If I hear the words “we should all be body positive” one more time, I may just shut down all my social media. Obviously, I’m lying to you because I won’t be deleting the gram anytime soon. But as someone battling an eating disorder, the recurring recommendation is to “make your social media feeds feel safe.” I’m told to follow people who are “body positive”, who “celebrate loving their bodies regardless of the way society makes them feel.”
There seems to be a common narrative that because so many people are “pushing back” against the idea that only “skinny is beautiful” and people are now “embracing their curves,” we’ve made some huge strides for beauty and body standards everywhere. Now that Ashley Graham, a size 16, hourglass shaped, white woman, has been on the cover of Vogue, “all bodies are beautiful, we should all be body positive”?
Bullshit. Who is We?
Now, I’d like to interject here, self-implicate a little bit and say that I, on many days fall into the category of we. In fact I’m the same height and currently have the exact same bust, waist and hip measurements as Ashley Graham does. I think it’s really important as activists to be very up front about where in the movement our privileges lie. I guess a parallel is, I’m light skinned and I benefit from privilege in a colorist society, but it is still my obligation to immerse myself in anti-racism movements. More importantly, racism still affects me and ALL of us because all of our freedom is bound up together. No one is free until we all are. We all are affected by the ridiculous standards that society sets for us. PERIOD. Similarly, the body positive movement centers only a few “types” of women. Don’t believe me? Google “body positive influencers”. The majority of “influencers” will be white women, size 16 or below, with waists that are at least ten inches smaller than their hip measurement, AND an Instagram famous platform that they are largely profiting off of.
So we’re back at the question, WHO is WE?
There have been MANY activists and movements since the 20th century that have been inclusive and intersectional! They centered the actual oppressive social institutions and practices that affect people whose bodies don’t adhere to society’s norm. The Radical Therapy Collective, National Association to Aid Fat Americans’, Fat Underground, Big Beautiful Woman, Fat Liberation Feed, to name a few. Many of these movements aimed to address the medical, legislative and historical discrimination ‘overweight’ people face. Where are these movements now? They are overshadowed by the commodification of #bodypositivity. The hashtag produces images of “influencers”, many who conflate weight loss with body positivity. It has also morphed into something that looks more like thin/below average/average sized people feeling positive about their bodies as long as it still adheres to another standard, the hourglass. Brands like a*rie, sp*rts illustrated and so many more have found ways to market body positivity in a way that still promotes adhering to an unrealistic STANDARD OF body/beauty.
At this point you may be wondering, what’s wrong with standards? Isn’t being too fat or too skinny unhealthy? First and foremost, if doctors really centered “health” then they would not be telling “overweight” people to make themselves smaller at any cost. They would be equally concerned about the unhealthy ways fad diets, diuretics and other forms of unsustainable weight loss methods have infiltrated our society and deteriorated people’s health. In my personal experience, every time I went to the doctor in the space of a year, I was either twenty pounds heavier or lighter. Rather than treating that as the HUGE red flag it is, bulimia was my later diagnosis, I was either praised or scolded by my doctor depending on whether I had gained or lost. When the statistic is that 1 in 4 women have or will experience living with an eating disorder, we have to come to the conclusion that shaming people for the bodies they’re in as a way to prompt them to change them is not an effective method. at all.
Shifting the focus from doctors to our current social media climate, we have slim, hourglass and the few other “types” of women I mentioned earlier centered in the body positive movement. By these people constantly telling fat people to love the skin and body they’re in, it shifts the burden onto the individual. The individual is then asked, expected and required to “love themselves” in a society that does not love them or show them love. How can we tell people who can’t even go into a store and find clothes that fit them that they should just be body positive. The same stores that profit off of this movement often exclude the people who need inclusion the most. As a result, we rarely hold people and companies that perpetuate this oppressive system and commodification of one body type accountable. We ask that if you are not someone who falls into the small category of body types that are acceptable, that you do the work on your own to love yourself. I don’t know about you but to me that sounds really familiar. We have a historic pattern of leaving people who are most affected by a type of discrimination to do all the work and carry all the burden within a social movement. PERIOD. When and how do we draw the line?
Well, my hope is that we can start here. Because if you’re still reading, that’s a step. You’re deeply engaged in this movement in this present moment. I love you deeply and my hope for you is that you begin and continue to challenge WHO the body positivity movement is for and HOW it can be for everyone. Because it simply is not my job alone to give you the answer. I also don’t have them all. In hearing people’s stories and/or writing your own first hand through Pretty Likkle Ting, we’re giving back agency to everybody and every body. The butterfly effect is real and even if one person reads a story and it helps them in some way, we’re doing the damn thing. I want to thank you guys so much for engaging in this blog, it has changed my life and continues to help me in my own recovery and journey to self acceptance.