Many who use the hashtag #bodypositive know little about body positivity or its origins. Body positivity is derived from the fat acceptance movement, which, due to its grassroots nature, can’t quite be laid out on an exact timeline. The ‘Fat-In’ of 1967 - where 500 people protested against anti-fat bias in New York’s Central Park - however, is a massive milestone in the movement’s history, showing that the discrimination of fat bodies isn’t something that’s new to our society.
That’s not to say that people can’t individually perceive body positivity in different ways, but what many fail to understand is that fat activism made body positivity happen, and to this day remains firmly rooted within the movement. As a result, it's those fatter and marginalised bodies - those who have worked tirelessly to accept themselves and have fought for their voice - who are most deserving of the spotlight. Despite that, even in their own movement, it’s becoming increasingly hard to encourage thinner, more socially-accepted bodies to stop talking and pass the mic.
When I say that, I mean it with regards to the aforementioned mindlessness that often comes with thinner bodies claiming body positivity as their own. Meanwhile, the movement, becomes more of a media circus and consequently, gets watered down. This doesn't mean that thinner bodies don't support fat bodies, nor that they themselves aren't growing as a result of learning to love their’s. It just means that often it's easier for body positivity to become a commercial opportunity to them, disconnecting the concept of the movement from its real values.
Many people understand body positivity as a method of self-care over an actual political movement, more often than not under the guise of health and fitness. The ideology that if you truly love your body, you’ll focus on being fit and healthy, is something that many firmly believe, including individuals who are recognised as ‘leaders’ (for want of a better word). But body positivity isn’t about health, or fitness. Equating a measure of health, or a level of fitness with one’s right to take up space and/or to have human value, is both ableist and totally not the fucking point.
The health and fitness industry’s predecessor is the diet industry, which has made far too much money for far too many years off of self-hatred, which our society thrives on. Insecurities make profits. You can be both body positive and enjoy exercise just because, or eat a balanced diet without thinking about weight loss, but the premise of such things - even more so when combined - stem from diet culture as we know it. Want to lose weight? What do you do? Eat healthily and do more exercise. It’s easy for this fine line to cross over into diet territory as diet culture has become so ingrained within us, that it’s hard to remove it from our brain entirely. As The Vagaggle’s Joeley puts it, it’s our ‘inner gremlin’.
So when ‘leaders’ within the body positive community focus all of their time and energy on programmes, or even brands, that emanate from these fragments of diet culture, it leaves me to question whether their influence in such a community makes them feel that they have a responsibility to be an advocate, rather than an enabler. Large portions of followers within the body positive community are in recovery, or have recovered from eating disorders and exercise addictions. This makes me wonder whether these ‘leaders’ consider the damage that their collaboration or involvement in such programmes has the potential to cause. And regrettably, with this diluted diet culture being misrepresented as body positivity, many of these followers will consume it. A person already consumes diet culture through magazines, newspapers, advertising, or their peers, I hear you say. Yes, that’s true. But when a person is engaging within a community that they consider a safe space, this consumption is even worse because they will buy into it with the misconception that this is what body positivity is all about. You’ll honestly be amazed at how easy it is to perpetuate diet culture in a world that vetoes it, and how detrimental that can be.
Whilst it's all fun and games for a ‘leader’ to create a career from their platform - and to be given the opportunity to work with brands and organisations that work towards bettering society’s standpoints on beauty and body image - there are some lucrative pathways that are best left alone. Intersecting health and fitness with body positivity as a business venture is a precarious one for many reasons, namely the (potentially triggering) impact that such a project can have on a trusting following. It becomes even more problematic when having a popular social media platform and your own personal experiences are the closest things you’ve got to any qualifications. It’s easy for people to be steered in a direction whereby passion is overtaken by profitability - and it happens - but the body positive movement is not a suitable place for that. Besides, if a ‘leader’ has spent half of their time as an ‘advocate’ condemning those who profit off of people’s insecurities, it’s not recommended to tap into those same insecurities for financial gain whilst masquerading as body positivity.
If someone wants to create a project truly worthwhile and beneficial beyond its monetary potential, they should really start by educating themselves. Then we’ll talk.
Founder and Editor of The Unedit