm delighted! When I was younger, I never saw anyone on runways, in movies, or in ads that looked like me and I would spend hours scouring the internet for plus size models. It's progress and I'm here for it. But despite all the wonderful progress that's been made, the body positivity movement isn't perfect and is so often misunderstood or misused. Some claim that it is used as an excuse to be unhealthy, promotes obesity, shames and undermines slimmer women while others claim it fails to be truly inclusive, teaches narcissism and encourages being shallow. So allow me to clarify some things.
WHAT DOES BODY POSITIVITY MEAN?
At its very core, body positivity is about the idea that all bodies are good bodies. The idea that all bodies are bikini bodies. You are not a better person for being a size 2 and I am not a worse person for being a size 12. A size 22 body is just as worthy of love and respect as a size 10 body. It's about acceptance and emphasizing that one's worth is not dependent on weight, body shape, age, or ability. It's not about weight and, in my opinion, it isn't even about health. The body positivity movement is a response to the problem within our society that deems some bodies more valuable, more worthy of praise, and more acceptable while leaving other bodies unrepresented and shamed. Because the body positivity movement also focuses especially on bodies that are generally marginalized or under-represented, it is often regarded as fat positive or only for plus sizes which is wrong. It's as much for smaller sizes as it is for larger sizes.
DOES BODY POSITIVE = FAT POSITIVE?
Not quite but it did grow from that movement. Fat positivity is reclaiming fat bodies and viewing this particular trait as a positive part of your life rather than something to be ashamed of. Fat persons are often shamed for 'letting themselves go', being lazy, or being unhealthy and by virtue of simply being fat, promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. When clothing brands don't carry larger sizes and complaints are made, comments so often urge them to lose weight instead of urging companies to meet their needs. It's unfair, downright disgusting, and something that has to stop.
DOES IT PROMOTE OBESITY?
Not at all. That's not a thing. Let's define PROMOTE shall we: to further the progress of; to support or actively encourage. The body positivity movement (and the fat positivity movement for that matter) does not actively encourage obesity, weight gain, or an unhealthy lifestyle. What it does encourage is not apologizing for taking up space in this world, for existing in the body you have. The movement accepts bodies of all shapes and sizes and aims to be as inclusive as possible, especially to bodies that are generally marginalized, shunned, or under-represented.
WHAT ABOUT HEALTH?
First off, someone else's health is really none of your business. So many use concern and backhanded compliments as an excuse to criticize and attack someone who simply doesn't look the way they'd like or a way that makes them comfortable. Unless you're their doctor or have intimate knowledge of their medical history, you can't evaluate one's health just by looking at them. Health doesn't have one face, one particular look.
I personally don't believe body positivity should focus heavily on health. I shouldn't have to prove my health to deserve and receive respect. While we all encourage each other to live healthier lives and take care of ourselves, body positivity focuses on loving and accepting yourself as you are whether you are underweight, overweight, or working towards an aesthetic goal. Sure, you can work towards losing weight, gaining weight, getting those abs or even maintaining but you don't have to hate yourself along the way.
SO IT'S JUST ABOUT BEING CONFIDENT AND LOVING YOURSELF?
Yes, but not quite. The body positive movement is not just about you. The body positive movement is about making everyone feel heard, seen, appreciated, and represented. Remember: empowered people empower people. It's all well and good that you are confident and comfortable in your own skin but the movement aims to spread that positivity and uplift others.
It's all about inclusivity and this inclusivity can reveal some biases. Because of my social conditioning, I realized that I am most comfortable with bodies that are more petite and proportioned, size 16 and under. When I started to explore the body positivity movement, I was exposed to bodies that made me uncomfortable. That made me realize I needed to change and accept that body positivity isn't reserved for what I consider an acceptable body that makes me comfortable. Because it isn't just about me. It's for all bodies and confronting your biases is a big step forward.
WHY SHOULD I CONGRATULATE PEOPLE FOR LOVING THEMSELVES?
"Congratulations you love who you are. It's not my duty to applaud you for doing something you should already do"
Sure, it may not be your job to congratulate anyone for loving themselves but it sure as hell isn't your job to break them down. These kind of comments are so dismissive and apathetic to the experiences of others. Maybe you had a better experience and good for you but there are people who have been criticized, ridiculed, and shunned because of their bodies. For some, it isn't easy to love themselves in a society that tells them that they are undesirable, lazy, shameful, disgusting, and unhealthy simply because of how they look. For your sake and everyone else's, go find some empathy and sympathy at your nearest corner store.