Can I still be body positive while actively resisting fat on my own body? I understand that the movement is about combating cultural and societal abuse of marginalised bodies and not personal choices. But every time I drag myself to the gym when I don't want to go or choose a salad when I really wanted French fries, I'm worried it's because I don't want to be fat and not because I want to be healthy. Am I still supporting fat acceptance if I'm avoiding fat?
Woah! What a question.
First of all, that mindset of 'body acceptance is great for them but not for me' is a really common place to be. In fact I think it's a place that most people move through and many get stuck at. It's not easy to shake off a lifetime of internalised diet culture and fatphobia, even if rationally we recognise how much harm they cause.
The person who's fully aware of how the diet industry works and how oppressive narrow body ideals are, but still can't let go of their conditioned belief that dieting will make their own body (and life) better isn't a bad person. They're a person surviving the best way they know how in the cultural landscape they've been given. They're a person whose emotions have been so tied to the idea that thinner = better that rational thought doesn't instantly erase those emotional ties. None of us have the ability to robotically switch that conditioning off.
And in the same way, not being able to let go of your own fear of fatness doesn't make you a bad person. But is it something worth investigating if you're committed to living according to your beliefs? Absolutely. Because as the saying goes 'the personal is political', and in this circumstance what that means is: it's impossible to separate your own feelings about fat from the cultural fatphobia you believe should be dismantled. You feel those feelings because of the way our culture treats fatness. They aren't separate issues, they are intricately linked.
Every single one of us has internalised the fatphobic prejudice that runs through our societal belief systems – just as we all internalise racism, ableism, heteronormativity and ageism. Unpacking how that conditioning shows up in ourselves is a big part of changing the system. It's an uncomfortable, difficult and never-ending part (and for the record, I'm sure as hell not saying it's a part that I've mastered either, I'm still working my way through and always will be).
So keep unpacking. And not only so that you can be a better ally to the movement, but because you, yourself, deserve to stop living in fear of fat. Your personal body image and food issues are still important and worthy of being healed, even if they're not the be all and end all of the movement.
It might be that this stage is just part of a natural progression through the unlearning – I definitely spent a long ass time in the Great-For-Them-Not-For-Me mindset. Or maybe it's something that needs to be confronted in a more head-on way. Either way, up your intake of fat acceptance. Get yourself a copy of Fat! So? by Marilyn Wann if you don't have one already. Follow more radical fat babes (try @iamdaniadrianna, @gracefvictory, @enamasiama, @themilitantbaker, @watchshayslay, @saucyewest, @glitterandlazers). Keep questioning the roots of these feelings and beliefs, yes to be a better ally, but also to be more free yourself.
And I hope that you order the French fries next time you want them.
Love & bopo,
P.S. If you like this column and want more advice like this, I wrote a whole book of it! You can find Body Positive Power here.