Lately I've noticed body positive accounts getting more political and talking about topics like racism and LGBTQA+. At the risk of sounding ignorant, I just don't get it. I thought body positivity was about feeling good in your body. I would like to understand if there's something I'm missing and if I have the wrong idea about the movement. Can you help?
It makes a lot of sense that people would see the words 'body positivity' and think that the whole movement is about feeling positive towards your own body. Especially since that's the kind of body positivity we're seeing in the media, and the kind that gets the most likes online.
I think that body image (whether you feel positive towards your own body) is an incredibly important topic and that every person's body image struggles are valid. I believe that body image conversations have a place in body positivity, but they can't be the whole conversation. Because then we're only really fighting for our own bodies, and not all bodies.
Body positivity goes beyond our individual relationships with our own bodies and looks at the wider picture of why we're taught that certain bodies are worth less than others in our culture. It's recognising that a lot of people don't even get to feel safe in their bodies on a daily basis, so what's the point in trying to tell them to feel good? Accepting your cellulite doesn't mean much when you're racially profiled in the street or violently harassed for not fitting into people's idea of what gender should look like.
In order to truly mean all bodies when we talk about body positivity, we have to talk about why those people don't even get to feel safe in their bodies. That means naming the forces at play that work to marginalise them: racism, ableism, transphobia, queerphobia, fatphobia, diet culture.
And yes, in some cases it's those forces trickling down that form the basis of our own individual body image issues – fatphobia and the fear of fatness that it creates is the root of so many of our negative body relationships. But the people it hits the hardest are the ones that modern body positivity is largely leaving out of the conversation in order to be more palatable to the mainstream: actual fat people. And that fatphobia doesn't just mean that fat people feel bad about how they look, it means facing actual discrimination that ranges from doctors refusing to treat them until they lose weight, to being less likely to be hired for job.
That kind of discrimination is upheld by the belief that some bodies are worth less than others. We currently live in a culture where the types of bodies seen as worth less are fat bodies, dark skinned bodies, disabled bodies, older bodies, bodies outside of the gender binary and other queer bodies. Tackling the belief that some bodies are worth less than others sounds like it should be part of body positivity, doesn't it?
You see, body positivity is inherently political, because what's the point in fighting for bodies but not the people in them? To fight for all bodies, you have to get political. Body positivity wouldn't be here without radical fat acceptance activists creating a movement that aimed to liberate marginalised bodies from oppression over 50 years ago. We have to respect those roots.
That doesn't mean that your body image issues don't matter, it's just asking people to recognise that there's a whole lot more going on outside of our own personal relationships with our bodies, and that we should be talking about that stuff too. I hold my hands up to the fact that I have not talked about it enough over the years. I've based myself largely in body image because that's where my life experience has come from and I've had the privilege of not being directly affected by most of the wider issues – I could have done better.
I also realise that considering the huge massive big picture of it all can feel overwhelming if you're still so trapped in your own body hatred that your whole life revolves around those thoughts. I definitely had to focus on my own healing for a while before I could see it. But I hope that if you are at the point of being able to see outside of your own body relationship, you will start to include the fight for all bodies in your idea of body positivity, even if those bodies and their experiences are very different from your own. Because none of us will be truly free in our bodies until we all are.
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.