In early 2017, Self Magazine released their New Year's issue featuring plus-size model Iskra Lawrence. The issue, which showcased workout routines and a low calorie meal plan, was met with criticism from eating disorder survivors who found the diet to be incredibly restrictive. Bloggers and body positive activists penned open letters questioning why the model, who is a spokesperson for NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association), would associate herself with a New Year’s challenge that could be immensely triggering to her fans, many of whom have also struggled with eating disorders. Direct messages to Self Magazine, NEDA, and Lawrence allegedly all went unanswered, and tension began to mount amongst a faction of fans and friends of the model who reduced the validity of the criticism to nothing more than just ‘hating’.
Initially, Lawrence was defiant as well, going as far as to change the caption on her Instagram post that promoted the issue to say, ‘this isn't restrictive’. However, after mounting pressure from fans and other body positive activists, she and Self Magazine jointly decided to pull the diet plan with accompanying posts featuring half-hearted apologies barely accepting responsibility.
Just months later, Lawrence came under fire again for appearing on the April cover of Women's Health with an arrow pointed at her abs alongside the caption: ‘Score a hot core ASAP!’ Once again, certain friends and fans preached how those in the body positive movement should support one another and not contribute to ‘call out culture’. However, is call out culture necessarily a negative thing? At what point do we acknowledge that we have to keep those who seek to be the face of the body positive movement accountable for their actions? When do we realise that criticism isn't always synonymous with hatred?
Body positivity was founded off of the backs of angry fat women who were consistently treated as less than in society. The movement in itself is inherently argumentative, and with it being fed to the mainstream through ‘role models’ spouting watered down bopo to potential new recruits, there are bound to be disagreements. It's impossible for the millions of people around the world who practice body positivity in some form, all of whom are of different cultures, beliefs, and experiences, to agree on everything all the time. Most people would likely agree with this sentiment, but then would counter by saying disagreement doesn't have to lead to hate. This is true as well, but if the criticism is done in a respectful, constructive manner why are there those who are still quick to label it as ‘just hating’?
There are those who say public posts criticising another body positive figure undermines the unity of the movement. ‘Why don't you just message the person privately and sort it out that way?’ people have asked. But as in the case with Iskra, messages to her and NEDA were repeatedly read and unanswered. If the subjects in question aren't receptive to having a discussion, what else can people do to hold them accountable but publicly declare their discontent? Why does it take a public call-out and uproar in order to see a change or receive an apology?
Call out culture is healthy when practiced constructively. In my opinion, one shouldn't resort to name calling and cursing each other out, but sometimes open letters and Instagram posts are our only way of being heard when we're privately ignored. To sit idly by and let the definition of body positivity become further perverted for the sake of the illusion of unity would be doing ourselves a disservice, especially those of us who've been practicing radical body acceptance to change societal standards and norms for years.
Personally, I don't hate those I disagree with. I think we're all deeply flawed people who are bound to make mistakes, but we need to be open to owning those mistakes and constructively calling out our friends and idols. We can't turn a blind eye because of our attachment to the person, and we have to be big enough to publicly acknowledge when we mess up. No excuses or deflection of blame, just a genuine apology. We have to get over this complex about others being ‘haters’, when possibly they're calling you out to help you be better.