In a post a few weeks back I wrote about Bryony and Jada running the London marathon in their underwear and how it had encouraged me to really explore the Body Positive Movement. This has required me to reflect on what exactly influences my relationship with my body and other bodies. I really wanted to share some of the things it has inspired me to realise and reflect upon….
Body Positive is more than being positive about your body
Unfortunately the term Body Positive is badly misused by the diet and fitness industries to sell products that will make us ‘look and feel’ good. If reaching certain physical goals helps individuals feel positive about their bodies then that can be a good thing, but it should not be celebrated in the context of the Body Positive movement. Body Positivity is about demanding space for bodies which are discriminated against because they don’t adhere to limited standards of ‘health’ and ‘beauty’. e.g. thin, white, cis, non-disabled. The movement’s roots are in fat acceptance activism and, although the movement has diversified, it would be fair to say that this is still the prominent strand. It is great that Body Positive can inspire individuals to feel good about themselves, but the movement is about more than loving yourself.
Supporting and identifying with Body Positive needs to be in the context of pushing for, and being inspired by, diversity without limits. It is about awareness of implications of messages about body image conveyed by the media and in everyday social interactions. e.g through diet culture or fat shaming. It is noticing when certain types of bodies are excluded/ unrepresented and pointing it out where necessary. Body Positive is social and political as well as personal – engaging with it on both these levels is essential for developing appreciation for ourselves and others.
Making peace with ‘flaws’ is not the key to loving your body
There is a long running marketing campaign which I call ‘Love the skin you’re in…but not too much’. On the surface these ads seem to promote ‘healthy body image’ – nobody is perfect, etc. However, by drawing attention to ‘flaws’, companies like this one succeed in selling us products to fix them. The message given by the media is that we either have to strive for a socially acceptable body or, alternatively, make peace with the fact we are not up to scratch. It’s ridiculous and manipulative. You are not a collection of flaws! The fact that certain bodies are not portrayed or catered for by mainstream industries, and are ignored or demeaned by society, are the flaws.
These superficial attempts at promoting ‘healthy body image’ also highlight a deep rooted misogyny because so much of it is based on the idea that male approval makes things valid. In magazines and social media there are lots of patronising articles about men not caring about women’s weight, ‘loving curves’, etc. But if we are really interested in trying to eradicate limited and unrealistic standards of beauty, why do we need men to rubber stamp it? These standards evolved from the objectification of women in the first place- we won’t solve them through objectification under a slightly different guise. Men’s preferences or prejudices shouldn’t be made into women’s problem or responsibility, no matter what spin is put on it.
We need to change how we define health and wellbeing as well as beauty
There is a misconception that if you’re plus-size then you’ve let yourself go, don’t exercise and must eat all the wrong food. Larger people are often put in positions where we have to justify our weight by proving that we are fit, have a healthy diet or that there is some underlying biological reason for our weight. I know lots of thin people who have extremely unhealthy lifestyles but society doesn’t demand that they justify it. Fat shaming sometimes goes under the guise of concern for people’s health, when actually it is just an excuse to put them down. I am a size 16 and 12 and a half stone which might make people believe I lack willpower or self control. But not aspiring to lose weight doesn’t mean I don’t care about my health or appearance, it just means I don’t care about being thin.
I used to be so unhappy about my weight that, deep down, I couldn’t believe anyone else who was fat could genuinely be accepting of themselves, that they must be either miserable or dieting. Now I realise that a lack of compassion for myself led me to project my own shame onto others, resulting in prejudice, and prejudice always affects our interactions on some level. Yet how can someone infer anything about another person’s health, or how they feel about themselves, by simply looking at them?
Our level of wellbeing is not in direct proportion to our thinness. We all deserve to enjoy our bodies, to define what healthy means to us and have social and emotional fulfilment. Our wellbeing has no weight restriction, no matter what we are told!